5
OF MADNESS AND MASOCHISM: SEXUALITY IN WOMEN'S WRITING AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY

Chris Weedon

Das Weib, die Mutter künftiger Geschlechter...Die Wurzel, die den Baum der Menschheit trägt...Ja -- aber erhebt ein Mädchen nur die Hand, will sie nur einmal trinken aus dem Becher, den man ihr von Kindheit an fortwährend lockend an die Lippen hält -- zeigt sich auch nur, daß sie durstig ist...Schmach und Schande! Sünde -- schamlose Sünde -- erbärmliche Schwäche -- hysterische Verrücktheit! (GR, 374)

R omance, love and the unspoken promise of sexual passion were central to the culture of middle-class femininity in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Germany. Fed by a diet of popular fiction, young women longed for love and passion, while their families looked for suitors who would provide good social and economic alliances. The middle-class woman's destiny was as wife and mother, often in a relationship where sex was experienced as duty rather than pleasure. Taboos around sexually active women, lack of knowledge of female sexuality, taboos on contraception, venereal disease, and the incessant chain of debilitating pregnancies rendered the reality of sex in most married women's lives far from any romantic ideal. Yet for those women confined to an often lonely life of celibacy for lack of a willing suitor and for those subject to sexual exploitation as servants or prostitutes, marriage seemed by far the more desirable option.

The emergence in the 1890s of a climate in which issues of female sexuality could be raised at all owed much to developments in German feminism. Ideas about men and women in the older German feminist movement were coloured by traditional

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