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Women and Family Life in Early Modern German Literature

Women and Family Life in Early Modern German Literature

Elisabeth Wåghäll Nivre
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Women and Family Life in Early Modern German Literature
    Book Description:

    Writers of sixteenth-century German popular literature took great interest in describing, debating, commenting on, and prescribing gender roles, and discourses of gender can be traced in texts of all kinds from this period. This book focuses on popular works by Georg Wickram, Jakob Frey, Martin Montanus, and Johann Fischart, all of whom published novels, joke books, plays and/or moral treatises on marriage and family life in Strasbourg in the sixteenth century. Their works express not only their own ideas on women's roles as wives and mothers, but also societal values at a time of religious, political, and cultural change. The view of gender issues provided by these writers is not a simple one, as they ascribed widely varying characteristics to "woman" and her relationship to "man." The book thus analyzes the social and cultural construction of the concept of "woman" as indicated not only by the narrators' comments, but also by the relationships and roles of men and women characters in the narratives. Overall, the focus is on the disparities that persisted in the sixteenth-century discourse of gender, confusing all attempts to arrive at definitive gender roles. In the end, the study argues for something that can best be described as a "flowing continuity" or a "continuous flow" in the discourses that form the sixteenth-century concepts of "woman" and "man." Elisabeth Wåghäll-Nivre is associate professor of German at Växjö University, Sweden.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-618-3
    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-xi)
    E. W. N.
  4. [Illustration]
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-25)

    In Von guten und bösen Nachbarn the German author Georg Wickram has two female characters, Cassandra and Lucia, talk about historical and mythological figures, using them as examples of what they — or rather Wickram — consider correct and incorrect female behavior. By referring to past events, age-old thoughts and ideas, and something that can best be described as convention or “traditional behavior,” the manners of women from the growing urban middle class of the sixteenth century are commented upon. By generalizing and by using well-known stories from the past the author is thus able to justify or condemn what he considers...

  6. 1: Chapbooks — Popular Texts for a Large Audience
    (pp. 27-93)

    Chapbooks, “Schwänke” or “Schwanksammlungen,” were immensely popular and relatively inexpensive publications in the vernacular that were often reprinted over and over again in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. In no way a new genre, it seems that the compilations of often humorous short stories of the kind that were found in Germany in the sixteenth century — starting with Johannes Pauli’s Schimpf und Ernst¹ in 1522 — have certain characteristics in common. They have often been accused of crudeness and lack of stylistic elegance, as well as stereotypical and prejudiced portrayals of different occupations and social groups, and a rather extreme...

  7. 2: The Novels of Georg Wickram
    (pp. 95-129)

    Georg Wickram’s interest in well-functioning relationships between man and woman, young and old, master and servant is well documented; scholars of early modern German literature have shown his prose novels an increasing interest over the past two decades because of their exemplary images of perfect marriages and harmonic family life.² Especially in his later works where he writes more independently of his sources, Wickram makes up his ideal version of an early modern society — almost as an antithesis to the world turned upside down in the chapbooks or in texts written in the tradition of Sebastian Brant’s Narrenschiff (1494) — yet...

  8. 3: Woman, Wife, Witch?: The Representation of Woman in Johann Fischart’s Geschichtklitterung
    (pp. 131-156)

    The image of the woman as an evil creature — wet and slippery and hence difficult to grasp — meets the reader of Johann Fischart’s German translation (1581, 1586) of Jean Bodin’s De Démonomanie des sorciers (1580), a well-known witch tract of its time.² Expressing the common fears that men have of women, the text is in no way unusual for a time when many women were prosecuted and sentenced to death for what was considered witchcraft and the use of evil powers. Having studied law Fischart certainly was familiar with witch trials as well as family feuds, prostitution, and other cases...

  9. 4: Polizeiordnungen: Taming the Shrew with Common Sense and the Law
    (pp. 157-190)

    Having discussed popular texts intended to be read for pleasure and with no other normative claims than a desire to portray good and bad examples of male and female behavior, I will now turn to decrees passed by the city council of Strasbourg to study a completely different type of text in search of the role(s) women play in these texts. The records discussed here are products of an almost exclusively middle or upper class male population, the “Bürger,” and hence not representative for all residents of the city. These texts are, however, aimed at the same readership and audience...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 191-198)

    The aim of this book has been to investigate the function of the category “woman” in sixteenth-century chapbooks and other prose texts, as well as in legal documents, Polizeiordnungen, from sixteenthcentury Strasbourg. What conclusions, if any, can be drawn from the discussion of the various texts? In the introduction it was assumed that there are ruptures in the representation of woman — despite the seemingly clear dichotomy between man and woman in these texts — and that this can only be shown clearly by looking at the representation of woman in her relation to man.

    The relationship between man and woman as...

  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 199-216)
  12. Index
    (pp. 217-221)