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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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5 E. Marlitt, Feminine Representation, and Codified Closure


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5 E. Marlitt, Feminine Representation, and Codified Closure

E. Marlitt’s phenomenal popularity lies more in her appeal to social equality and fictional transgressions of nineteenth-century gender norms than in a romanticized support of the status quo. As a woman writer, she faced obstacles as real as her physical disability. The prevailing social construction of gender defined male endeavors within the public realm of productivity, while relegating females to the private sphere of domesticity.1 Educational models, which differentiated by both social class and gender, further limited the fields of inquiry deemed appropriate for young girls. The discussion of education in Das Heideprinzeßchen in Chapter 3 drew attention to the multi-layered parameters contained within the happy ending. The maturation of the girl to woman/wife/mother/published author and the representations of women working domestically and in factories, or pursuing training for education or nursing, depict an array of potential roles for women that encompass more than motherhood. Analyses of the novels from the second decade of Marlitt’s career, once she has established a successful following, reveal a more striking pattern of closure: they appear to reconfigure the construction of gender with highly progressive images, and then introduce a promise of marriage and acquiescence to the status quo. Patterns of duality challenge and subvert standard norms by introducing alternative readings. This chapter explores how ironic forms of closure in Im Hause des Kommerzienrates [At the Councillor’s, 1876], Im Schillingshof [In the Schillingscourt, 1879], and Die Frau mit den Karfunkelsteinen...

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