The Hidden Depths of Popular Fiction. A Study of Two Female Writers of Wilhelmine Germany, 1890-1914
Date: 17 December 2013
University of Exeter
PhD in German
The Hidden Depths of Popular Fiction. A Study of two Female Authors of Wilhelmine Germany, 1890-1914 This investigation presents two literary case studies that demonstrate the heterogeneity of Wilhelmine popular fiction, both in terms of thematic orientation and aesthetic quality. The chosen authors are women from bourgeois ...
The Hidden Depths of Popular Fiction. A Study of two Female Authors of Wilhelmine Germany, 1890-1914 This investigation presents two literary case studies that demonstrate the heterogeneity of Wilhelmine popular fiction, both in terms of thematic orientation and aesthetic quality. The chosen authors are women from bourgeois backgrounds who were prolific and well-known during their life-time, but who have since been relegated. They target the ‘new middle class’ of that era as their readership and, respectively, represent two important but contested genres of late nineteenth-century popular fiction: Heimatkunst and the Sozialroman. Heimatkunst has been dismissed as a homogeneous propagator of right-wing ideology. Yet the texts of Charlotte Niese evidence ‘resistant practice’ within and against prevailing discourse parameters. Her autobiographical writing demonstrates a type of nationalism orientated in dignity and independence, rather than competition and militarism, while also showing how political indoctrination and imposition poisoned the vernacular social status quo which otherwise managed to integrate antagonistic values and attitudes. Her fictional narratives highlight how writing dubbed Heimatkunst was subject to hybridisation, at times to amount to an approximation of a modernist aesthetic. The Sozialroman has been dismissed as a trivial ‘variety of social recipes’. Luise Westkirch’s narratives, however, incorporate thorough-going social reform. Her shorter narratives include astute, psychologically-based social critique which facilitates insights into contemporaneous preoccupations and slow perceptual changes. Incorporating tenets derived from the German romantic legacy, her narratives challenge dominant discourse parameters directly. In the process, the internationally ubiquitous interpretation of competition and power as basic instinctual drives is deconstructed as an erroneous and self-destructive assumption. Westkirch’s complex narratives establish sub-textual agendas through ‘thematic compounding’ that directs the reader’s attention overtly at one set of issues while covertly commenting on another. In this way, she constructs gender inequality as an indictment of normative socio-political systems. This study therefore argues that popular fiction located in a time of cultural crisis has the potential to make explicit the parameters of the prevailing dominant discourse, against which specific values are articulated. Since a conscious formulation of these parameters is essential to the loosening of any conceptual hegemony, which depends on implicitness, fiction thus situated can yield new perspectives, not only in terms of historical insight, but in terms of conceptual alternatives that also have contemporary relevance.
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