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Title: The depiction of the widow in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century German literature
Author: Dunn, Abigail
ISNI:       0000 0000 4687 5313
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2009
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This thesis examines the depiction of the widow by men and women in novels and short stories written between 1842 and 1913. The representation of the widow is analysed in the context of dominant views about widowhood at the time, such as those expressed in the writings of politician and statesman, Theodor Gottlieb von Hippel (1741-1796). These ideas are set out in chapter I. The first chapter also examines the social reality of widowhood in nineteenth-century Germany. In the first chapter of the thesis Hippel argues that real widows are superfluous beings and men’s second-hand goods, but they were also perceived by theologians and moralists of the time as a threat due to their ungoverned lust. Many nineteenth-century widows internalised the idea espoused by Hippel and felt alienated and invisible. In German fiction, however, male writers in the works discussed repeat the latter theory that once deprived of their husbands widows are sexually voracious. In the works written by men, the figure of the widow is generally presented as a dangerous sexual predator. Female authors, however, highlight the invisibility of the widow and portray her as a figure alienated from society and her family. Henriette Hanke is the first author to be examined in chapter II. Her novel, Die Wittwen (1842), portrays five widows, who range from the self-sacrificing Lucie von Gardemer, to the liberated and financially independent Frau von Kleist. Hanke depicts widowhood as a process of education for her two key widows, Lucie von Gardemer and Franzisca Weihland. They must learn to love the right man, and at the end of the story they revert from widowhood to marriage. Fourteen years later, the first version of Gottfried Keller’s Der grüne Heinrich (1854/55) was published. Chapter III explores the way in which Keller portrays the threatening sexuality of his widow Judith and emphasises her power to destabilise the narrator. Chapters IV and V also focus on the widow as a predatory and dangerous figure, as exemplified in works by Paul Heyse, Eduard Grisebach, C. F. Meyer and Arthur Schnitzler. In chapter VI Hedwig Dohm presents a contrast to the dominant representations of widowhood in her story Werde, die du bist! (1896). Dohm challenges prevalent stereotypes of the widow, though with limited success. Gabriele Reuter, the final author to be discussed, reverts to male stereotypes of the widow in her stories. This chapter thus shows that women writers are not always more positive, or original, in their representation of the widow. The thesis as a whole demonstrates the overwhelmingly negative portrayal of the widow in nineteenth-century German fiction. She is a figure to be at best re-educated and at worst to be feared and guarded against. She is a cynical man-trap in Heyse’s and Grisebach’s stories, a murderess in Meyer’s story, and an incestuous mother in Schnitzler’s texts. Hanke and Dohm, themselves both widows, show from the inside what it is like to be a widow in such a society.
Supervisor: Watanabe O'Kelly, Helen Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: German ; Languages (Medieval and Modern) and non-English literature ; Gender ; widow ; death ; sexuality ; fiction