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The Political Woman in Print

German Women’s Writing 1845–1919


Birgit Mikus

This book analyses the depiction and function of politically active women in novels by six female authors from the margins of the democratic revolution of 1848 and the first German women’s movement: Louise Aston, Malwida von Meysenbug, Mathilde Franziska Anneke, Fanny Lewald, Louise Otto-Peters, and Hedwig Dohm. What was their political stance in relation to democratic developments and women’s rights? How did they render their political convictions into literary form? Which literary images did they use, criticise, or invent in order to depict politically active women in their novels in a positive light? Which narrative strategies were employed to ‘smuggle’ politically and socially radical ideas into what were sometimes ostensibly conventional plots? These authors wrote before modern feminist theory was established; however, their proto-feminist observations, demands, and discursive tactics contributed much to the formation and institutionalisation of feminist thought. This book contextualises the authors’ works in their historical and social environment in order to evaluate what can be considered radical and political in the period 1845-1919.
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INTRODUCTION: The politics of women’s writing



The political woman, as a literary image and as a person, should, strictly speaking, not exist in nineteenth-century Germany. Women were by definition excluded from politics, and, once married, not even recognised as independent persons before the law, all this justified by the emerging ideals of ‘natural’ gender roles and attributes.1 The first German Women’s Movement existed in its organised and institutionalised form only from 1865, the year Louise Otto-Peters, Minna Cauer, and several other politically minded women founded the Allgemeiner Deutscher Frauenverein (ADF) [General German Women’s Association] in Leipzig.2 However, even this association focused primarily on campaigns for the reform of marriage law, equal access to education, and equality in the workforce, and explicitly not on women’s suffrage, in complete contrast to the British, French, and American Women’s Movements of the same period.3 Nevertheless, since the Vormärz period at the latest, German women writers concerned themselves with politics and women’s exclusion from it and various other fields of public life, in various ways and genres. The democratic revolution of 1848 provided a unique opportunity to reach a large readership with political ← 1 | 2 → interests, and a number of female authors published explicitly political pamphlets, novels, and poetry with the goal of securing women’s participation in the construction of the new democratic state. These authors faced one particular problem when turning from essay or pamphlet to literature: they had no literary image of a political woman at their disposal, except for the unpopular, mocking image of...

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