Women and German Drama

Women and German Drama: Playwrights and Their Texts 1860-1945

Sarah Colvin
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81ft6
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  • Book Info
    Women and German Drama
    Book Description:

    For women, according to the contemporary Austrian dramatist Elfriede Jelinek, writing for the theater is an act of transgression. The idea that drama as a grand public genre resists women writers has become established in recent scholarship. But Jelinek herself has won the Büchner Prize, the most prestigious award in German letters, and there is a wealth of dramatic work by women from the 20th century and before: both facts seem to contradict the notion of women's exclusion from drama. So why has drama by women appear to have been written against the odds, and why has it, until very recently, been missing from literary histories? This book looks in detail at women's playwriting in German between 1860 and 1945, and at its reception by critics. Many of the works considered have never before been analyzed by modern scholarship; others, notably the plays of Marieluise Fleisser and Else Lasker-Schüler, are well known, but are read here for the first time in the context of earlier dramatic work by women. Sarah Colvin seeks modes of reading that do justice both to the dramatic texts as 'performance' texts, and to the sense of "otherness" experienced by the woman writer in a male-dominated literary and theatrical environment. She concludes that an understanding of the techniques developed by women playwrights of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries can enrich our reading not only of Fleisser and Lasker, but of contemporary dramatists such as Jelinek. If all the world's a stage, playwrights can theoretically be seen as in control of the world they create; this book asks to what extent women dramatists manage to use the space of the drama to reflect the world that 'they' experience. Sarah Colvin is Reader in German at the University of Edinburgh.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-632-9
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    Is there a tradition of women’s playwriting in German? Or can we only read theater texts by women in the context of a male-centered literary and theatrical history?² Now that painstaking scholarship has shown that dramas by women do exist before the mid-twentieth century, these are the questions being asked by those interested in the “act of transgression” (“Überschreitung der Grenzen”) that writing for the theater — according to Elfriede Jelinek — still equates to for women.³

    This book addresses the second of those questions in particular, and suggests modes of reading for theater texts by women that do justice to both...

  5. 1: Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach and Helene Druskowitz: Experiments in Dramatic Form
    (pp. 20-49)

    The notion that drama is a masculine genre dogs the critical reception of women playwrights. The young Alexander von Weilen, son of Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach’s literary acquaintance, Joseph von Weilen, demonstrates the ubiquity of the idea at the turn of the nineteenth century. Commenting in 1890, when Ebner was sixty years old and well established as a prose writer, Alexander glibly assesses her achievements: “Den wenigen Dramen, welche die Ebner verfaßt, fehlt nichts als — die Hand des Mannes, welche allein die Gewalt fordernde Form zu beherrschen vermag.”¹ Even though he writes with the flourish of one presenting a revelation, von...

  6. 2: Elsa Bernstein-Porges, Mathilde Paar, Gertrud Prellwitz, Anna Croissant-Rust: The Gender of Creativity
    (pp. 50-74)

    The pessimistic conclusion to the previous chapter was that neither the serious nor comic mode seemed to offer an emancipatory solution for the dramatic work of Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach or Helene Druskowitz. In all the plays considered, rebellious women protagonists are tamed — whether by fate or by society — and neither dramatist was able to find a mode (comic or serious) of presenting such characters that might guarantee their popular appeal.

    But by the mid 1880s, the conventions associated with Naturalism — domestic settings, the working- or middle-class milieu, prose dialogue, often in dialect — had begun to make themselves felt. In the...

  7. 3: Julie Kühne, Laura Marholm, Clara Viebig: Performing Subjects
    (pp. 75-102)

    In the previous chapter we saw dramatic characters performing both the norm of female gender and, to a greater or lesser extent, alternatives to that norm. The alternatives — independent creative activity, hand-in-hand with self-ownership or control over one’s own body — take the female subject outside the structure of the patriarchal family, because they are apparently not possible within it.

    In this chapter I analyze three plays that advertise their concern with a female subject in their titles and subtitles: Julie Kühne’s Elfriede Laub oder Weib und Mensch (1873), Laura Marholm’s Karla Bühring: Ein Frauendrama (1895), and Clara Viebig’s Barbara Holzer...

  8. 4: Marie Eugenie delle Grazie, Lu Märten, Berta Lask: Political Subjects
    (pp. 103-126)

    Julie Kühne, Laura Marholm, and Clara Viebig were dramatists who concerned themselves overtly with sexual politics. For Viebig in particular, the politics of gender overlapped with the politics of class. This brings Viebig closest to the writers this chapter will consider: Marie Eugenie delle Grazie (1864–1931), Lu Märten (1879–1970), and Berta Lask (1878–1967). Even more than Viebig, these three make class injustice their theme; Lask and Märten even move right out of bourgeois theater to write specifically for workers and the Marxist revolutionary cause.

    Interesting in this study is, first, how far these three dramatists are prepared...

  9. 5: Else Lasker-Schüler: A Theater of the Self?
    (pp. 127-155)

    So far in this study, I have considered ways of finding space for a female subject in the traditional dramatic forms of comedy and tragedy, and for the expression of female creativity within a literary and social discourse that largely denies its existence. I have observed modes of articulating the woman’s self as “I,” and of defining the artistic and political project of drama in such a way that female subjectivity acquires a space. One way or another, all the playwrights considered have striven to create materiality for themselves through the medium of drama. In the final chapters I shall...

  10. 6: Marieluise Fleisser: A Theater of the Body
    (pp. 156-176)

    Marieluise Fleisser’s sense of herself as a foreign body in the world of theater is documented not only (as the above quotation illustrates) in her fiction, but in a theoretical text she wrote called “Über das dramatische Empfinden bei den Frauen”:

    Gewiß haben wir vereinzelte Stücke von Frauen, die aber nicht besonders bekannt und wichtig geworden sind. [. . .] für gewöhnlich bleibt es denn auch bei dem einen Versuch und die Autorin biegt wieder in das Epische aus, weil ihr das mehr liegt.²

    ² Fleisser wrote this in 1930: that is, shortly after her second play, Pioniere in Ingolstadt,...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 177-184)

    It is certainly true to say, and scholarship is increasingly aware, that women do write drama, and did so even before the mid-twentieth century. But there is also, as this study illustrates, a pattern to many women’s careers as playwrights: Ebner-Eschenbach, Druskowitz, Croissant-Rust, Marholm, delle Grazie, Märten, and Fleisser can all be shown to have had dramatic ambitions in their earlier years as writers that were never fully realized. “Die Autorin,” says Fleisser, “biegt wieder in das Epische aus, weil ihr das mehr liegt.”²

    I have argued that Fleisser is wrong: that theater is by no means a genre that...

  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 185-200)
  13. Index
    (pp. 201-211)