Edited By Deborah Ascher Barnstone
Maria Makela - 8 Artificial Silk Girls: Rayon as Silk’s Double in Weimar Germany
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8 Artificial Silk Girls: Rayon as Silk’s Double in Weimar Germany
In 1932 Irmgard Keun’s second novel, Das kunstseidene Mädchen (The Artificial Silk Girl), appeared in bookstores throughout Germany, becoming an overnight sensation only to be placed the next year on an early Nazi blacklist because of its alleged anti-German tendencies.1 The book chronicles the life of Doris, erstwhile office girl and two-bit stage actress who flees her small town milieu for cosmopolitan Berlin. There she drifts from man to man, using them to acquire the wardrobe that will give her the appearance of what she wants to become: a Glanz, a glamorous New Woman like those she sees in the illustrated press and movies. Now a standard on German studies syllabi, the novel is often compared to Berlin Alexanderplatz, with which it shares a coolly observational narrative voice. It has also been discussed in relation to its cinematic “eye,” to the consumerism and media hype to which women above all fell prey, to white-collar workers, and to the material poverty of the post-1929 years in which the story takes place. But however much has been made of the book’s female author and of its protagonist and her particular plight in late Weimar-era Berlin, there has been little substantive discussion either when the book was written or subsequently of the cloth to which the title refers.
To be sure, almost every account of the novel touches tangentially on...
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