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German Women Writers: The 19th Century – Lioness at Large

German Women Writers: The 19th Century

General introduction to this series of blog posts HERE.

The below collection of 19th century writers incorporates the initial response to the question about women writing in German that inspired this series of blog posts; beginning with my personal late 18th / early 19th century heroine and with the ladies most closely associated with the circle of writers portrayed in Andrea Wulf’s Magnificent Rebels, then moving on to others in more or less but not strictly chronological order, though it seems fair to say that almost all of these ladies and their families and friends were interconnected to some extent or other.

The ladies mentioned below are only a few representatives of the community of 19th century women writers: what looks like a fairly exhaustive list of the lot can be found on Wikipedia.

  • Rahel Varnhagen (1771-1833), the wife of prominent Prussian diplomat and writer Karl August Varnhagen von Ense.  She ran a literary salon in Berlin that was part and parcel of the literary movement that Andrea Wulf’s book deals with (the von Humboldts, Schlegel, Schelling and others were regular attendees of Varnhagen’s salon). Varnhagen didn’t publish any novels, but she had a huge correspondence and published essays on, inter alia, political, social and other current affairs of her time. Hannah Arendt wrote a biography about her — Rahel Varnhagen: Life of a Jewess — which you might find interesting; to the German speakers I’ll also recommend Carola Stern’s biography of Rahel Varnhagen, Der Text meines Herzens, which I actually prefer to Arendt’s, but which unfortunately wasn’t translated into English. (Re: the title of Arendt’s book: Rahel was born Jewish but, probably due to social pressure, converted to Christianity later in life.)  Rahel Varnhagen was a remarkable woman in many respects; as a matter of fact, she’s a bit of a personal heroine of mine because she rose to a position of intellectual and social prominence against overwhelming odds.
  • Bettina von Arnim (née Brentano, 1785-1859), a poet and novelist, also loosely a member of the circle that Wulf’s book deals with (she was the sister and wife of two prominent poets, Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano — and yes, that is the same von Arnim family into which not quite a century later the writer Elizabeth von Arnim married).  Her best-known works include her epistolary quasi-novelizations of her (real) correspondence with Goethe and with her friend Karoline von Günderrode (below), published in English as Goethe’s Correspondence with a Child and Miss Günderode (or the same title as in German, Die Günderode), respectively.
  • Karoline von Günderrode (1780-1806), a passionate but emotionally fragile poet and tomboy at heart, who was ultimately broken by society’s refusal to grant her, a woman, the same recognition and status as men, as well as by the rejection of the two men whom she loved passionately and who, though fostering her literary talent and (in one case) entering into a serious, long-lasting relationship with her, both ended up favoring marriage with other women.
  • Amalie von Imhoff (later: von Helvig) (1776-1831), a hugely prolific and highly regarded poet and novelist who, like Rahel Varnhagen, ran a literary salon, and who was a particularly close associate of Goethe, Schiller, and their circle.  She was the niece of Goethe’s muse Charlotte von Stein (below).
  • Caroline Schlegel (later Schelling) (1763-1809), the wife of no less than two of the main proponents of 19th century German Romanticism, August Wilhelm Schlegel and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling: she (probably) didn’t publish any poems or works of fiction of her own, but she wrote literary criticism and reviews and was instrumental in both of her husbands’ works (inter alia, she worked with August Wilhelm Schlegel on his translations of several of Shakespeare’s plays), and in shaping the Romantic movement.  Notably, for a while Caroline and August Wilhelm Schlegel and the latter’s brother Friedrich, as well as Friedrich’s lover and wife-to-be Dorothea (below), shared rooms in Jena and maintained a literary salon that was frequented by Novalis, Ludwig Thieck, and, well … Schelling.  Caroline’s enmity with Schiller’s wife Charlotte may also have been one of the reasons why Schiller was increasingly excluded from the circle of the Jena Romantics.
  • Dorothea Schlegel (1764-1839), born Brendel Mendelssohn, the daughter of philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (in turn, the closest friend of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, who based the eponymous protagonist of his play Nathan the Wise on Mendelssohn), and aunt of composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy.  She met poet and critic Friedrich Schlegel — the younger brother of Caroline Schelling’s then-still-husband August Wilhelm Schlegel — in the literary salon of her friend Henriette Herz (which eventually merged with that of Rahel Varnhagen, above) and, having already changed her first name to Dorothea at this point, several years later converted to Protestantism to be able to marry Friedrich Schlegel, who also edited her first novel, Florentin, which was modelled on Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister and was published anonymously.  Having moved to Paris, Dorothea and Friedrich Schlegel became members of Madame de Staël’s salon, and Dorothea translated de Staël’s novel Corinne into German, as well as the memoirs of Marguerite de Valois (“Queen Margot”, she of the “blood wedding” and the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre); and she wrote a second novel, Geschichte des Zauberers Merlin (“The History of Merlin the Magician”).  Friedrich and Dorothea Schlegel eventually converted once more, this time to Catholicism, and upon her return to Germany after her husband’s death, Dorothea reconnected with her friends from her Berlin days, Rahel Varnhagen, the Humboldt brothers, and poet Joseph von Eichendorff. — Note to the German speakers: Carola Stern published a biography of Dorothea Schlegel entitled “Ich möchte mir Flügel wünschen”.
  • Friedrich Schiller’s sister in law and biographer Caroline von Wolzogen (1763-1847), who in addition to writing Schiller’s first biography is also noted for her novels Agnes von Lilien and Cordelia, both of which explore women’s role in 19th century society.  Caroline also wrote a play, Der Leukadische Fels (“The Leucadian Rock”), a collection of short stories, and a further novel entitled Walther und Nanny (“Walther and Nanny”); her correspondence from the time that she and her first husband had spent in Switzerland was published under the title Briefe aus der Schweiz (“Letters from Switzerland”).
  • Charlotte von Stein (1742-1827), Goethe’s muse, whose marriage to the Ducal Equerry of Sachse-Weimar-Eisenach, Baron Gottlob Ernst Josias Friedrich von Stein, was a loveless (albeit dutifully fruitful) union entered into exclusively for political reasons; and whose husband, other than making his mark on her life by their children, was more noticeable by his absence than by his presence.  Goethe’s and Charlotte von Stein’s deep mutual affection — which suffered a severe reversal as a result of his unannounced 1786 departure on his Italian Journey — is documented in the roughly 1700 letters exchanged by them, but Charlotte also authored several works of her own.  One of these — Die zwey Emilien (“The Two Emilies”) — was definitely published during her lifetime (with Schiller’s name on the cover, as a result of which he was initially mistaken as the author); another, now lost play published during her lifetime and which may have been authored by her was called Die Probe (“The Trial” or “The Rehearsal”).  Three more works that can be ascribed to her with certainty are called Rino, Dido, and Neues Freiheitssystem oder die Verschwörungen gegen die Liebe (“New System of Freedom or the Conspiracy Against Love”); Dido in part expresses Charlotte’s increasing sense of loneliness and social isolation after the death of her husband and Goethe’s preference of the much younger and much less well-educated Christiane Vulpius, which Charlotte found hard to tolerate.  She also wrote two further, untitled and now lost works; one a comedy and the other one a piece of prose narrative, possibly based on a French original.
  • Caroline de La Motte Fouqué (1773-1831), the wife of Romantic writer Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué: I haven’t read any of Caroline dLMF’s works, but I get the sense that she may have risen to prominence on account of quantity rather than quality, as well as through her much more highly-regarded husband.
  • Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (1797-1848), also an associate of the Schlegels, the Brentanos, Johanna and Adele Schopenhauer (below) and (inter alia) the Brothers Grimm; like Austrian writer Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (also below), one of the few 19th century women writers whose reputation has survived until the present day: her novel Die Judenbuche (The Jews’ Beech Tree) — which tells the story of a murderer and which, together with the works of E.T.A. Hoffmann, paved the way for crime, horror, supernatural and “sensation” fiction as a literary genre in Germany — is still on the curriculum of German high schools today.
  • The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s mother, Johanna Schopenhauer (1766-1838), a noted diarist, correspondent, and writer of travelogues, and her daughter, Arthur’s sister Adele Schopenhauer (1797-1849), who even in her youth already wrote fairy tales, poems, and novels and was also a skilled papercuts artist.  They lived in Weimar and were close associates of Goethe when Adele was a child (she reportedly called him “father”), but a tragic loss of wealth through the failure of the bank holding all of their money forced them to move away (to Bonn, as it happened). — German speakers may be aware that Carola Stern also published a biography of Johanna Schopenhauer, named Alles, was ich in der Welt verlange.
  • Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830-1916), a well-known and highly prolific Austrian dramatist and novelist chiefly active in the second half of the 19th century.  One of her major works is the novel Child of the Neighborhood (Das Gemeindekind), which criticizes society’s attitude towards the children of criminals and other outcasts of society, who were wrongly believed to have inherited their parents’ reprehensible traits and thus ostracized in turn.
  • Benedikte Naubert (1756-1819), a highly prolific writer who, though largely forgotten today (probably at least in part due to the fact that, being a woman, she chose to publish most of her works anonymously), is nevertheless considered the mother of historical fiction in Germany.  Her works, which were highly regarded during her own time and believed to be written by a man, range across all of  European (not merely German) history, and, like many writers of her day, she also dabbled in supernatural fiction.  An anthology of short works by Naubert, Caroline de La Motte Fouqué (above), Caroline Pichler and Karoline von Woltmann (below) was published a few years ago under the title The White Lady: Supernatural Tales by German Women Writers of the Romantic Era.
  • Sophie von La Roche (1730-1807), the ex-fiancée of Goethe’s friend and fellow representative of Weimar Classicism, Christoph Martin Wieland (whom she ditched in favor of the illegitimate son of a nobleman and a dancer … who did, however, enjoy his father’s patronage). Considered the first financially independent German woman writer, her most important work is the epistolary novel The History of Lady Sophia Sternheim (Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim), nobly published by none other than Wieland, which tells the life story of a young woman of part-German, part-English descendance and her adventures and loves among the English nobility.
  • The Universitätsmamsellen (“University Demoiselles”), Caroline Schelling (above) and her four friends Philippine Engelhard, Therese Huber, Meta Forkel-Liebeskind, and Dorothea von Rodde-Schlözer (1770-1825), all of them daughters of scholars and professors at the University of Göttingen, who — though not being able to formally attend lectures and graduate — were pioneers of women’s education and academic exchange, who moved in the company of the leading lights of the era’s intelligentsia, and who remained friends during their entire lives:
    • Philippine Engelhard (1756-1831) was the dauther of a professor of history and diplomacy at Göttingen University; her brother Christoph Wilhelm would likewise choose an academic career, albeit in natural science and forestry.  Through her father, his colleagues (including, for example, physicist and satirist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg) and the fathers and husbands of her friends, she was closely connected to literary and scholarly circles from early youth on; besides the other “University Demoiselles”, her friends included the Brothers Grimm, Achim and Bettina von Arnim (above), as well as Charlotte von Einem, the literary muse of the so-called Hainbund, a group of nature-loving Göttingen writers and poets that is considered part of the Sturm und Drang Romantic movement.  Philippine Engelhard’s poetry was widely-known during her life and set to music by highly-reputed composers of the day; her mentors included several members of the Hainbund and leading representatives of Sturm und Drang, including Gottfried August Bürger. — Philippine Engelhard was the great-grandmother of Gabriele Reuter (further below).
    • Therese Huber (1764-1829), the eldest and preferred daughter of Göttingen University’s most influential teacher, classical scholar and archeologist Christian Gottlob Heyne, the long-time director of the university’s library.  Her education — albeit unsystematic — included classic literature, archeology, natural history, anatomy and medicine, politics and history.  After an unhappy marriage to geographer and naturalist Georg Forster, who in his youth had travelled around the world with James Cook and is considered Germany’s first travel writer, Therese married another writer, Ludwig Ferdinand Huber, who also lent his name to her own first works.  Therese Huber eventually became one of the first and most influential editors of a new literary magazine published by leading Stuttgart publisher Johann Friedrich Cotta (Morgenblatt für gebildete Stände — “Morning Paper for the Educated Classes”); in addition to working as a translator and being a prolific author of novels, novellas, travel reports, essays, and featured articles in her own right.
    • Meta Forkel-Liebeskind (1765-1853) née Wedekind, a scion of the same family to which also belonged, a century later, the playwright Frank Wedekind, author of the controversial play Spring Awakening, as well as (inter alia) Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box.  Margarethe “Meta” was the daughter of a Göttingen University teacher of Protestant theology and sister of Georg von Wedekind, together with Georg Forster (the first husband of Therese Huber, above) one of the founders of the Jacobite club of Mainz.  Like the other “University Demoiselles,” Meta enjoyed an exceptional education.  Her first marriage to musicologist Johann Nikolaus Forkel soon ended in a separation and, eventually, divorce; when later marrying lawyer and author Johann Heinrich Liebeskind, she nevertheless kept her first husband’s last name in addition to that of her second husband.  Her first literary claim to fame (or rather, infamy) was as that of Gottfried August Bürger’s much-maligned “Furciferana”, a satirical epithet he bestowed on her after the end of their one-year-long affair.  (He apparently couldn’t abide the fact that he wasn’t the only man with whom she betrayed her first husband, Forkel.)  In her own right, she authored a roman à clef named Maria and a brief epistolary narrative from the point of view of a young woman who has recently given birth; moreover and in particular, she was a highly sought-after translator, especially of works from English and friends, including several novels by Ann Radcliffe, parts of James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, and Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man.
    • Dorothea von Rodde-Schlözer (1770-1825), who, thanks to a bet between her father (a reform pedagogist and professor of history and constitutional law) and another reform pedagogist, was the only one of the five “University Demoiselles” who was even awarded a formal degree, on the iniative of Caroline Schelling’s father.  Fluent in nine languages by age 16 (French, English, Dutch, Swedish, Italian, Latin, Spanish, Hebrew, and Greek), as well as instructed in botany, zoology, mathematics, optics, religion, architecture, mining, and mineralogy — in addition to all the skills considered female, such as cooking, handicrafts, singing and playing the piano –, at age 17 she was subjected to a 3 1/2 hour examination, administered by eight professors, in subjects as diverse as classical literature, mining, architecture, and mathematics.  Having passed the examination, she was formally awarded a PhD; the second woman in Germany after Christiane Erxleben (see page “Age of Enlightement” of this post) to attain a formal university degree. — She married a well-to-do Lübeck merchant named Rodde, who at the time was also the city’s mayor, and after her marriage signed her name Schlözer-Rodde; the first German woman of record to use a double name in order to preserve her maiden name in addition to that of her husband.  Before her marriage, she had already authored a history of the Russian monetary and mining sector together with her father; after her marriage, she hosted a well-known literary salon. — She later began a long-lasting relationship with French philosopher Charles de Villiers; and during a stay in Paris, she also gained the friendship and patronage of the a number of other French scholars and scientists, as well as Empress Joséphine Bonaparte and her aunt, writer Fanny de Beauharnais.  Her final years were marred by her husband’s bankruptcy and senility and her own decreasing health.
  • Rosa Maria Assing (1783-1840) and her daughters Ottilie Assing (1819-1884) and Ludmilla Assing (1821-1880), the sister in law and nices of the lady topping this list, Rahel Varnhagen; Rosa Maria was the sister of Rahel’s husband Karl August Varnhagen von Ense.
  • Raised by progressive parents who supported the French Revolution, in her youth, Rosa Maria was given the same extensive education as her brother; she was musically-gifted and wrote her first epistolary novel, lyrical poems, and novellas at age fifteen, and she was also a gifted silhouette artist.  After having met her husband through a friend of her brother’s, she established a literary salon which was frequented, inter alia, by Friedrich Hebbel and Heinrich Heine.
  • Rosa Maria Assing’s eldest daughter Ottilie (above left) emigrated to the U.S., where she settled in Schenectady, NY, worked as a literary correspondent, and became a member of the abolitionist movement and an important contributor to its key magazine, The Liberator.  In that latter capacity, she made the acquaintance of Frederick Douglass and eventually became one of his most fiercely committed collaborators and supporters (and some also believe, his lover) during an almost three-decades-long period, also translating his works into German and seeking a German publisher for his autiobiography.  Suffering from depression, she at last committed suicide during a stay in Paris, having learned of Douglass’s marriage to suffragist Helen Pitts and aware that she herself was suffering from incurable breast cancer.
  • Ludmilla Assing published journalistic articles and kept house for her uncle Karl August Varnhagen von Ense during the last sixteen years of his life (Rahel had predeceased him ten years earlier); together, they witnessed and reported on the 1848 March Revolution in Berlin.  Their friends included Alexander von Humboldt (who had already been a member of Rahel Varnhagen’s literary salon, see further above) Gottfried Keller, Social Democratic Party co-founder Ferdinand Lassalle, landscape gardener and travel writer Prince Hermann von Pückler, and the suffragette and grandmother of Thomas Mann’s wife Katia, Hedwig Dohm (see further below).  Ludmilla moved to Florence in 1862, after the publication of Varnhagen von Ense’s diaries, as well as the scandal-prone correspondence of Alexander von Humboldt, had caused the Prussian government to initiate criminal proceedings for lèse majesté and issue a warrant for her arrest.  In Italy — where she remained for the rest of her life — she published the majority of her aunt Rahel Varnhagen’s correspondence, as well as a biography and the literary legacy of the Prince von Pückler, and a history of the Risorgimento (the 19th century movement for the merger of the Italian principalities into a unified state).
  • Johanna Kinkel (1810-1858), a prolific writer and composer even as a child and friend of Bettina von Arnim (above), who, after a disastrously repressive first marriage — which ended in a divorce — married fellow Bonn resident, theologian, poet, teacher and journalist Gottfried Kinkel; thus causing a scandal in the Catholic Rhineland not only due to her recent divorce but also because, though raised a Catholic, she converted to Protestantism to be able to marry her new husband (which as a Catholic she wouldn’t have been able to do).  Gottfried Kinkel would some years later become one of the leaders of the 1848-49 national revolutionary movement.  After the failure of that movement, the Kinkels were forced to emigrate to London, where Johanna died a decade later.  (Personal note: the Kinkels’ Bonn home was in the same street as my church, which is named Kinkelstraße in their memory.)
  • Mathilde Wesendonck (1828-1902), the poet, author of fairy tales, dramatist and wife of a Rhineland industrialist who became Wagner’s muse and for whom he wrote his (duh) Wesendonck Lieder, setting aside the Ring Cycle not to touch it again for another 10 years, and embarking on Tristan and Isolde instead, which is considered his memento to their unfullfilled relationship.  (And if you listen closely enough, you can indeed hear the Wesendonck theme in the main theme running through Tristan, the so-called Tristan chord, too.) Other than having written the lyrics that Wagner set to music in the Wesendonck Lieder, Mathilde Wesendonck wrote children’s stories and fairy tales, several plays, and a collection of further poetry.
  • Sophie Mereau (1770-1806), a protegé of Schiller’s, friend of many members of the Romantic circle (including Herder, Tieck, Fichte, Schelling, the Schlegel brothers, and Dorothea Schlegel (further above)),  and, in her second marriage, the wife of poet Clemens Brentano.  She was a proponent of women’s equality and their right to choose her husband based on love, rather than financial motives.  As such, the plots of both of her novels were taken from her own experience, including — in the novel Amanda und Eduard — her own battle to obtain the divorce of her marriage of convenience (from her first husband, Jena professor Friedrich Ernst Carl Mereau); at the time, possibly the first divorce proceedings initiated by a woman in the duchy of Sachsen-Weimar, although not the duchy’s first divorce proceedings overall.  She also published short stories and poetry, edited a short-lived literary magazine, and translated works by Boccaccio (Fiammetta), Montesquieu (Lettres persanes), Madame de La Fayette (The Princess of Clèves), and Corneille (Le Cid).
  • Caroline Pichler (1769-1843), an Austrian historical novelist and host of a highly-regarded literary and musical salon in Vienna that was frequented by the likes of Beethoven, Schubert, Friedrich Schlegel, Franz Grillparzer, and other leading artistic and intellectual lights of the day.
  • Helmina von Chézy (1783-1856), the grandddaughter of 18th century poet Anna Louisa Karsch (see post on German women writers from the Age of Enlightenment); a friend of Dorothea Schlegel (further above), translator — together with Adalbert von Chamisso — of several of Friedrich Schlegel’s works into German, author of the libretto of Carl Maria von Weber’s opera Euryanthe, as well as of several novels, novellas and plays (for one of which, Rosamunde, Franz Schubert composed incidental music), as well as Romantic poems, several of which were likewise set to music by Schubert, and featured articles.  She was a close friend of Beethoven’s during the final years of his life; her own memoirs were revised by Rahel Varnhagen’s husband Karl August Varnhagen von Ense.
  • Caroline Auguste Fischer (1764-1842), a twice-divorced, vocal proponent of women’s rights and equality who had started writing early on and, after her second divorce, used her pen to support herself and to promote her proto-feminist agenda, as well as to speak out against slavery and argue in favor of universal human rights.  (Note: the image to the left is shown as her profile picture here and is used as the cover of a modern edition of one of her novels.  Due to the fashion style it represents, I’m not wholly convinced it really is a portrait of hers, but it’s the only one I could find at all.)
  • Karoline von Woltmann (1782-1847), a historical novelist, as well as secretary and editor of her second husband, historian Karl Ludwig von Woltmann’s works, and moreover, noted translator of works by Maria Edgeworth.  (She is, alas, the only writer for whom I couldn’t find a portrait, not even a dubious one, so a cover image of her first and best-known novel will have to do.)
  • Amalie Schoppe (1791-1858), a prolific author of historical and juvenile fiction, as well as editor of a magazine named Pariser Modeblätter (“Paris Fashion Sheets”), which also included literary contributions, as well as co-editor of several other journals and magazines, and editor of a magazine for boys and girls named Iduna.  She was a friend of Rosa Maria Assing (Rahel Varnhagen’s sister in law, further above), as well as poets Adalbert von Chamisso and Friedrich Hebbel, and for a while co-headed a Hamburg girl’s school together with another well-known female writer of the period named Fanny Tarnow.
  • Dorothea Tieck (1799-1841), the eldest daughter of Romantic writer Ludwig Tieck and true author of several translations of William Shakespeare’s works (e.g., Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, Coriolanus, and A Winter’s Tale) published under her father’s name, after Ludwig Tieck had taken over Friedrich Schlegel’s project of producing translations of all of Shakespeare’s collected works.  Fluent in several languages that also included Latin, Italian, French, Spanish and Ancient Greek, and although unquestionably literarily gifted in her own right, Dorothea restricted herself to the position of a translator, which she considered as more in keeping with a woman’s role than authorship.  Her translations also included works by Robert Greene, Cervantes, and Jared Sparks’s Life and Correspondence of George Washington.
  • Ida Hahn-Hahn (1805-1880), an admirer of George Sand and indefatigable proponent of women’s equality, whose books frequently featured several strong women characters.  Like Luise Mühlbach, Fanny Lewald, Marie Nathusius, Ottilie Wildermuth, and E. Marlitt (all below), she was one of the 19th century’s women writers who were most popular and widely-read during their own lifetimes.  Several of her books display an openness towards Judaism and Islam, which however is counterbalanced by open racism in other respects, e.g. in the depiction of black slave girls.  Her frequently mannered style and elitist attitude was mocked by her competitor and contemporary Fanny Lewald.
  • Fanny Lewald (1811-1889), the daughter of a Jewish merchant; she converted to Protestantism in order to be able to marry a young theologian, but he died before the marriage had taken place.  Educated above and beyond the standard then usual for girls, Lewald first published a number of articles in a magazine published by her cousin and subsequently proceeded to fiction writing.  Moving from early works based on her personal experience, such as the novel Jenny, to fiction unrelated to her own life, her books were both popular and, already during her own lifetime, noted as significant pieces of advocacy for the emancipation of both women and Jews; equally calling out mysoginist and racist stereotypes.
  • Luise Mühlbach (née Clara Mundt, 1814-1873), a prolific and, during her lifetime, extremely populer author, chiefly of historical and adventure novels characterized by the high drama of their plots; her body of work comprises some 250 novels.  Several of her works were transated into English and popular especially in the U.S.; besides books fictionalizing the life stories of royalty, her writing frequently focused on marriages of convenience, divorce issues, and social inequality.
  • Marie Nathusius (1817-1857), a highly prolific and widely-read author of popular fiction and composer of songs; together with her husband, a publisher and industrialist, she also ran charities for the care of women and children in need in a number of cities; these later gave rise to a charitable organization still in existence today.  Most of Nathusius’s novels were first serialized in a magazine that her husband acquired and began to edit in 1849.  The couple were friends with August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, one of whose poems eventually yielded — in its third stanza — Germany’s current national anthem.  He wrote a also number of children’s verses that Marie Nathusius set to music; several of these are still popular today.
  • Ottilie Wildermuth (1817-1877), a prolific author of popular and juvenile fiction.  Having autodidactically taught herself English and French, in addition to the education she had received in a state school, as well as a school for household management, she later joined her husband — a professor at Tübingen University — in teaching English.  She also formed a literary salon that consisted of her husband’s colleagues and their wives, as well as several other local intellectuals, and poet Ludwig Uhland and his wife.  Similar to the books of Marie Nathusius (above), her writings greatly benefited and were popularized by first being published serially in a number of widely-read magazines, including Die Gartenlaube (see E. Marlitt, below).
  • E. Marlitt (née Eugenie John, 1825-1887), next to Harriett Beecher Stowe, is considered one of the world’s first bestseller authors.  She was a trained singer and pianist, but after some initial stage successes was unable to pursue her original career due to a hearing disability and then spent a decade as a companion and reader to Princess Mathilde of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, an important patron of the arts.  Two years after having left the princess’s service she published her first novel, which was serialized in the widely-read monthly mass circulation magazine Die Gartenlaube and proved an instant blockbuster success both for Marlitt and for the magazine.  The sales from her third novel alone allowed her to buy a lavish villa; and Marlitt’s novels were also one of the main reasons why subscription to Die Gartenlaube quadrupled over the course of the next decade.  Many of Marlitt’s heroines were independent young women, rebelling against the limitations imposed on women’s lives by society.
  • Gabriele Reuter (1859-1941), a great-granddaughter of Philippine Engelhard, one of the “Universitätsmamsellen” (above).  Economic dire straits forced her to earn money capitalizing on her gifts as a writer from early on; in Weimar she rubbed shoulders with, inter alia, Henrik Ibsen, Gerhart Hauptmann, the publisher Samuel Fischer, and one of the progenitors of German cabaret, Ernst von Wolzogen (a distant indirect in-law descendant of Schiller’s sister in law and biographer Caroline von Wolzogen, further above, through the brother of Caroline’s husband).  Gabriele Reuter caused huge scandals with both of her best-known novels, From a Good Family, (Aus guter Familie: Leidensgeschichte eines Mädchens) — which examines a young woman’s life in the Wilhelminian era and has been compared to Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther — and The House of Tears (Das Tränenhaus), which deals with the conditions at a home of unwed mothers.
  • Helene Böhlau (1859-1940), during her life, also considered one of the leading writers of her time.  She traveled widely as a young woman and, in Istanbul, met architect and scholar Friedrich Arnd, who was already married and who, in order to be able to take her as his second wife, converted to Islam and changed his name to Omar al Rashid Bey.  After the death of her husband’s first wife, the couple returned to Germany and (Helene having been banned from her father’s house for the “goings-on” in Istanbul) settled in Munich, where she proceeded to publish a large number of novels running the gamut from literary to popular fiction.
  • Johanna Spyri (1827-1901), who canonized rural Switzerland in Heidi.  Not exactly a personal favorite — my earliest objections, at age six or thereabouts, were on the grounds of the book’s idolization of Swiss cheese (which I hated as a child), its demonization of city life (I’m born in a big city and have always been a city girl at heart), and its rosy portrayal of the friendship of Heidi and the peasant boy Peter (which I mistrusted); and somehow, those objections are still more present in my mind than the book’s actual contents.  But I can’t deny that Spyri’s book is a classic of world literature, so obviously she has to be included here.
  • Hedwig Courths-Mahler (1867-1950), Barbara Cartland’s ancestor-in-spirit … there’s a reason why the folks at Wikipedia use the term “formula fiction” in describing her romance novels.  Still, given that her books are still widely-read, there’s no denying that she has successfully claimed a corner of the writing industry and is still holding onto it decades after her death, so there we are.
  • Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914), a peace activist who in 1905 became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the first German-speaking female Nobel laureate, and the second female Nobel laureate overall (after Marie Curie).  Though of noble birth, she had to take to the pen to support herself — she also briefly worked as Alfred Nobel’s housekeeper in Paris — and she used her writing skills to author both novels and nonfiction.  She moved to Austria and became a leader in that country’s peace movement in the 1880s; her pacifist novel Die Waffen nieder! (Lay Down Your Arms!) was a major building block, in addition to her activism and her support for an International Court of Justice, of her Nobel prize.  She stayed in contact with Alfred Nobel until his 1896 death and her advocacy is believed to have been instrumental in the inclusion of a peace prize in the Nobel award categories.
  • Hedwig Dohm (1831-1919), a feminist novelist who, through her husband, the actor and writer Ernst Dohm, came into contact with the progressive and women’s rights movements of Berlin; their salon enjoyed the regular attendance of the likes of Alexander von Humboldt, workers’ rights activist and Social Democratic Party co-founder Ferdinand Lassalle, and musicians such as Franz Liszt and Hans and Cosima von Bülow (the director of the Bayreuth Festival). Hedwig Dohm was the grandmother of Thomas Mann’s wife Katia (née Pringsheim) and the mother of the actress Hedwig Pringsheim, in her own turn after her marriage the center of Munich society; Thomas Mann’s son Golo would come to describe his grandmother Hedwig as “the femme du monde (women of the world) of the capital of Bavaria.”
  • Auguste Schmidt (1833-1902) and Louise Otto-Peters (1819-1895), the founders of the General German Women’s Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Frauenverein, ADF), Germany’s oldest women’s rights organization (1865).  Both women were among the leading progressive journalists of their time; Louise Otto-Peters was the founder of Germany’s first women’s newspaper and, after that paper was banned, the co-founder and, until her death, editor-in-chief of the leading feminist journal, Neue Bahnen (“New Tracks” or “New Ways”).  In addition to her activism, Louise Otto-Peters published (and had been writing since childhood) everything from novels and poetry to libretti and essays. — Auguste Schmidt had come to her feminist activity from her work as a teacher and in addition to ADF also founded Germany’s first women teachers’ organization.  When in 1894 the four leading women’s rights organizations that had formed by then merged into the League of German Women’s Associations (Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine, BDF), Auguste Schmidt became its first president.


Contemporary depictions of the leaders of Germany’s suffragette movement:

Left image (1883): Marie Calm, Henriette Goldschmidt, Louise Otto-Peters, Lina Morgenstern, Auguste Schmidt, Jenny Hirsch and Anna Schepeler-Lette;
Right image (1894): Louise Otto-Peters, Mathilde Weber, Henriette Goldschmidt, Lina Morgenstern, Marie Loeper-Housselle, Auguste Schmidt, Helene Lange, Luise Büchner, Bertha von Marenholtz-Bülow, and Marie Calm.

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