A "Daughter of the Occident" travels to the "Orient": Ida von Hahn-Hahn's the Countess Faustina and Letters From the Orient.
The parallel themes of female self-development and travel to the "Orient" in Ida von Hahn-Hahn's The Countess Faustina (Grafin Faustine, 1841) and Letters From the Orient (Orientalische Briefe, 1844) make reading these two works together especially revealing since they simultaneously illustrate both progressive values and exclusionary tendencies. The tension between these two seemingly opposing value systems can be explained in part by their precolonial context. The precolonial framework highlights aspects of domination that underlie this tension between defining human rights more broadly by including women and simultaneously limiting participation by other groups. While scholars have studied the role of women authors in Germany's colonialist enterprise, (1) there is very little scholarship on the ways in which German women may have contributed to what Susanne Zantop termed precolonial discourse in Germany. The fantasy of becoming a nation and a colonizing power circulated in the German consciousness prior to its actual realization, and the fact that Germany had not yet achieved these aims contributed to low national self-esteem and "a crisis in the self-perception of a demoralized, politically impotent bourgeoisie in search of affirmative models of collective identity" (Zantop 43). According to Zantop, these suppressed fantasies "gave rise to theories of gender and race that would profoundly alter European and German self-perceptions and developed constructs that assigned the white European male a position of power and authority over all kinds of feminized others" (43).
Zantop locates this "crisis of self-perception" within a specific cultural context and time period, namely Germany from 1770 to 1870. She also highlights the dynamic relationship between race and gender in this "crisis of self-perception." She therefore focuses on the formation of the colonizing subject through an interaction with the other it intends to dominate, and this process of domination culminates in the popular colonialist trope of the white European male aggressor possessing nonwhite feminized others. According to Zantop, the portrayal of the dominating relationship as one of heterosexual desire and conquest helped to naturalize the force of colonialism from within its discourse. (2) However, while such a dynamic certainly provides a point of departure for examining unequal power relationships in a discursive space outside of actual colonial conditions, its emphasis on metaphors of masculine power cannot necessarily account for the work of female authors. Aspects of female authorship were not specifically addressed in Zantop's work because she subsumes female authors into a discourse that is predominantly masculinist. In looking at an author such as Ida von Hahn-CHahn, whose texts clearly support a progressive female autonomy, while simultaneously participating in racializing discourse, one would have to widen the definition of the precolonial in order to include such a complicated dynamic.
In the following essay, I expand the parameters by exploring how the female-centered themes of two works by Hahn-Hahn interact with both the imagined and the actual experience of people called "Orientals," and a place called the "Orient." (3) In an analysis of The Countess Faustina, a best-selling novel in which a young countess aims to live her life along a path of her own choosing, I examine how much of the critique of male-female relationships is mediated by a metaphoric use of the Orient. In her Letters From the Orient, Hahn-Hahn no longer relies simply on cultural knowledge about the Orient: rather, as the first European woman to request a visa in Constantinople for travel further East, her letters reveal an authority of experience, as she reports on what she witnesses. In this essay, I examine the degree to which the change from an imaginary to a real encounter alters the momentum or structure of her work.
The Countess Faustina
In The Countess Faustina, Hahn-Hahn relates the story of a young woman of aristocratic birth who struggles for independence. As in her other fictional works, Hahn-Hahn asserts that the development of humanity towards an enlightened ideal depends on the self-development of its female as well as its male members. She explicitly rejects the more widespread notion that self-renunciation is a woman's true or natural calling. As a mouthpiece for the author's agenda, Faustina wrestles with her own development as woman and artist throughout the novel, making a virtue of placing her wishes and desires above those around her. Like her namesake, Faust, Faustina seeks to go beyond prescribed boundaries. When accused of selfishness, she exclaims, "[H]ow can I feel respect for another's being, if I do not begin by respecting my own? And if I am prepared to give this general respect to human development and human aspirations, how is it possible but that I should endeavor first to labor at my own?" (56). (4)
One learns that Faustina suffered in a loveless first marriage. She fled and vowed never to remarry, although the subsequent death of her husband made remarriage possible. As the novel opens, Faustina has been living out-of-wedlock with Andlau. Their match is ideal because their temperaments suit each other. She is happy with him, can pursue her artistic endeavors, and suffers no social sanctions due to their relationship. In fact, she is much sought after in her social circle. While Faustina is intelligent, headstrong, and independent, she also lacks an internal stabilizing force, or what she calls "principle[s] of action" (11). This flaw leads to her undoing: the equilibrium of her life is threatened by the arrival of Count Mengen, who is immediately smitten with Faustina but holds very traditional views about male-female relationships. During Andlau's prolonged absence from home, the two fall passionately in love, Faustina leaves Andlau and marries Mengen at the latter's insistence. He fails to see that the vitality of Faustina's personality will not survive the confines of their marriage. In fact, her whispered consent to the marriage is the last point at which we hear her voice in the novel. Even though she is able to achieve great fame as an artist after marrying Mengen, Faustina sacrifices her personal freedom. This sacrifice is emphasized by the fact that in the end she no longer narrates her own story: rather, it is a tale told by her husband to an adoring fan. However, Faustina's drive for autonomy will not remain confined for long: in the end, she leaves her family with her husband's consent, enters a convent, and dies shortly thereafter. (5)
The orientalist theme permeates the novel at first subtly and then with increasing visibility. The connection between the development of an emancipated heroine and the Oriental female slave is initially casually mentioned, and could be easily missed: the first reference to slavery and the Orient occurs early on in the novel, and the parallel to gender relationships is established immediately. At this point, Faustina and her lover, Andlau, are in the home they share. Despite the fact that she is the more dynamic of the two, Faustina voices concern that she is being dominated by his superior analytical ability, which gives him the upper hand in arguments. She observes to him, "[a]s those female slaves in the Orient wear, as a sign of their state of servitude, only a small gold chain on the wrist, which looks like an ornament, just so is your love an ornament, but still a chain to me" (11). (6) His love might look like jewelry, she says teasingly, but it is also pivotal in his dominance over her. He then counters that she needs this "chain" for stability because she is not given to thinking things through clearly.
In her relationship with Andlau, Faustina playfully evokes the image of the female slave and the sensual aspects of slavery signified by the dainty gold chain. Her description hardly fits their relationship when Faustina continues to explain their love: "I have the true slavish nature, loving most where I am most tyrannized over" (11). (7) Fortunately for her, Andlau is a benevolent patron and sees that Faustina needs to live according to what best suits her personal trajectory. Indeed, her development is the primary focus of the novel: "men, events, accidental occurrences, her own errors, all served as means for her mental progress--all tended to her improvement" (12). The couple's comfortable relationship does not survive Graf Mengen's arrival. Without unshakeable internal convictions and clearsightedness, Faustina betrays her own antimarriage stance.
Initially, the comparison between the aristocratic European woman and the Oriental female seems merely descriptive, since its dynamic nature has not yet been fully constructed. Yet even at this stage, the comparison serves to highlight Faustina's desire for autonomy as well as the difficulty she has in remaining steadfast. Most of the novel narrates the time spent with Andlau; however, it is preceded and followed by two failed marriages. In both cases, Faustina consented to the marriage, and thus the comparison to slavery is linked to that aspect of Faustina's personality that explains her abdication of autonomy.
The comparison is broadened to include an entire class of women during a discussion between Faustina and her sister, who revels in her role as Hausfrau. They resort to the slavery metaphor in referring to the power that moneyed men wield over women in marriage. Using strong language, Faustina conveys contempt for this hierarchy of power. She wishes that "men should treat [women] as their equals, not as slaves, whom in their fits of anger they tread under their feet, and when good-humoured, toss them a necklace, or some similar trifle. This demoralizes women, it blunts their delicacy. They will bear with brutal conduct to-day, [so] that tomorrow they may claim a new hat for their gentleness" (22). While equating aristocratic wives with slaves, the active verb formulation also suggests that they participate in their exploitation, and that ironically they themselves exploit the situation ("they bear with brutal conduct, so that [... ]"). In addition to her general critique of marriage in which women are "bought and sold," Faustina also levels scorn at women willing to trade their self-respect and their sexuality for a "new hat." The concept of slavery, here specifically the situation of female slaves, has been emptied of any genuine attempt to engage with that system, and is instead used to advocate change in the relationship between European men and women. Slavery has ceased to be an institution that is independent of the female protagonist but rather is used to bolster her subjectivity.
Faustina's experience of this "enslaved" condition explains her unconventional living situation and understanding of the nature of marriage. As a very young woman, she had been married off for convenience's sake despite her wishes and better judgment. She considered it a big mistake, a debasement of female virtue, implying that sex without love is degrading to women. In marriage, however, it becomes unavoidable because of the nature of this institution: a woman legally becomes her husband's property. In contrast, her relationship with Andlau is based on mutual love and therefore freedom and equality. Her language reveals the incompatibility of the concepts of freedom and marriage for women. She says, "[o]n my small income I lived as I do now, simply and independently, but rejoicing in my freedom. My love was neither bought nor sold. I felt neither pained nor degraded, nor humbled. My independence placed me on a level with the man I so much esteemed, while my former dependent state had made me feel degraded below him whom I could not respect" (74).
For the nineteenth-century woman, marriage precludes the freedom that love requires in order to flourish. As Faustina states, "I felt such perfect confidence [about Andlau], that I needed no perishable symbol, and despised a fetter [of marriage]" (74). Although, according to Faustina, women are defined in relationship to love as the only way to be truly formed or fulfilled, by rejecting marriage she avoids the comparison with female slaves. In the original German, Faustina repeats the same word (Fessel) that she used in her conversation with Andlau, thus effectively linking again the concrete symbol of female bondage with the institution of marriage.
As the novel progresses, the dynamism of the relationship between Faustina and Andlau contrasts starkly with that which Mengen envisions for Faustina and himself. Unfortunately, from the moment Faustina confesses her love to Mengen, her "slavish nature" insists that she align her thoughts and actions with his. In this instance, her nature stands in a sharp contrast to the qualities of "courage" and "strength of mind" which support an autonomous life. (8) If she had not lacked these qualities, she would have been able to avert disaster, and this fact places part of the blame for the failed marriages on the individuals within them. (9) At the same time, the Oriental female has already been positioned within the dynamic of this relationship and in the inherent unequal balance of power in the institution of marriage. Thus, reintroducing marriage into the plot provides a pivotal moment.
The fundamentally different and gendered way in which each character views the Orient and the Oriental anticipates the failure of the marriage and Faustina's escape into a convent. Once it becomes clear that Faustina's version of life and love conflicts deeply with Mengen's more socially conformist views, a series of deeper and more meaningful comparisons between female development and the role of the Orient begins. After Faustina consents to marriage, the Oriental female slave is no longer a metaphor that she uses to define and defend her emancipatory agenda for European women. Instead, Faustina shifts her focus to the Orient itself, and it ironically becomes the place where she could be free again.
Once she submits and consents to marry, Mengen carries Faustina, who is "pale as death," off to his parents' estate, a descriptive phrase that foreshadows the disastrous consequences that passion over reason will have for her. Once again, the moment she consents to marriage is also the last time that her voice is heard directly in the novel. The rest of their story is narrated by her husband, told in flashback after her death to a curious female interlocutor. (10) The conversation reveals that Faustina has become a great artist, at the cost, however, of the ideal relationship she had had with Andlau and of her own personal development. While narrating her story, Mengen inadvertently lays bare the insoluble problem of their marriage. Instead of associating love with freedom and growth as Faustina did, Mengen describes the relationship with words like "limits," "obedience," and "law," and thus paints a picture of a bourgeois or institutional marriage. He explains:
[Faustina] was a stranger [...] to love, although she had loved Andlau deeply; for she wished to feel enfranchised by it from every restraint whatever; forgetting that it is only within certain limits that true freedom can be preserved--if we pass these, we shall find arbitrary will on the one side and the disorder of passion on the other. (83)
And later he says, "I wanted her to learn obedience [...] to the accepted immutable law. I believed that the gradual habituation [to it] would little by little rein in her innermost being" (222). (11) Despite their passionate love for one another, the subjective experience of love cannot bridge the incompatibility between female autonomy and the institution of marriage.
In Mengen's narration of events, the Oriental female continues to serve as a metaphor for European women, however, though now articulated by a male perspective. According to Mengen, the role that a woman is supposed to play in marriage, that is conforming to the "accepted immutable law," seems to agree with Faustina when they are first married. As he remarks, "[F]or a time she was soft, luxuriant, like an Oriental woman, lay half the day on the divan with her eyes half closed, dreaming, thinking, composing, and never grew weary of it" (222). (12) Whereas for Faustina the pivotal term was "Sklavin," or female slave, Mengen chooses the word "Orientalin," or Oriental female. In this instance, the Oriental female, who now becomes interchangeable with Faustina, is laden with fantasies about access to female sexuality. (13) This description is, of course, precisely the fantasy that was so distasteful to Faustina, and it symbolizes what was "demoralizing" for women in a European marriage. It stands in stark contrast to Faustina's own description of herself basking in Andlau's love while still remaining an independent woman.
Mengen's appropriation of Faustina's "story" parallels the attempt to appropriate the narrative of the Oriental. While the novel critiques the power structures involved in marriage, and thus Mengen's role, the novel's use of the Orient remains unexamined. Even more importantly, the latter serves as the critique of the former. Once Faustina and Mengen are married, the Orient itself becomes the site of their conflict: the novel explores their different perspectives on female development by including an actual trip to the Orient. Mengen at first denies Faustina the trip, asserting that she should get used to a regular, uniform life, befitting her new role (85). Knowing that such a plodding existence is antithetical to her needs, Faustina asserts that the Orient, as both a "historical" and "poetic" place, would be stimulating for her both as person and artist, and for their son, who has since been born (85). At this point, Faustina no longer possesses her former autonomy, and the Orient represents an escape from bourgeois Europe.
Faustina and Mengen do in fact make the trip: after she earns the money herself and persists in her wish, Mengen relents. He describes her in retrospect as "enraptured at her residence in that land of early poetry and art" (86). In the Orient, Faustina finds her belief confirmed that greatness "might be more easily attained here, in this primitive mode of life than in the midst of our western civilization" (86). Availing itself of the familiar Occident/Orient opposition, the novel assigns a primeval quality to the Orient that enables Faustina to transcend the limits of bourgeois femininity and to reclaim her feeling of freedom and autonomy. In the end, however, this freedom is an illusion. She and Mengen return to Europe against Faustina's wishes; she concedes with an abrupt statement to Mengen: "you are my lord and master" (86).
For Mengen, this trip offers the most happiness he will experience in his marriage with Faustina. (14) For her, it provides a connection to a mythic past. It is also the antidote for the smothering nature of contemporary European civilization, especially of marriage. Their return to Europe coincides with the death of her former lover, Andlau, and she soon expresses the desire to enter a convent. Mengen struggles with this decision at first and then allows it. However, as Mengen reports after her death, before she left the family she had poured her last bit of creative energy into a poem entitled "Moses." Without elaborating on the choice of title, Mengen describes the poem as the pinnacle of her artistic achievement and the last thing she would ever create as an artist. In this poem, Faustina manages to capture and convey the "mystical depths of the Orient" (240), (15) demonstrating that she not only comprehends the Orient but can render it in art. (16) She is both inspired by and in control of this space which symbolically is no longer peopled by anyone else in the novel but her, a fact which completely erases the Oriental female slaves. Instead, the Orient provides an important space for Faustina's development as an artist. One could add that it is the control of this space and its meaning that mitigates for Faustina the loss of power she experiences in marriage.
By this point, the dynamic process of her development, which she sacrificed in marrying Mengen, has become irrevocably entwined with the role of the Orient. Faustina is at times both in control and "enslaved." In this way, the development of the female self in the novel depends on the initial characterization of slavery or the slave as a static metaphor. It is the static and inaccurate conception of the slave as devoid of what makes development possible that provides the potential tot the development of the female self. In other words, the static nature of female slavery as depicted by Hahn-Hahn precludes a notion of self-hood for the actual slave, while at the same time enabling the development of the heroine, both in political and personal terms. Finally, however, the narration of Faustina's life and that of the "Orientalin" has been placed in the hands of a representative German bourgeois patriarch, who is then alone responsible for rearing the next generation of males like their son, Bonaventura. The critique of the male-female relationships within the boundaries of the marital institution is displaced onto the comparison with slavery and female slaves. In other words, neither the marital relationship nor the novel itself can account for the political or personal consequences of feminine "Faustian" striving. Instead the discussions about gender issues cease, and the novel projects such conflicts away from their origin onto the imaginary space of the Orient. (17)
Letters From the Orient
In the two works under consideration here, the textual intersection of self and other expresses itself in the context of a journey from imagined to actual contact with the Orient. When reading Hahn-Hahn's account of her travels eastward, one must begin by remembering that, in a day and age when travel to another city in Europe was often fraught with difficulty, her undertaking was immense)s The highlights were stops in Constantinople, Beirut, Damascus, Jerusalem, Gaza, Cairo, Alexandria, and even a trip on the Nile. The letters to family and friends during this eight-month trip from August 1843 to April 1844 were first published as a collection in 1844 and translated into English in 1845)" While it is an important work of travel literature, the letters can also be read as a narrative of female development. In such a reading, one must be careful not to collapse the distance between the author Hahn-Hahn, the traveling self of the same name depicted in the letters, and the fictional heroine of The Countess Faustina who made this same trip. (20) However, the continuation of the themes of self-development and travel to the Orient in the Letters From the Orient justifies a reading of these two works together. (21)
In the last twenty years, Hahn-Hahn's collection of Letters Front the Orient has enjoyed much more critical attention than The Countess Faustina and has been included in various works about traveling women writers and travel literature. (22) Critics of travel literature are necessarily concerned with the interaction of the European traveler with other, non-European cultures. With regard to female travelers to the Orient, some early feminist critics tended to draw parallels between European women and Orientals since both were marginalized by a white, patriarchal society, rather than highlight the authors' Eurocentric perspectives. (23)
More recently, both Stefanie Ohnesorg and Elke Frederiksen have pointed out that Hahn-Hahn's feminist perspective cannot be analyzed without taking into account her racist descriptions of female slaves. (24) With her insightful study, Ohnesorg in particular focuses on Hahn-Hahn's experience of gender, marriage and the harem in the Orient and questions whether or not Hahn-Hahn's powerful stance is achieved at the cost of oppressing the non-European woman (271). (25) Ohnesorg is certainly right to question the relationship between Hahn-Hahn's depiction of the harem women and her own traveling persona. However, the traveling female in these letters also acquires strength through fantasies of control and power, which she demonstrates by metaphorically colonizing the space of the Orient itself.
In a letter dated the eve of her departure for Constantinople in August 1843, Hahn-Hahn writes to her mother, "Existence with me is a series of aspirations, and thus knowledge already attained is continually overborne by the desire for knowledge yet to be acquired. I shall soon learn how the Orient is reflected in the eye of a daughter of the West." (26) In the letters that follow, Hahn-Hahn claims the ability to know and to produce knowledge about things and more importantly about the people she will see. Her position is underscored by the fact that she is unwilling for her traveling companion, Baron Adolf von Bystram, to narrate her story. In fact, his name is barely mentioned. Instead, her language manifests her self-confidence and highlights the female quest for development so prevalent in The Countess Faustina.
After receiving her visa in Constantinople, Hahn-Hahn continues eastward. Her claim to objectivity notwithstanding, Hahn-Hahn asserts an ability to render people into text, to recognize no discrepancy between how she sees them and who they are. For example, she writes, "One may describe every thing, dear mother, but Nature; the physiognomy of a country, men, their mode of living, their dress, their houses, their passions, their condition, all are easy of description" (85). Through the process of "describing" Hahn-Hahn renders the inhabitants of the places she visits as flat, static, and lifeless, or as Frederiksen states, with narrative distance (161). At the same time, Hahn-Hahn renders the land in which they live inspiring to the traveler. (27)
While Hahn-Hahn is not applying "ethnographic" tools to people (85), she does display particular interest in the situation of women, especially in the harem. (28) It is certainly not surprising that a nineteenth- century European woman experiencing gender restrictions in her home country should be interested in the situation of women in other cultures to which she travels. Nevertheless, as Mohja Kahf reminds us, the image of the harem woman is already ubiquitous in works of European literature by the mid-nineteenth century and heavily laden with meaning and intertextual connections (175). (29) Thus, while in Constantinople, Hahn- Hahn is able to state, before she has even visited one, "The harem is your only institution for the corruption of the character of woman; and it is a thousand pities that it is concealed by an impenetrable veil from all European eyes" (37). (30) As Meyda Yegenoglu points out, in such descriptions the status of non-European women becomes a category of knowledge and a point of comparison (97). Indeed, as described earlier, non-European women served an important function in The Countess Faustina. Through the centuries, both male and female authors competed to define the harem woman, and Hahn-Hahn's description of women and her analysis of their oppression must be read in this context. On the one hand she articulates sympathy for the harem women and critiques their "caged" existence. She asserts that such a system brings both men and women closer to their baser, or animal instincts and laments the lack of opportunity for intellectual and spiritual growth for women. (31) At the same time, Hahn-Hahn bestializes these women herself and almost gleefully describes to her brother their overweight bodies and gluttonous ways, presumably to dash his expectations of harem sensuality. (32)
As Stefanie Ohnesorg shows, no travel literature written about the Orient is complete without a visit to the slave markets, and Hahn-Hahn's work is no exception. (33) Given her exploration of gender restrictions and her use of the slave metaphor in The Countess Faustina, in addition to her cultural predisposition to criticize harem life, one might expect that Hahn-Hahn be sympathetic to the plight of actual slaves. However, this is not the case. In the novel, the fantasy of the sexually alluring female slave was specifically male and distasteful to the heroine because it represented the boundaries of gender roles that oppressed European women. In a letter to her brother, Hahn-Hahn intends to disrupt the stereotypical image of the female slave by painting a picture that more closely approximates reality, but she veers off into a racially charged treatise on true womanhood. (34) Hahn-Hahn wrote the following passage when she had been in Constantinople for a week and had not yet visited a harem. While lengthy and distasteful to the modern reader, this oft-quoted passage shows the process through which Hahn-Hahn moves from "objective" observer to engaged participant:
My dear Dinand,--To-day I propose doing you a most especial favor, by inviting you to accompany me to the Slave-market: [...] Here there are only blacks, and with the monstrous spectacle you must fain content yourself. There they sit! A coarse gray garment envelopes the figure; colored glass rings encircle the wrists; colored glass beads the neck: the hair is cut short. You are struck--first with the depressed forehead, squeezed over the eyebrows, as in the Cretins: then with the large, rolling inexpressive eye: then with the nose, innocent of a bridge--a great misshapen mass; then with the mouth, and the frightful animal formation of projecting jawbone, and gaping, black lips (red lips on the Moor [...] is a European fancy which reality does not sanction); then with the long-fingered, apelike hands, and hideous, colorless nails; then with the meagre spindleshanks and projecting heel: then, and most of all, with the incredible animalism of the whole thing, form and expression combined. The color varies. Here it is bright black, there somewhat brown, and here again grayish. (43; emphasis in original)
Before the beginning of the above passage, Hahn-Hahn points out that "female slave" is not a uniform category, but that female slaves are grouped according to skin color. She adds to this potentially objective reporting her own assessment of the racial division. Hahn-Hahn begins her description of the black female slaves with "there they sit!" After that initial sentence in which the female slaves serve as the grammatical subject, which makes them whole, Hahn-Hahn switches to the passive voice whereby they become the grammatical objects of their clothing and adornments. Hahn-Hahn describes them by verbally dissecting their bodies into individual parts that do not belong to a human whole. Her textual inspection of them precedes their actual one by purchasers and thus increases their dehumanization and degradation. In her narrative of events, Hahn-Hahn has temporarily accessed and exercised power over these individuals whom she now "reassembles" from their individual body parts into an "animal" form.
At this moment in the text, she begins again to use the third-person pronoun and notes that "they" are unresponsive to the handling they must undergo:
They give out no signs of life; they stare at us with the same unconscious gaze that they fix upon each other. A purchaser approaches, examines them: women-buyers make their remarks upon them. They are indifferent to all. They are measured in their length and breadth, like a bale of goods; scanned, and tried in their hand, hips, feet, teeth, like a horse: they submit to everything without dislike, without anger, without sorrow [...], unconcerned with [their] fate (43).
This unresponsiveness forms one of the main themes of the passage, and she directs her animus at this particular quality: "they are indifferent to all." In German, this phrase "sie lassen alles geschehen" conveys a stronger note of agency than the English translation. In fact, Faustina uses this same phrase in the novel when describing her contempt for women who put up with brutal treatment in marriage for material compensation. One is also reminded that a "slavish nature" can be accompanied by the inability to accurately assess or change ones own situation. Hahn-Hahn's inability to discern the slightest bit of dissatisfaction or rebellion allows her to remove these women from the system of slavery that is responsible for their presence there, as well as to essentialize their behavior. At the same time, her assessment highlights her own intrepid nature as the heroine of this travelogue who breaks through the restrictions of gender roles. She continues:
Say brother, how do you like it? I honestly confess, that in the whole proceeding, nothing so shocked me as the creatures' hideousness; and that the majestic king vulture at Schonbrunn inspired me with more compassion for his captivity, than I feel for the slavery of these [creatures]. (35) I ask myself internally, "Is it possible that a Sappho, an Aspasia, a Mary Stuart, and other miracles of Mind and Beauty, can be of the same sex as these?" and, with great confidence, I answer, "No." For a woman, without intelligence, is no longer a woman, but,--alas! I have no more appropriate word--a mate; and this contains too much of tenderness and caressing for my meaning; she becomes simply une femelle. Place in your mind such a negress by the side of an Aspasia, and you may perceive as intensely as it is possible for you to perceive it, how far asunder lie the human families; how wide the gulf which separates two such beings. We are all of dust, and to dust we shall return; but, for the few years which I have to live, I am truly grateful to my Creator that it has pleased Him to vouchsafe me a dusty integument which is at least white. (43; emphasis in original)
In the end, Hahn-Hahn has determined that these women do not deserve her compassion because they are without intelligence, which would be discernable by some act, word or gesture of dissatisfaction with their lot. She also continues to garner a great deal of power and authority for herself as the female observer who surveys what remains hidden to white male eyes. Her denigration of these women is thus inseparable from her own claim to represent the truth.
Moreover, the phrase "such a negress" would seem to refer to a specific person. However, by placing her side by side with an "Aspasia," Hahn-Hahn brings the argument into a metaphoric realm. The last sentence in the above passage, the last word in fact, closes her extended argument with a black and white binary, placing her solidly on one side of a gulf she has carefully created. By reaffirming herself as the white observer, Hahn-Hahn implicitly categorizes herself with the Sapphos, the Aspasias, and the Maria Stuarts of history. Ironically, the models of intellect, grace, and beauty she chooses are elitist historic or literary constructs and cannot be really known by her or anyone else.
The significance of Hahn-Hahn's textual handling of these women goes beyond this particular passage, providing a strong contrast for Hahn- Hahn's depiction of appropriate female development, as well as her own place in the world. In her introduction to the letters, Hahn-Hahn informs her readers that her journey was filled with "instructive phenomena and wisdom" (2). Her quest for freedom and knowledge is courageous, and her assertion that women have an important place in the history and development of humankind is reflected in both the trip itself and her interactions with her surroundings. At the same time, Hahn-Hahn's descriptions of the various sites she visits in the Orient allow her to stand in awe before the "birthplace of civilization" and its generative effect on her, the traveler, while at the same time denying the Oriental self a present and a future. (36)
While the concept of slavery appears in both of Hahn-Hahn's texts, she ultimately rejects the comparison with female slaves as a metaphor for a European female experience. Instead, Hahn-Hahn continues to place herself in her letters alongside powerful female figures of the past such as Cleopatra (202). After her initial visit to the slave market, Hahn-Hahn no longer seems to be concerned with the situation of slaves at all. For example, much later when she visits an important port city on the Nile, Hahn-Hahn only briefly mentions the fact that slaves comprise much of what is imported and exported (212). In fact, she focuses more on the free population. At the same time, she ceases to make distinctions between peoples of color and ends up conflating non-white with non-human. Enslavement no longer appears as an intermediary step in the process of racialization. Even when people are not slaves, she again uses animal imagery to describe them, dissecting them verbally, thus extending the metaphoric domination to include greater numbers of people:
[T]he Nubian women vie with the negresses in hideousness, and seem positively created to inspire one with horror for the fair sex in Africa. They braid the hair--I should say once in their lives--in ten thousand small plaits, which they [...], on their becoming very rough, pomatum with butter, which I can assure you is not so fragrant as our pomades and oils. These braids stick up one against another: add to them the blue-dyed lips, the gaping mouth, the large white teeth, the rolling eyes, and you have the ape complete. [...] It is most disagreeable to be surrounded by such ugly women, and hence I cannot help complaining of them. (214)
Hahn-Hahn is particularly harsh in her judgment of women, and even more so when writing to her brother. However, she describes the men and children of color in a similar manner (212). At the same time, she continually brings the narrative back to herself and her own development. The restrictive and derisive language she uses in her remarks contrasts starkly with the following passage written during this same boat trip on the Nile:
The country means here, the desert; and this is so constituted that from its yellow sand there rise dark blocks of limestone. [...] A boundless plain stretches itself undisturbed; the undulations of the uneven sandy soil, the blocks of rock, the mountains or rocky points which mount in the horizon--Heaven knows at what distance--do not make the slightest difference: it seemed as if [I] could see into the very heart of Africa. (214) (37)
The words that Hahn-Hahn chooses all refer to expansion and space: desert, the act of rising up, boundlessness, stretching, mountains and rocky points, the horizon, etc. This description leads to the point "it seemed to me as if I could see into the very heart of Africa." As shown in the introductory letter to the collection, for Hahn-Hahn, the act of seeing and knowing are very closely related. The breadth of this claim puts her in the same category as Cleopatra, a person in control of this space, and not the Nubian women who are rendered apes.
Both of the texts under consideration here, as well as others by Hahn-Hahn, reveal a feminist agenda, or Bewusstseinsemanzipation, (38) that both legitimatizes female autonomy and critiques social institutions such as marriage. Thus, female autonomy is achieved by transgressing the boundaries set by these social institutions and as such is a continuous process.
Three years before she herself traveled to the Orient, Hahn-Hahn's preconceptions about the meaning of such a trip for a woman's development were evident in The Countess Faustina, evident in references to Oriental female slaves and Faustina's desire to travel to the Orient. The connection between female development and the Orient occurs via the metaphor of specifically female slavery, which Hahn-Hahn uses to describe the position and problems facing aristocratic women in European society. This metaphor also appropriates the experience of the female slave's oppression while rendering its horror innocuous. By the novel's end, the idealized development of the heroine is made possible by the space called the Orient. Such a result effectively takes over the space of the Orient as conducive for female autonomy. That is, it exists solely to support her development rather than any people called Orientals. Conversely, Faustina's renunciation of personal autonomy by consenting to marriage is attributed to her "true slavish nature" and lack of "clearsightedness," connecting, on a personal level, one's "slavish nature" to an inability to see one's own situation clearly. In The Countess Faustina, this connection is established in a fictional realm. Hahn-Hahn writes about how she imagines her heroine to perceive the Orient: as generative and inspiring.
Once Hahn-Hahn's heroine, in this case, the writer herself, actually experiences the Orient, her capacity for observation and detail grows by leaps and bounds. She has the stated intention to be truthful and wishes her texts to be an accurate reflection of what she witnesses. Contrary to what one might have expected, the change from imaginary to real encounter does not significantly alter the imaginative momentum or structure of her work. The dynamic between the European female and the Oriental slave remains pivotal, as does her relationship to the Orient itself. Hahn-Hahn establishes a connection between herself as the vital, independent heroine of this travelogue and her analysis of the people and places she visits. Her observations appropriate the site of the Other, both its personhood and its living space, through which in turn Hahn-Hahn claims for herself as author and for women in general access to knowledge and knowledge production. This appropriation and the concomitant exclusion of the peoples indigenous to that space reveal fantasies of power over others. Thus, while Hahn-Hahn was not outrightly supporting a colonialist system, her texts are unwittingly complicit in the racialized discourse that supported such domination. This dynamic would seem to place Hahn-Hahn's work squarely within the boundaries of Zantop's definition of precolonial. However, as I have shown, texts such as The Countess Faustina and Letters From the Orient cannot simply be subsumed into a theory of masculinist discourse. Instead, the discussion of racial and gender dynamics within colonial fantasies necessitates an expansion to be able to account for racialized fantasies of female power and autonomy.
Dabak, Shubhangi. "Images of the Orient in the Travel Writings of Ida Pfeiffer and Ida Hahn-Hahn." Diss. Michigan State U, 1999.
Felden, Tamara. "Reiseliteratur yon Vormarzlerinnen: Zur literarischen Reprasentation der Geschlechterrollenerfahrung." Diss. U of Maryland, 1990.
Frederiksen, Elke. "Der Blick in die Ferne: Zur Reiseliteratur von Frauen." Frauen Literatur Geschichte: Schreibende Frauen vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart. Ed. Hiltrud Gnug and Renate Mohrmann. 2nd ed. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999. 147-65.
Geiger, Gerlinde Maria. Die befreite Psyche: Emanzipationsansatze im Fruhwerk Ida Hahn-Hahns (1838-48). Frankfurt a.M.: Lang, 1986.
Habinger, Gabriele. Vorwort. Grafin Faustine. By Ida von Hahn-Hahn. Ed. Gabriele Habinger. Wien: Promedia, 1991.
Hahn-Hahn, Ida. The Countess Faustina: Constantinople and Its Environs, Translated from the German. N. trans. New York: New World Press, 1845.
--. Grafin Faustine. Edited and Afterword by Annemarie Taeger. Bonn: Bouvier Verlag, 1986.
--. Letters From the Orient, or, Travels in Turkey, The Holy Land, and Egypt. Translated from the German by the Author of Caleb Stukely. 2nd ed. London: J.C. Moore, 1845.
--. Orientalische Briefe. Edited and Forward by Gabriele Habinger. Wien: Promedia, 1991.
Janosi, Peter. "Der begehrliche Blick: Die Orientalin als Bild westlicher Phantasmagorien." Emanzipation am Nil: Frauenleben und Frauenrecht in den Papyri. Ed. Harald Froschauer and Hermann Harrauer. Wien: Phoibus, 2005. 95-100.
Kahf, Mohja. Western Representations of the Muslim Woman: From Termagant to Odalisque. Austin: U of Texas P, 1999.
Klotz, Marcia. "White Women and the Dark Continent: Gender and Sexuality in German Colonial Discourse from the Sentimental Novel to the Fascist Film." Diss. Stanford U, 1994.
Marquart, Elke. "Ida von Hahn-Hahn, 1805-80: Briefe einer Reisenden." Aufbruch und Abenteuer: Frauen-Reisen um die Welt ab 1785. Ed. Lydia Potts. Berlin: Orlanda-Frauenverlag, 1988. 48-64.
Martin, Judith E. "Nineteenth-Century German Literary Women's Reception of Madame de Stall." Women in German Yearbook 18. Ed. Patricia Herminghouse and Ruth-Ellen B. Joeres. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2002. 133-57.
Mohrmann, Renate. Die andere Frau: Emanzjpationsansatze deutscher Schriftstellerinnen im Vorfeld der Achtundvierziger-Revolution. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1977.
Ohnesorg, Stefanie. Mit Kompab, Kutsche und Kamel: (Ruck-) Einbindung der Frau in die Geschichte des Reisens und der Literatur. St. Ingbert: Rohrig Universitatsverlag, 1996.
Pelz, Annegret. "Europaerinnen und Orientalismus." Frauen Literatur Politik. Ed. Annegret Pelz, Marianne Schuller, Inge Stephan, Sigrid Weigel, and Kerstin Wilhelms. Hamburg: Argument, 1988. 205-18
Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon, 1978.
Taeger, Annemarie. Nachwort. Grafin Faustine. By Ida von Hahn-Hahn. Ed. Annemarie Taeger. Bonn: Bouvier, 1986.
Wildenthal, Lora. "Race, Gender, and Citizenship in the German Colonial Empire." Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World. Ed. Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler. Berkeley: U of California P, 1997.
--. German Women for Empire, 1884-1945. Durham and London: Duke UP, 2001.
Yegenoglu, Meyda. Colonial Fantasies: Towards a Feminist Reading of Orientalism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998.
Zantop, Susanne. Colonial Fantasies: Conquest, Family, and Nation in Precolonial Germany. 1770-1870. Durham and London: Duke UP, 1997
Zdiarsky, Angelika. "Mit verschleiertem Blick: Die selektive Darstellung agyptischer Frauen in ausgewahlten Reiseberichten." Emanzipation am Nil: Frauenleben lind Frauenrecht in den Papyri. Ed. Harald Froschauer and Hermann Harrauer. Wien: Phoibus, 2005. 107-23.
My gratitude to the anonymous reviewers and the editors of the Yearbook for their comments on an earlier draft of this essay.
(1) For example, see Wildenthal and Klotz.
(2) Zantop asserts that an exploration of gender dynamics has been absent in previous analyses of colonialist discourse. Referring to Edward Said's seminal work, Orientalism, she notes that issues of gender and sexuality are "conspicuously absent" (5). As she demonstrates in the colonialist trope of the white masculine aggressor dominating the nonwhite feminized other, racial and sexual stereotypes are fundamental to the colonialist plot. In addition, Zantop points out that the biological definition of "race" emerged at the same time as the conception of modern gender roles, thus highlighting the importance of her project. In her own study of "colonial fantasies" in western discourse, Meyda Yegenoglu deplores the inattention to gender issues as well. Unlike Zantop, Yegenoglu includes women authors, but her analysis precludes the aspect of female autonomy that I contend is vital to an analysis of Hahn-Hahn's work.
(3) Hahn-Hahn is participating in already-existing assumptions about the "Orient" and "Orientals" for which Edward Said provides a general picture. See Said 2-3. As Angelika Zdiarsky and Peter Janosi pointed out more recently, the prevalent use of the Oriental female in both literature and the visual arts created a web of intertextual resources. For example, Hahn-Hahn mentions both A Thousand and One Nights (15-16) as well as Letters from the East, published in 1763 by Lady Mary Worthley Montagu (67), in her own letters. Thus, I keep the terms "Orient" and "Orientals" as Hahn-Hahn used them.
(4) All quotes are taken from The Countess Faustina, unless otherwise noted.
(5) In this way, Faustina's fictional life anticipates Hahn-Hahn's own. See Habinger 10.
(6) Quoted from The Countess Faustina, except I have translated "Sklavinnen des Orient" (17) as "female slaves of the Orient," rather than "eastern slaves."
(7) One could read this and the previous passage as more ambivalent towards the prospect (and pleasure) of being dominated by a man. While the text is perhaps ambivalent toward passionate love and the eroticization of dominance, it is not at all ambivalent towards marriage. The text precludes actual dominance, in other words marriage, as a possibility for Faustina's happiness. While Faustina maintains that (sexual) love is a necessary component for the female self, it becomes impossible within the bonds of marriage because it is no longer freely given.
(8) As the narrator explains, no good can come of their marriage. Faustina could have avoided the fate that crushed her, if only she had had the courage, "strength of mind," and "resolution" to see the situation for what it was (68). It is also at this point in the narrative that Faustina explains her father's reverence for Goethe's Faust as the reason for her name. We can read Faustina's agreement to marry Mengen as her own pact with Mephistopheles.
(9) This seems especially true in light of the fact that there are more successful marriages in the novel: Faustina's sister revels in her role as Hausfrau, while another young woman refuses for a long time to marry despite familial pressure, but marries in the end because the prospect of being an "old maid" becomes less appealing than a loveless marriage.
(10) A recent analysis of The Countess Faustina yields another interpretation of Faustina's marriage. According to Judith E. Martin, the marriage demonstrates the possibility of "having it all," meaning career, marriage and family. Because she considers the marital relationship a success, Martin explains its "failure" in those terms and asserts that "Faustina eventually renounces art in spite of enjoying fame and love. She makes this decision independently of her relationships with men, based solely on the realization that she can never achieve artistic perfection" (148). However, Faustina does indeed achieve artistic perfection, and it is at this moment that she renounces art and her family. See Faustina 88-89.
(11) In this part of the novel, perhaps due to the lengthy dialogue, the translator has omitted several passages. Thus, the translations of the quotes by Mengen are my own.
(12) My translation.
(13) Much has been written on the metaphorical connection between the Orient and mostly female sexuality from the white, European male perspective. See Said 188.
(14) One could argue that he fulfills a fantasy by turning Faustina into an "Orientalin."
(15) My translation.
(16) See Ohnesorg 209-10 for a discussion of the role of the Orient in European art work. It should also be noted that the "genius" that Faustina displays by writing this poem is considered "masculine" by Mengen.
(17) Finally, the conflict surrounding female development and autonomy is displaced onto this metaphorical plain. Such development is on the one hand impossible because Faustina has now become a "slave" in the economy of the novel. At the same time, the trip to the Orient allows her to circumvent temporarily the "bondage."
(18) Unlike Ida Pfeiffer, to whom Hahn-Hahn is often compared because they both made the journey East at approximately the same time, Hahn-Hahn's aristocratic connections provided her with letters of introduction that made her journey much more manageable. In addition, Hahn-Hahn was accompanied in her travels by her companion, Baron Adolf von Bystram, whom she mentions fleetingly in her letters. See Ohnesorg, Dabak, Frederiksen.
(19) While newer abridged editions of texts by women have been published, for example, Gabriele Habinger's edited volume of Hahn-Hahn's Orientalische Briefe, the complete original texts are difficult to find. See Ohnesorg 10.
(20) Hahn-Hahn's readers were most likely acquainted with A Thousand and One Nights (Ohnesorg 250-58) although they may not have known that Scheherazade was Hahn-Hahn's nickname as a child because of her talent for telling stories. See Marquart 49-50.
(21) The similar nature of these themes in both books appears to have been noticed by the translator of Grafin Faustine into English. Several of Hahn-Hahn's letters from Constantinople were included in the 1845 publication of the novel The Countess Faustina.
(22) See, for example, Geiger, Felden, Marquart, Ohnesorg, Frederiksen, Zdiarsky.
(23) See Pelz and Weigel.
(24) While Frederiksen recognizes Hahn-Hahn's search for "feminine" history and myth as one of the main achievements of the letters and highlights in this manner their feminist content, she concedes that Hahn-Hahn's portrayal of the "cultural other" problematizes a feminist analysis (162-63). For a detailed exploration of female mythic figures in Hahn-Hahn's letters, see Geiger 125-41.
(25) Ohnesorg initially sets out to discover whether or not the experience of gender bias in their home countries sensitizes women travelers to bias in other countries, thus enabling them after direct contact with stereotyped cultures to offer correctives (15-16). She aims to determine whether there was, in fact, a "feminine perspective" as opposed to the "masculine perspective" offered by writers such as Gustav Flaubert (243). By the end of her analysis, Ohnesorg rejects a simple binary (271).
(26) In her introductory letter to the entire collection of letters dated June 1844, Hahn-Hahn confirms that the journey fulfilled her expectations. She cautions the traveler to the Orient that such a trip does not offer superficial distraction but only "instructive phenomena and wisdom" (2).
(27) The one notable exception to Hahn-Hahn's attitude vis-a-vis the different people she meets is her idealized description of the Beduins (153-63). See Ohnesorg 258.
(28) Ohnesorg's discussion of Hahn-Hahn's visits to the harem is thorough and insightful. She brings more of Hahn-Hahn's personal biography into the analysis of the text and notes that Hahn-Hahn's negative experience in marriage provides an interesting backdrop for her particular focus on different marriage rites and forms of living together (255-56). She also highlights the anxiety provoked by the harem, which is evident in the letters about Hahn-Hahn's visits (263).
(29) Mohja Kahf's book on the representation of the Muslim woman in Western literary works reveals a similar dynamic in the development of a discourse of freedom. She traces the changes in the representation of "the Muslim woman" over time and notes that as the Western discourse on individual liberty gained in strength, this woman became weaker and more confined.
(30) The trope of the veil itself is a vast subject. Yegenoglu asserts that the representation of the veiled Muslim women gained in significance as it was used in anthropological discourse to prove the "backwardness" of Eastern cultures (97). Kahf traces the emergence of this image back to Romanticism, when the imprisoned, veiled Muslim woman became "a kind of narrative shorthand" for powerlessness (8-9).
(31) In describing the harem's detrimental effect on a woman's character, she asserts that this institution, with its enforced subservience, gendered isolation, and lack of education can "become the very hot-bed of every wicked quality, which women by nature already possess" (36). For example, a harem woman feels no loyalty to the others, but rather "will vanquish a hated rival. Is not that natural to the heart of woman?" (36). In addition to any beliefs about the "nature" of women, Hahn-Hahn may expose her own motivation: in letters to her brother she becomes especially invective in her efforts to de-eroticize the harem women.
(32) For her descriptions of two harem visits, see Hahn-Hahn 63-67, 108-09. Granted access because of her gender, Hahn-Hahn also underscores the truth of her own depiction, as opposed to those by male authors. Earlier critics of Letters From the Orient tended to focus on the corrective value of Hahn-Hahn's description of the harem. For these critics, her writing reveals a resistance to patriarchal values and the sexual objectification of women both in the Orient and by extension in Europe. See Felden, Frederiksen, Dabak. More recently, Ohnesorg and Zdiarsky draw more attention to Hahn-Hahn's Eurocentric viewpoint in her portrayal of these women.
(33) See Ohnesorg 221-40.
(34) Ohnesorg also emphasizes Hahn-Hahn's use of animal metaphors and her refusal to offer these women a human classification. She comments that the descriptions are so brutal that they almost need no explanation. See Ohnesorg 265-68.
(35) Hahn-Hahn returns to the image of the cage and the themes of captivity and freedom often, thus highlighting the qualities essential for human development. Her reference to "Schonbrunn" ties this letter thematically back to the first letter from Vienna to her mother. She describes in that letter a visit to Schonbrunn and the menagerie of caged animals on display. She could muster no sympathy for most of them, while the eagle touched her deeply, since he "affords in his cage the painfullest representation of the unspeakable sorrow of imprisonment. There he sits--immovable; not the smallest feather stirs. He seems to have hardened himself to his fate" (15). But the eagle's motionlessness reveals to her not passivity but rather a transcendence that is poetic in its melancholy. While the bird can look forward to a much longer life in captivity because of ample food, she ends the episode with the question, "[b]ut what is this to the purpose? Is this a life for an eagle? For my part, give me freedom, short commons, and a short life" (15).
(36) See, for example, Hahn-Hahn 30-31, 155-57.
(37) Quoted from Letters, though I translated the final sentence "Mir war als konnte ich bis ins Herz von Afrika hineinsehen" (280) in order to keep the more powerful and revealing "I."
(38) In her afterword to a reprinting of Grafin Faustine, Annemarie Taeger uses this term, emancipation of consciousness, to refer to HahnHahn's emancipatory agenda (245). Renate Mohrmann calls this same dynamic "die Entwicklung des weiblichen Selbstbewusstseins" (100), or the development of a feminine consciousness.
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|Author:||O'Brien, Traci S.|
|Publication:||Women in German Yearbook|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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