Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Cemetery of the Murdered Daughters

Cemetery of the Murdered Daughters: Feminism, History, and Ingeborg Bachmann

Sara Lennox
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 408
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Cemetery of the Murdered Daughters
    Book Description:

    Although Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann (1926–1973) is widely regarded as one of the most important twentiethcentury authors writing in German, her novels and stories have sometimes been viewed narrowly as portraits of women as victims. In this innovative study, Sara Lennox provides a much broader perspective on Bachmann’s work, at the same time undertaking an experiment in feminist methodology.Lennox examines Bachmann’s poetry and prose in historical context, arguing that the varied feminist interpretations of her writings are the result of shifts in theoretical emphases over a period of more than three decades. Lennox then places her own essays on Bachmann in similar perspective, showing how each piece reflects the historical moment in which it was written. Making use of recent interdisciplinary approaches—Foucauldian theories of sexuality, postcolonial theory, materialist feminism—she explores the extent to which each of her earlier readings was shaped by the methods employed, the questions asked, and the political issues that seemed most germane at the time. Out of this analysis comes a new understanding of the significance of Bachmann’s work and new insight into the theory and practice of feminist criticism.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-121-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. 1-28)

    As readers familiar with Ingeborg Bachmann’s writing will recognize, the title of this book,Cemetery of the Murdered Daughters, is borrowed from an episode that appears both in Bachmann’s novel fragmentThe Book of Franzaand in her only finished novel,Malina(1971)—the “overture,” as she termed it, to the novel cycle “Ways of Death,” an anatomy of contemporary Austrian society left uncompleted when she died in 1973. In bothFranzaandMalina, the “cemetery of the murdered daughters” is an image that occurs in a dream of the protagonist. In Malina, it is the first of the many...

  6. Part One: Bachmann and History

    • CHAPTER 1 Bachmann in History: AN OVERVIEW
      (pp. 31-42)

      History left its scars on Ingeborg Bachmann’s life and work. She was the product of a turbulent period of Austrian history that included depression, Austro-fascism, National Socialism, defeat and occupation, economic recovery, and political restoration. She hated and condemned the political course that Austria and Germany had taken but, as a member of a generation before the emergence of the student movement and the second wave of feminism, felt powerless to influence the direction of political events. Although she rebelled against her era’s conceptions of femininity, she was also entrapped by them; an independent woman who lived by her writing,...

    • CHAPTER 2 Bachmann’s Feminist Reception
      (pp. 43-82)

      Since the late 1970s, the enthusiastic response of feminist readers, critics, and scholars to the writing of Ingeborg Bachmann has produced a radical reassessment of her work. As I explained in chapter 1, she owed her reputation during her lifetime to the two highly accomplished volumes of lyric poetry she published in the 1950s,Die gestundete Zeit and Anrufung des Großen Bären. Her critics responded more negatively to her subsequent attempts at prose fiction,The Thirtieth Year(1961) and the first finished volumes of her “Ways of Death” cycle,Malina(1971) and Three Paths to the Lake (1972). But after...

  7. Part Two: A History of Reading Bachmann

    • 1981

      • [Introduction]
        (pp. 83-90)

        “Around 1981,” Jane Gallop observes in her book of the same title, “a good number of feminist literary academics in this country were focused on the ‘difference between French and American feminism,’ on the question of psychoanalysis or deconstruction and their usefulness or danger. ‘We’ were not only American feminists like me who thought French psychoanalytic, deconstructive theory a great thing but also those who expended a good deal of energy attacking it. Around 1981, this conflict, this debate seemed central, and to many more academics than me, to feminist literary studies” (3). Now, gazing back from the perspective of...

      • CHAPTER 3 In the Cemetery of the Murdered Daughters: MALINA
        (pp. 91-115)

        Ingeborg Bachmann’sMalinais about the absence of a female voice; in some respects it reads like an illustration of the feminist theory which has evolved since its publication to explain why, within Western discourse, women are permitted no voice and subjectivity of their own. It may be that feminism is the collective struggle of women to constitute that voice, but that battle has barely begun. In what voice, then, does a female scholar write about the absence of a female voice? I have realized that my struggle withMalina, Bachmann’s struggle to write it, and the struggle she describes...

        (pp. 116-118)

        Published in early 1981 (with a publication date of 1980) in a special issue ofStudies in Twentieth-Century Literature, this essay is a paradigmatic example of many qualities of feminist literary scholarship around that time. As I noted in chapter 2, I believe it is also the first to apply this sort of cultural feminist analysis to Bachmann’s work, an approach that would become virtually de rigueur by 1984–85, responsible for producing what Sigrid Weigel termed “the other [feminist] Ingeborg Bachmann” (“Andere” 5). As the essay’s title already underlines, its approach is premised on a notion of woman as...

    • 1983

      • [Introduction]
        (pp. 119-122)

        By 1983, as a consequence of developments outside of and within the U.S. women’s movement, the limitations of the cultural feminist analysis had emerged more clearly, and challenges to its founding premises were raised on a variety of fronts in feminist theory and practice. In June 1982 the Equal Rights Amendment went down to defeat because it had failed to achieve ratification by the requisite number of state legislatures. The “New Right,” arrayed under the banner of the “Reagan revolution” and proclaiming a pro-family, “right-to-life” (i.e., antiabortion) politics, concentrated much of its energies on rolling back gains made by women...

      • CHAPTER 4 Christa Wolf and Ingeborg Bachmann: DIFFICULTIES OF WRITING THE TRUTH
        (pp. 123-144)

        In the West German edition of Christa Wolf ‘s essays,Lesen und Schreiben(1980; translated into English asThe Reader and the Writer), the two oldest essays, dating from 1966, deal with the works of Bertolt Brecht and Ingeborg Bachmann. Along with the East German author Anna Seghers, Brecht and Bachmann count among authors whose writing Wolf respects most, and the presence of those essays inThe Reader and the Writerprovides a useful metaphor for understanding Wolf’s own work: one might maintain that it exists in a tension between those two poles, Brecht and Bachmann. For all the differences...

        (pp. 145-150)

        This essay was written in spring 1983 for the volume titledResponses to Christa Wolf: Critical Essays, edited by the late Marilyn Sibley Fries (though not published until 1989). It displays some of the methodological heterogeneity of the early 1980s, as feminist literary scholarship hesitated between a cultural feminist paradigm and something to come that had not yet been elaborated. Perhaps somewhat paradoxically, I wrote it at almost exactly the moment that Christa Wolf herself emphatically declared her allegiance to the very feminist paradigm that U.S. feminists were beginning to draw into question. In May 1982, in connection with the...

    • 1984

      • [Introduction]
        (pp. 151-156)

        Even feminists themselves sometimes recall the mid-1980s as a period of decline for the U.S. women’s movement. One of the longtime feminist activists that Nancy Whittier interviewed for herFeminist Generations, for instance, characterized those years as “a time of this horrible backlash, a fear-producing, economically self-motivating time, when lots of stuff was driven out of the visible realm into the personal again” (85). Certainly it is true that during this period funding for feminist projects was cut, numbers of shorter- or longer-term feminist organizations and initiatives folded, grassroots feminist activism waned, and the influx of younger women into the...

      • CHAPTER 5 Gender, Race, and History in The Book of Franza
        (pp. 157-182)

        ThoughThe Book of Franzawas uncompleted at the time of Bachmann’s death, it was begun as the first of the “Ways of Death” novels. As the editors of theWerkeexplain, Bachmann had conceived her plan for the novel cycle even before she completedThe Thirtieth Yearand originally intended “Ways of Death” as the title for the novel which was to becomeFranza. In 1967, after having written the portions that have now been printed, she laidFranzaaside, to begin work onMalina. She explained in a 1971 interview that onlyMalinahad made access to the...

        (pp. 183-188)

        This essay was first published in German in 1984 in the specialtext+kritikissue on Ingeborg Bachmann guest-edited by Sigrid Weigel; it appears here for the first time in English. Written in the spring of 1984, it was strongly influenced by contemporary debates both inside and outside of feminism. The two-year-long Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education–sponsored Five College faculty seminar on the intersection of Black Studies and Women’s Studies, culminating in a major conference in April 1983 (Karcher), made a profound impact on me which has lasted to the present. Apart from discovering that I...

    • 1985

      • [Introduction]
        (pp. 189-194)

        The caesura that separated 1984 from 1985 was Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory in the November 1984 election. The lopsided results turned the euphoria of progressives who had participated in the Jackson campaign into deep gloom. The title page of the January–February 1985 issue ofSocialist Reviewbore the caption (borrowed from Ntozake Shange’s play) “For Leftists Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” and the Socialist Scholars’ Conference in April 1985 was titled “The Left in Crisis.” Despite the Democratic Party’s nomination of the first-ever female vice presidential candidate of a major party, Geraldine Ferraro’s candidacy had...

      • CHAPTER 6 Bachmann and Wittgenstein
        (pp. 195-210)

        Twelve years after her death, literary scholars are slowly beginning to understand the author whom Sigrid Weigel has termed “the other Ingeborg Bachmann.” As Weigel explains, “The stimulus of feminist cultural criticism and poststructuralism was necessary before Bachmann’s late work could be understood and the more radical dimension of her writing grasped” (“Andere” 2). The new Bachmann scholarship has been remarkable, producing several impressive recent volumes and finally enabling us to begin to comprehend Bachmann’s profound and difficult texts. Yet despite the accomplishments of the new scholarship, it too runs some danger of again distorting Bachmann’s works by extracting them...

        (pp. 211-214)

        This essay was written in summer 1985 and published in a special issue ofModern Austrian Literaturedevoted to the “other,” feminist Bachmann. In that issue my essay was one of the few that did not address feminism or gender questions. As I observed in chapter 2, I believe now (though I probably would not have said so at the time) that my lack of attention to gender there expressed my general discontent with the cultural/French feminist reading of Bachmann that had by then become virtually hegemonic in Bachmann scholarship—a discontent that would become more general among feminist Bachmann...

    • 1987

      • [Introduction]
        (pp. 215-222)

        Reagan’s popularity continued unabated into his second term, and the Democratic Party seemed incapable of mounting any substantial opposition to Republican policies. One commentator observed: “By 1986, the White House and Senate were in Republican hands, and the Supreme Court was gradually shifting rightward. The House of Representatives, though controlled by Democrats, agreed with the administration’s agenda more than half the time” (Kazin 115). Without significant outcry in response, Reagan successfully bombed Libya in April 1986, continued to lobby for financial support for the Nicaraguan contras, and sought billions of dollars for his “Star Wars” or Strategic Defense Initiative, a...

      • CHAPTER 7 Bachmann Reading/Reading Bachmann: THE WOMAN IN WHITE IN THE “WAYS OF DEATH”
        (pp. 223-232)

        Only one single, brighter episode interrupts the dismal narrative of Ingeborg Bachmann’s unfinished novel,The Book of Franza: Franza’s recollection of May 1945, “the most beautiful spring.”The Book of Franzamostly details Franza’s husband’s deliberate attempt to drive her mad, her escape from him into her brother’s care, their trip together to northern Africa, and her subsequent decline and death there. But Franza also remembers Austria’s liberation in May 1945, a month whose burgeoning splendor coincided with the unrest and excitement of her own adolescent body. The “miracle,” as she terms it, means peace, freedom, and hope for Franza,...

        (pp. 233-238)

        This essay was written in summer 1987 and published in the spring 1988 issue ofGerman Quarterly. Clearly, since writing the Wittgenstein essay two years before, I had found my way back to feminism, and this essay bears the marks of the methodological transition in which feminist literary scholarship, and literary analysis in general, was then engaged. Within my own experience, that transition did not occur without struggle. At the time I believed (of course) that I was on the “right” side of the contestation, though the position I assumed then now seems methodologically quite naive. At mid-decade, the response...

  8. Part Three: Reading Bachmann Historically

    • CHAPTER 8 Bachmann and Theories of Gender/Sexuality: Representing Femininity in “The Good God of Manhattan”
      (pp. 241-268)

      This chapter draws on recent advances in U.S. feminist theory to argue for a new kind of reading of Ingeborg Bachmann’s texts. Almost all U.S. feminist scholars now agree that femininity and masculinity are social constructions that vary enormously across time and culture, and many recent scholars have focused their investigations on how definitions of femininity and masculinity are generated, sustained, and transformed within particular societies. Feminist literary scholars have shown that literary texts contribute to the production of gender as a discursive category by sustaining, modulating, and/or challenging their culture’s discourses of gender. As those scholars have demonstrated, literary...

    • CHAPTER 9 Bachmann and Postcolonial Theory: WHITE LADIES AND DARK CONTINENTS
      (pp. 269-296)

      Austria] is different from all other little countries today because it was an empire and it’s possible to learn something from its history. And because the lack of activity into which one is forced there enormously sharpens one’s view of the big situation and of today’s empires,” Ingeborg Bachmann observed in a 1971 interview (GuI106). The postcolonial theory developed since 1990 helps to explain why and how Bachmann was able to use her Austrian vantage point as a privileged perspective from which to regard “today’s empires” and the forms of imperialism for which they have been responsible. For over...

    • CHAPTER 10 Bachmann and Materialist Feminism: GENDER AND THE COLD WAR
      (pp. 297-340)

      Two apparently contradictory arguments underwrite this book which I want to address explicitly here. On the one hand, I have maintained that Bachmann’s writingsshouldbe read historically, though they often are not; on the other hand, I have asserted that all readings of Bachmann arenecessarilyhistorical: that is, informed by the historically specific concerns of readers, whether or not readers are aware of it. Walter Benjamin again helps to reconcile this apparent contradiction. His “Theses on the Philosophy of History” helps us to understand that all readings are necessarily “presentist” in that they take from the text that...

    (pp. 341-374)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 375-387)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 388-389)