Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

Private matters made public: Love and the sexualized body in Karoline von Guenderrode's texts

Karin Obermeier, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Critical reception of Karoline von Gunderrode has largely ignored her work and focused on her tragic life and death. Even earlier feminist scholarship overlooked her writing because of its presumed adherence to masculine literary traditions. As part of a shift towards more discursive analyses, this dissertation traces the contradictory representations of gender in Gunderrode's body of work. I maintain that gender is the central conflict for Gunderrode primarily because her appropriation of romantic idealism contradicts her desire for self-fulfillment. As a woman writer, she adopted a masculine persona at a time when romanticism privileged the feminine. Rather than an identity as muse or in self-negating love, Gunderrode developed her masculine self through intellectual engagement with philosophy and history. She also had ambitions of becoming a poet. What she considered feminine, however, is not absent in her writing: love, the sexualized body, and nature figure significantly as subject matter and metaphor. The contemporary discourse on nature and the extensive feminist criticism of that form the theoretical framework of my analysis. Gunderrode did not explicitly question the natural complementarity of the sexes, but through close readings of a wide range of her texts I establish some of the ways that she transgressed conventional expectations of women's and men's natures. Because love exists in a complicated relationship with women's creativity and historical agency, Gunderrode utilized various strategies--such as the maternal, homoeroticism, incest, and triangular relationships--to counter the romantic ideal. Love is never portrayed within a bourgeois context of marriage and family. Women's economic and emotional reliance on men is thematized. I also discuss how Gunderrode appropriated an orientalist discourse in her gender critique. Given the complexity of Gunderrode's work, I concentrate on three themes: the conflict between creativity and female sexuality; the conflict between heroism and love for women in history; and the construction of a poetic self. Through my reading of Gunderrode's encounter with an ideal of subjectivity and its negation of women, I suggest new categories with which to explore how gender codes formed the basis for late-eighteenth-century German notions of the individual.

Subject Area

Germanic literature|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Obermeier, Karin, "Private matters made public: Love and the sexualized body in Karoline von Guenderrode's texts" (1995). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9524736.