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The political aesthetic of Elfriede Jelinek's early plays

Shanta Rao, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The dissertation examines three stage-plays--Was geschah, nachdem Nora ihren Mann verlassen hatte (1977), Clara S. (1981), and Krankheit oder Moderne Frauen (1984)--by the Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek (b. 1946, Murzzuschlag). My dissertation views these works as a trilogy, which articulates the playwright's earliest attempt to create a new language of theater so that she could present her own critical views on Austro-German cultural history, particularly her belief that the historical subjugation of women (within private and public spheres) is closely aligned to the formation of a distinctly gendered subjectivity. I examine how Jelinek develops an increasingly complex notion of the intertextually referenced male- and female-subject in each successive play. Chapter One considers Jelinek's criticism of the growing nationalist sentiment in post-war Germany and Austria. She views residual fascism and misogyny in both these nation states as being inextricably linked to a historical process of hegemonic control by religious institutions, and powerful corporate and political interests. Chapter One considers the extent to which Jelinek's use of language and innovative theater techniques rest on avantgarde artistic trends generated by the postwar Vienna Group. This chapter lays the framework of Jelinek's political theater as she describes this in essays, interviews, and discussion sessions with Graz Group and Munchener Literaturarbeitskreis members. Chapter Two is devoted to an analysis of the Nora play. Jelinek's emerging aesthetic of political theater is evaluated through her construction of gendered dramatic subjects, in particular the female-subject Nora Helmer. Chapter Three examines Clara S., which parodies the marriage of Robert and Clara Schumann while alluding through visuals to resurgent fascism in contemporary Austria and Germany. Chapter Four examines Krankheit oder Moderne Frauen. Multiple narratives (fictional, documentary, mythical) are tightly woven together in Jelinek's depiction of Emily Bronte and Carmilla as lesbian vampires locked in a deadly struggle with the opposite sex. I conclude, in Chapter Five, by evaluating the trilogy plays as a cohesive body of work which sheds light on the early development of the playwright's political aesthetic in theater representation.

Subject Area

Germanic literature|Womens studies|Theater

Recommended Citation

Rao, Shanta, "The political aesthetic of Elfriede Jelinek's early plays" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9721487.