Academic journal article German Quarterly

From Goethe to Gide: Feminism, Aesthetics and the French and German Literary Canon 1770-1936

Academic journal article German Quarterly

From Goethe to Gide: Feminism, Aesthetics and the French and German Literary Canon 1770-1936

Article excerpt

Orr, Mary, and Lesley Sharpe, eds. From Goethe to Gide: Feminism, Aesthetics and the French and German Literary Canon 1770-1936. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2005. 262 pp. $29.95 paperback.

This volume of essays presents feminist approaches to works by canonical male authors writing in French and German from the late 18th through the early 20th century. The premise of the volume is that feminist criticism can shed new light on works by these authors and that the readings generated from such a project can, in turn, move feminist criticism in new directions. The contributions, from scholars working on both sides of the Atlantic, generally fulfill this promise. In the introduction, Lesley Sharpe notes that feminist approaches tend to be much more influential in the evaluation of female authors than of their male counterparts. Some of the male authors discussed in the volume have, however, received rather extensive treatment from feminists. I agree with the contributors, though, that scholarship on canonical authors can benefit from new approaches, including feminist theory and criticism. The volume's focus on aesthetics unifies the contributions, and the scholars demonstrate how the aesthetic and genre questions addressed by canonical male writers are related to historical developments in the definition of gender roles from the 18th through the 20th centuries. Mary Orr's Postscript summarizes some of the ways in which issues of gender are tied to aesthetics, genre categories, and literary movements such as Romanticism, Realism and Modernism.

A strength of this collection is that many of its essays bring out the complexity of male authors' attitudes towards women. One of the volume's unifying threads is the interplay between the overtly misogynistic statements made by many of the writers and their questioning of rigid gender (and genre) categories in literary works. For example, Judith Still's article on Rousseau shows how his ambivalent attitude towards his female hosts in the Confessions contradicts his assertions that men and women should inhabit separate social spheres. Similarly, Lesley Sharpe demonstrates that, although Schiller ostensibly assigns rigid roles to women, they receive a more complex treatment in his dramas and aesthetic essays, which redefine and expand Classical genre categories. The article on E.T.A. Hoffmann by Ricarda Schmidt indicates that the range of depictions of women in his fiction is related to his thinking about the relationship between the real and the ideal in art. Patricia Howe argues that Fontane's seemingly passive female characters reveal contradictions with regard to how women were categorized and identified. …

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