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Humor and Irony in Nineteenth-Century German Women's Writing

Humor and Irony in Nineteenth-Century German Women's Writing: Studies in Prose Fiction, 1840-1900

Helen Chambers
Volume: 6
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 232
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt8205p
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    Humor and Irony in Nineteenth-Century German Women's Writing
    Book Description:

    Nineteenth-century German literature is seldom seen as rich in humor and irony, and women's writing from that period is perhaps even less likely to be seen as possessing those qualities. Yet since comedy is bound to societal norms, and humor and irony are recognized weapons of the weak against authority, what this innovative study reveals should not be surprising: women writers found much to laugh at in a bourgeois age when social constraints, particularly on women, were tight. Helen Chambers analyzes prose fiction by leading female writers of the day who prominently employ humor and irony. Arguing that humor and irony involve cognitive and rational processes, she highlights the inadequacy of binary theories of gender that classify the female as emotional and the male as rational. Chambers focuses on nine women writers: Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, Ida Hahn-Hahn, Ottilie Wildermuth, Helene Böhlau, Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, Ada Christen, Clara Viebig, Isolde Kurz, and Ricarda Huch. She uncovers a rich seam of unsuspected or forgotten variety, identifies fresh avenues of approach, and suggests a range of works that merit a place on university reading lists and attention in scholarly studies. Helen Chambers is Professor of German at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-691-6
    Subjects: Linguistics, Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. ix-x)
    H. C.
  4. Introduction (pp. 1-12)

    Is there a tradition of humorous and ironic writing in women’s literature in German before the twentieth century? What can the study of narrative texts published between 1840 and 1900 reveal on this front and what is the significance of the answer for an appreciation of the qualities of German literature more generally? Thanks to the work of distinguished scholars in Europe and the United States since the 1970s there is a steadily growing recognition of the value and volume of literary works by women in German before 1900, but there is still an imperfect understanding of the richness and...

  5. 1: Annette von Droste-Hülshoff and Ida Hahn-Hahn: Overcoming Seriousness? (pp. 13-52)

    Annette von Droste-Hülshoff’s reputation is assured as the most eminent German female literary talent of the nineteenth century and it rests on a small body of poetry and prose, in which critics see the powerful expression of a nervous and tormented sensibility. The atmospheric evocation of nature that is fraught with uncanny forms and forces is central to her art. Marcel Reich-Ranicki’s characterization of her as “diese[r] stille[n] und schwermütige[n], diese[r] düstere[n] und dämonische[n], diese[r] wunderliche[n] und letztlich wunderbare[n] Dichterin” is typical of this limited view of her life and work.² It overlooks the significance of both humor and irony...

  6. 2: Ottilie Wildermuth and Helene Böhlau: Harmless Humor or Subtle Psychology? (pp. 53-90)

    Ottilie Wildermuth, daughter and wife of professional middle-class men, won public recognition as a writer with an enthusiastic following from far beyond her native Swabia where she set the stories and Genrebilder, scenes from everyday life, which made her famous. Her admirers included the writers Adalbert Stifter, Jeremias Gotthelf, and Paul Heyse, who asked permission to include one of her stories in his prestigious Novellenschatz series, as well as the older poets Ludwig Uhland and Justinus Kerner, whom she knew personally. In 1871 she was the first woman to receive the Goldene Medaille für Kunst und Wissenschaft from the King...

  7. 3: Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach: Satire, Physical Comedy, Irony, and Deeper Meaning (pp. 91-124)

    Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830–1916), whose life was coextensive with Franz Josef, the last Emperor of Austria’s, fulfilled her social role as daughter and wife in an aristocratic family during a period in Europe when the social structures were shifting and the literary market was mushrooming. Her socially critical work addresses the relationship between classes, including the need to rethink the role of the nobility with a clearer awareness of power dynamics on social, psychological, and economic levels; while the writer’s situation and its concommitant artistic and personal problems remains a core concern.

    From an early age she enjoyed frequent...

  8. 4: Ada Christen and Clara Viebig: Laughter and Pain in the World of Work (pp. 125-154)

    Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach did not write the novel of Viennese society that Paul Heyse hoped for, but Ada Christen did represent a different section of society in Vienna for the first time, namely, its suburban poor during the 1850s, in collections of sketches and stories in the 1870s and 1880s and in her novel Jungfer Mutter: Eine Wiener Vorstadtgeschichte (1892).³ This reorientation of the conventional view such as we have already seen in Wildermuth’s tales of modest lives in the provinces or in Böhlau’s Ratsmädelgeschichten looks back to the author’s childhood experiences of the world of work at the margins...

  9. 5: Isolde Kurz and Ricarda Huch: The Humor of Skeptical Idealism (pp. 155-195)

    Isolde Kurz, like Ottilie Wildermuth a generation earlier, grew up in Swabia, but in an unconventional household, as the daughter of humorous writer and quiet scholar and translator Hermann Kurz, latterly a librarian at Tübingen University. Her aristocratic mother, Marie, née von Brunnow, a committed democrat and politically active in 1848, was an energetic, volatile woman who took charge of her daughter’s education, taught her modern languages, and gave her socialist writings as well as the classics to read, so that Kurz felt as if she grew up with the Greek gods and heroes for playmates. Unlike her brothers, she...

  10. Conclusion (pp. 196-202)

    Harriet Murphy voices a widely held view when she refers to the “massive dearth of amusing literature in German.”¹ On the other hand, given the fact that comedy is bound to mores and societal norms and that humor and irony are recognized weapons of the weak when deployed against the forces of power and authority, it should not be surprising that this study of nineteenth-century women’s writing in German has found plenty to laugh at in a bourgeois age when social constraints, particularly on women, were tight and widely imposed legally, politically, and by a culture of social consensus discursively...

  11. Works Cited (pp. 203-214)
  12. Index (pp. 215-222)
  13. Back Matter (pp. 223-223)