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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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6 E. Marlitt’s Secondary Characters as Models and Mentors


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6 E. Marlitt’s Secondary Characters as Models and Mentors

E. Marlitt populates her romance fiction with educated, employable, liberal-minded, and self-determined young women. Her challenge to established gender codes of the nineteenth-century bourgeois culture clearly resonated with her contemporaries, as her vast readership extended throughout Europe to America and even to Asia. By what rationale could the author introduce young girls with such strong emancipatory images, moral resilience, and self-confidence? The meager factual knowledge available concerning the author’s own life suggests parallels with the fictional characterizations she develops. Marlitt’s intellectual development and hence her career are unthinkable without the financial as well as emotional support, encouragement, and mentoring she enjoyed under the guidance of Princess Mathilde von Schwarzburg-Sondershausen. Her aristocratic host Frau von Huber and her daughters treated her as a family member during her operatic training in Vienna. With the exception of the debut novel Goldelse, each and every narrative configuration features a lonely or oppressed protagonist who finds her path to individuation via the aid of one or more “surrogate” parental guides. Invariably single, the mentor provides a support system of worldly experience and mature perspectives to model independence to these inexperienced young people. These secondary characters enhance realism, as a nineteenth-century reader could not expect a naïve protagonist to negotiate successfully without sustained support or guidance the many social and psychological hardships these novels project.

Mentoring is of particular interest within this study, for, as role models, these secondary...

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