German Women Writers in English Short Story Anthologies of the 1820s

Article excerpt

German literature and culture first began to make an impact in Britain in the second half of the eighteenth century. The reception of Germany's great Enlightenment and Romantic literati, notably Goethe, Schiller, and Kleist, has long been acknowledged and scrutinized. (1) Much less is known about early attitudes towards German women writers of this period, despite the fact that their work also made its way across the Channel. Novels by Sophie von La Roche, Caroline von Wolzogen and Therese Huber, for instance, all appeared in English translation. In particular, it is noticeable that a number of women writers were represented in the short story anthologies which became so popular in the 1820s, namely Friederike Lohmann (1749-1811), Benedikte Naubert (1756-1819), Caroline Pichler (1769-1843), Caroline de la Motte Fouque (1774-1831) and Louise Brachmann (1777-1822). These writers were all exceptionally prolific, despite limited (or non-existent) access to the literary circles of the Goethezeit, and to some degree their work is now beginning to be rediscovered and re-evaluated. (2) This article will consider the presence of their short stories in several English anthologies in order to shed light on one hitherto unexplored aspect of their oeuvre, as well as on a neglected area of Anglo-German literary relations. (3)

The short stories of Caroline de la Motte Fouque seem to be the first to appear before the British public. In 1820, the anonymous Essay of Three Tales from the German contained Fouque's 'The Cypress Crown' and 'The Turn Coat' (although the former was erroneously attributed to her husband). Both are quasi-supernatural tales, the first about a young soldier who uncovers his brother's murder, the second about a Berliner who suffers for his former defection to the French. The collection was printed in Ghent and was the work of a non-native English speaker who had found the originals 'entertaining and desired to communicate them to others'. (4) By the later 1820s, stories by women writers were appearing in collections by well-respected translators whose publications probably enjoyed a wider circulation. Robert Pearse Gillies's German Stories (1826) included Fouque's tale of thwarted love and madness, 'The Castle of Scharfenstein', as well as Pichler's 'George Selding', which deals with the trials of an ill-matched marriage. Gillies was actively committed to the promotion of German literature in Britain. He had spent a year in Germany where he had met Goethe and Tieck. He penned most of the 'Horae Germanicae' articles in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine and helped to found the Foreign Quarterly Review. He was a friend of Walter Scott, who considered him to be an exceptional translator. (5) In the introduction to German Stories, Gillies recommends Fouque by asserting that her 'story of the "Cypress Wreath" appeared in Blackwood's Magazine [sic] for 1819, and was not only reprinted in other periodicals, but converted into a popular tract, and circulated over England'. (6) George Soane, a productive writer and translator who had already rendered texts by the Fouques and Goethe into English, incorporated Naubert's Arthurian fairy tale 'The Mantle' into his Specimens of German Romance (1826). The Corbetts' Odd Volume (1826-27) contained Brachmann's 'The Three Sons', a moral story about an elderly woman who is deserted by all but one of her sons. The 'Misses Corbett' are an elusive pair who do not appear in the DNB. They seem to have collaborated at least five more times, but the success of their first book is indicated by the fact that the subsequent ones merely specify 'by the authors of "The Odd Volume"'. There are five stories by women writers in George G. Cunningham's Foreign Tales and Traditions (1828): Fouque's tale of a family saved from bankruptcy, 'The Castle on the Beach', Pichler's chivalric romance 'The Count of Barcelona', and three tales by Lohmann set against the backdrop of real historical events in medieval and Renaissance Germany, 'The Mill of the Vale', 'The Pilgrim' and 'A Night on the Mountain'. …