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Female pioneers and social mothers: Novels by female authors in the Weimar Republic and the construction of the New Woman

Stefana Lee Lefko, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Popular novels by women during the Weimar Republic have been accused of creating a discursive climate among women that glorified motherhood and encouraged political apathy. In this dissertation, I demonstrate that, on the contrary, these novels contained important social criticism and provided advice and role models for women. I also show that critics of these novels have misunderstood the discourse of "organized motherhood," long used within the women's movement to encourage women's entry into the public sphere in the name of civic activism. After situating the texts historically and culturally, my analysis of four texts: Stud. chem. Helene Willfuer by Vicki Baum, Die mit den 1000 Kindern, by Clara Viebig, Die Madels aus der Fadengasse, by Lisbeth Burger, and Thea von Harbou's Metropolis--works all influenced by the philosophies of the bourgeois women's movement--demonstrates a concept of women's role common to authors of the Weimar Republic's older generation. Here, women have the inherent potential to redeem and reform a society damaged by war and modern civilization through their entry into the public sphere and civic activism. Works of Weimar's younger generation of authors--Gilgi-eine von uns and Das kunstseidene Madchen, by Irmgard Keun, Die Mehlreisende Frieda Geier, by Marieluise Fleisser, Kasebier erobert den Kurfurstendamm, by Gabriele Tergit, and Schicksale hinter Schreibmaschinen, by Christa Anita Bruck--were written mainly in a neusachliche style by authors who did not experience the pre-war fight for women's rights but instead came of age during the harsh economic and social realities of the Weimar Republic. These works, devoid of bourgois utopias, instead contain strategies for individual survival and bitter criticism against modern conditions for women. Then as now, the personal was political for women. A novelistic description of the hardships suffered due to an unwanted pregnancy was as surely a protest against existing legislation and social conditions for women as a political speech--and one more likely to be accessed and understood by other women. Rather than contributing to political apathy, these novels criticized political and social realities, intervening into discourses about modern women and their role within society.

Subject Area

Germanic literature|Womens studies|Social structure

Recommended Citation

Lefko, Stefana Lee, "Female pioneers and social mothers: Novels by female authors in the Weimar Republic and the construction of the New Woman" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9909181.