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Brecht and Company: Sex, Politics, and the Making of the Modern Drama.

John Fuegi's interest in Bertolt Brecht dates back to 1965, when he did research for his doctoral dissertation. He apparently only later discovered that the texts he admired were Brecht's in name only. Fuegi now accuses Brecht of fraudulently claiming authorship and, for the most part, failing to acknowledge his predominantly female collaborators. Elisabeth Hauptmann, Margarete Steffin, and Ruth Berlau are depicted as victims who did most of "Brecht's" writing for little or no pay while Brecht thrived on their productivity and made "millions" at their expense. Fuegi's sobering account of Brecht's life does anything but eulogize him. In each of the forty-seven chapters of the book we are reminded almost ad infinitum of Brecht's mendacious conduct in public and private matters. The accounts of Elisabeth Hauptmann's lifelong servitude, Margarete Steffin's suffering, and Ruth Berlau's ordeal reveal, in Fuegi's opinion, a pattern of exploitation and abuse. Brecht allegedly mastered the art of manipulating and subjugating women, causing them to subordinate their self-interest to his own.

Suggesting that Brecht or male artists in general have taken advantage of women's talents is not a new idea. Brecht & Company is clearly directed at charging Brecht with this offense. Fuegi not only accuses Brecht of intellectual thievery, but also claims Brecht undermined his collaborators' self-esteem and boycotted their efforts to break away, fearing to lose them as valuable means of production. Fuegi does not want to acknowledge that Hauptmann, Steffin, and Berlau "produced" as long as they were associated with Brecht. Undoubtedly it was his collaborative working style, his ability to inspire and direct others which ultimately led to the production of the texts. Fuegi may have proof for his claim that Brecht pocketed the royalties. However, the charge that he contributed very little to the works published under his name is certainly questionable. Comments pertaining to Brecht's political role are equally dubious. Fuegi accuses Stalin, Brecht, and the East German government of deceiving the public, a remark which overrates Brecht's impact on the politics of that state. Fuegi further loses credibility when he compares Brecht to Hitler, claiming that they shared similar characteristics. In Fuegi's assertions, the two not only used the same rhetoric but also "radiated sensuality" and "intense charisma," which helps explain their ability to influence and control people.

One may note that John Fuegi is very knowledgeable on Brecht: he spent many years compiling data, interviewing former members of the Brecht collective, recording oral and written testimony, and examining documents on both sides of the Atlantic. However, his continual rhetorical assertions are disturbing. Chapter titles such as "Master, What Grounds Do You Have for Your Antipathy toward Women?" or "He's Behaved, in the Worst Word I Can Find, Like a 'Hitlerite'" are typical of Fuegi's rhetoric when he tries to persuade his readers through special pleading rather than to inform them. In his concluding remarks Fuegi explains that one of the purposes of his book has been to pay homage to the women whose names have been missing in anthologies and card catalogues "as authors of importance." Unfortunately, this noble intent has led him to misinterpret data to reflect the current trend of political correctness. Whether one agrees or disagrees with John Fuegi, his book is worth reading. A glance at the lengthy reviews which have appeared in major journals in both Germany and the United States since its publication shows that Brecht & Company has revitalized the dialogue on Bertolt Brecht.

Gudrun Tabbert-Jones Santa Clara University
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Author:Tabbert-Jones, Gudrun
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1995
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