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Mapping Morality in Postwar German Women's Fiction

Mapping Morality in Postwar German Women's Fiction: Christa Wolf, Ingeborg Drewitz, and Grete Weil

Michelle Mattson
Volume: 78
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 222
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  • Book Info
    Mapping Morality in Postwar German Women's Fiction
    Book Description:

    Christa Wolf (1929-), Ingeborg Drewitz (1923-1986), and Grete Weil (1906-1999) occupy very different positions in postwar German literature, yet all three challenge readers to consider how individuals understand their roles in history and how they negotiate their personal responsibilities based on those roles. These three are, of course, by no means the only German writers to have dealt with such questions in the wake of the Third Reich. But Wolf, Drewitz, and Weil ground their projects in the family, an institution often left out of such inquiries, giving them a different starting point for moral reflection. Before looking closely at the three writers' views of the individual's role and responsibility, the book devotes a chapter to the examination of individual and collective memory, then a chapter to how feminist ethicists view moral responsibility. Chapters on the three writers' literary approaches to the questions follow: Wolf enacts a process of historical and geographic triangulation; Drewitz constructs concentric historical and social circles; Weil seeks to repair the historical ruptures of the Holocaust, creating new historical narratives and exploring the limitations of traditional bourgeois morality. Each of the three attempts to map a geography of morals that begins within the structures of the extended family but interrogates individual responsibility in an increasingly globalized environment. Michelle Mattson is Associate Professor of German at Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-715-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

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)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book centers on several novels by Christa Wolf (1929–), Ingeborg Drewitz (1923–86), and Grete Weil (1906–99). In particular, the study examines their attention to questions of moral responsibility in the second half of the twentieth century. All three writers seek to illustrate how our understanding of the historical present, informed as it is by our personal and our shared memories, shapes how we see our moral responsibilities in a world with increasingly porous and shifting community boundaries. They anchor their exploration of individual and collective responsibility within the family, moving out along different routes through local,...

  5. 1: The Individual, Memory, and History
    (pp. 11-37)

    Drewitz, Wolf, and Weil’s literary projects delve explicitly into how individuals construe their relationship to their historical present.¹ Therefore, this chapter begins by gathering the tools to approach the issue theoretically. However, because individual perception of one’s own imbrication in history, rather than a historiographical record of events, stands central to the inquiry, an attempt to discern the actual role of the individual in history is unnecessary. In other words, this analysis examines individuals’ subjective processing of their place in history. Thus, the chapter explores various ways to conceive of our historical self-emplotment. Memory is one of the processes that...

  6. 2: Feminism, the Self, and Community
    (pp. 38-60)

    In Ingeborg Drewitz’s Gestern war heute, Gabriele, the main character, tells a male friend that women greet the world with their arms wide open. She contrasts this explicitly with the way men approach life: “Vielleicht kann sich ein Mann nicht vorstellen, daß die Frau immer mit sorgend ausgebreiteten Armen lebt” (297: Perhaps a man cannot imagine that a woman always lives with her arms open to care). The primary difference Gabriele sees between women and men seems to lie in the word “sorgend.” That is to say, men may set out to greet the world with open arms, but women’s...

  7. 3: Ingeborg Drewitz: Families, Historical Conflict, and Moral Mapping
    (pp. 61-95)

    The central questions of this study deal with the individual’s relationship to or impact on political, social, and economic history and the concomitant ethical implications of individual and collective responsibility. This chapter examines Ingeborg Drewitz’s development as a novelist in terms of the ethical constructs she explores and how they relate to her characters’ attempts to understand their place within any number of historical narratives. Two of her novels in particular, Gestern war heute (1978) and Eis auf der Elbe (1982), examine the positioning and self-positioning of individuals within their historical present with a consistency and intensity not found in...

  8. 4: Christa Wolf: Rehearsing Individual and Collective Responsibility
    (pp. 96-141)

    Christa Wolf occupies a special space within the landscape of post–Second World War German literature. Legions of scholars have analyzed, interpreted, contextualized, and historicized her work. So much so that it makes one question just how much more insight we can squeeze out of her substantial body of work. Nevertheless, within the context of postwar German women writers, a book that examines how individuals look at history and how they then conceive of their own social responsibilities would be incomplete without attention to Wolf’s treatment of these issues. Her 1976 novel Kindheitsmuster, a quintessential example of how Wolf’s particular...

  9. 5: Grete Weil: The Costs of Abstract Principles
    (pp. 142-184)

    Grete Weil is a part of this study for three reasons. Similar to both Wolf and Drewitz, Weil came of age during the Nazi era (albeit earlier than the other two since she was born in 1906). Questions of history and collective and individual memory and identity mark her work. Additionally, her experience and articulation of these questions lead her to positions on morality that resonate clearly both with the other two writers examined here and with feminist ethics. Relationships with family and friends also form pivotal points from which the writer constructs key moral positions. On the other hand,...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 185-192)

    In the introduction to this book, I asserted that the narrative spaces of novels create something like laboratories for thinking through moral choices. Of course, they don’t always do so. Indeed world literature is replete with examples of novels that would seem to have little relevance to conceptualizing or reflecting on the moral choices individuals make. There are, however, moments in history that seem to demand such moral reflection from us. They call on us not only to reflect self-critically on our own behavior and on that of the groups to which we belong, but also to come to terms...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 193-208)
  12. Index
    (pp. 209-212)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-213)