Voices of Rebellion: Political Writing by Malwida von Meysenbug, Fanny Lewald, Johanna Kinkel and Louise Aston.
The authors show how four women writers used different genres to express political views. Presenting controversial figures, they are non-judgemental, and encourage modern readers to approach them on either a personal or academic level. The introduction highlights limitations demanded of women writers as mothers and as obedient, even worshipping partners, in keeping with patriarchal traditions in German regions. An 'odd mixture' (p. 17) of political rebellion and conformity characterizes their writings about 1848-49 and their memoirs.
Key dates are given for each writer. For Meysenbug, the 'aristocratic daughter' of a political adviser, the 1830 revolution informed strategies to compensate for lack of political awareness and allegiance to the old order. In 1847 her father died, her revered revolutionary thinker and theology student Theodor Althaus left, and in 1848 her attempts to witness the Frankfurt parliament were frustrated. Close analysis of her style in an Antigone essay from her memoirs reveals that she saw 'in the character constellation of Antigone an image of Germany [...] of the 1860s'. Meysenbug cast women as rescuers of mankind with qualities such as brotherliness, sisterhood, and Vaterlandsliebe. Her Eine Reise nach Ostende (1849) highlights issues through voices of characters she meets in 'an act of ventriloquism' (p. 54), and an original interpretation of Van Dyck's The Lamentation links Christ with political struggles for freedom by Egmont in the 1560s and the Brussels revolutionaries of 1830. Meysenbug thus endowed the revolution with Christian credentials that applied the more modern theological views of Althaus as opposed to traditions espoused by her father. 'She, like others, was keen to subvert that rhetoric [...] mimicking the voice of the male status quo to disguise the fact that they were working for change from within' (p. 71). Her long association with Richard Wagner is glossed over, neglecting her comments on Frau Wagner in 1860 and on the production of Tannhauser in Paris in 1861 that reveal restorative views.
Fanny Lewald's need for paternal approval as the eldest child in a non-practising Jewish family led to conversion, confusion about her true self, and 'feelings of hurt at not being able to conform' (p. 84). In her autobiography and political writings, images of father and child define her search for a change in authority, supported in the analysis of her novel Auf rother Erde (1849).
Johanna Kinkel's voice from a Rhineland Catholic teacher's family was painfully expressed in her novel Hans Ibeles in London (1860). During turbulent years she suffered loss of faith faced with strict ultra-conservative practices, a disastrous first marriage ending in a long wait for divorce, escape from Bonn to Berlin to enjoy musical and literary companionship of a high order, and marriage to a popular lecturer in theology. Her husband's imprisonment for active political involvement in 1848-49, her responsibility for four children, and her vigorous activities on his behalf meant a workload that eventually took its toll after his adultery. The forms of irony in her letters and novel stand as a prime example of the tensions and exile of many women.
Louise Aston, whose life was marked by disastrous marriage to an English industrialist, two divorces, and the loss of three young daughters, became known for a licentious lifestyle that destroyed her second husband's career as a doctor, whom she followed into exile. Between 1846 and 1850 her writings attracted politically extreme admirers, among them Mathilde Franziska Anneke, presented here as somewhat conciliatory in her attitudes. There is, however, no reference to Anneke's extraordinarily brave activities after 1849 as a refugee in America on behalf of slaves. Aston's novel Revolution and Contrerevolution (1849) emerges as a work well before its time, but remains not entirely convincing in this account.
The chapter on friendship and correspondence underlines the clash between mutual support and protection of personal image, leading with Kinkel to self-dramatization in political manoeuvring for her husband. The demands of society and the desire to debate the rise of the 'new woman' inform Lewald's letters. Meysenbug idolized Kinkel as 'a lonely person and a creative intellectual in her own right' (p. 168), far from the patriotic fighter for emancipation imagined by Meysenbug, or the ideal mother praised by Elisabeth Althaus, or the Romantic intellectual projected by Lewald. Throughout this well-researched book these women emerge as essentially lonely creatures in their conformism but with rebellious ideas 'well-packaged' (p. 181) for their captive audiences.
Mellen University, Iowa Brian Keith-Smith
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|Publication:||The Modern Language Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
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