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Popular Fiction in the Age of Bismarck

E. Marlitt and her Narrative Strategies


Terry May

E. Marlitt was a bestselling author of the late nineteenth century whose romance novels dominated the German literary market between 1865 and 1888. Her novels appeared in thirty languages, with as many as five different English translations circulating simultaneously in the United States alone. While her name is virtually absent from histories of German literature, recent scholarly studies of individual novels suggest the need to reassess her contributions.
This study is the first in English to examine E. Marlitt’s complete fiction. It situates her prose against the backdrop of women’s discourse and nineteenth-century historical developments in the German Empire. It synthesizes findings of both American and German scholarship to show how her social constructs advanced a liberal political agenda while resisting the conventional view of «natural» gender roles. The book provides a context for recognizing Marlitt’s clever use of the conventionality and acceptability of the romance genre to reposition the image of middle-class women. Her emphasis on personal autonomy, educational opportunities and new fields of professional engagement for women advanced altered images of family, class and national identity. Ultimately, this study of a popular author illuminates domestic, middle-class issues that underwent significant transformations equal to the Empire’s public developments under Bismarck’s politics.
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4 The Kulturkampf in the Domestic Realm: Die zweite Frau and Im Schillingshof


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4 The Kulturkampf in the Domestic Realm: Die zweite Frau and Im Schillingshof

Having established that romance may address the interests of national identity, an analysis of E. Marlitt’s more overtly political novels augments the perspectives on this immensely popular writer. Simultaneously, a study of the “Kulturkampf,” as it is called within the German historical tradition, helps to situate her writings within the general European struggle between modernism and traditional forms of hegemony. Expanding the historical scope significantly advances the understanding of Marlitt’s endeavors to address issues facing her contemporary reading public. By cleverly situating her narratives within the domestic sphere, that is, within the realm deemed appropriate for women of the nineteenth century, the writer presents nuanced reflections of Wilhelminian legislative advances, and thus clear indications of an authorial response to the unification process of the German Empire after 1871. Unification introduces major shifts in the legal approach to social reality within marriage, divorce, and child education, the very foci of these novels. A brief overview of the Kulturkampf and legislation concerning divorce illuminates unrecognized dimensions in her texts The Second Wife and In the Schillingscourt. In effect, these discoveries lend support to those critical voices arguing a realignment of E. Marlitt within realism as a productive and informative critical stance.1

Gottfried Keller, an esteemed writer of Marlitt’s era, praised not only the narrative flow and power of her representation [ein Fluß der Erzählung, … eine Gewalt in der Darstellung], but also...

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