Academic journal article German Quarterly

Homoerotic Travel, Classical Bildung, and Liberal Allegory in Adalbert Stifter's Brigitta (1844-47)

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Homoerotic Travel, Classical Bildung, and Liberal Allegory in Adalbert Stifter's Brigitta (1844-47)

Article excerpt

The early reception history of Adalbert Stifter's Brigitta reveals three salient and interrelated tensions, all of which continue to shape scholarship on the famous novella up to this day.1 First, readers recognized Stifter's skill at rendering realistic representations of nature, noting that these representations frequently functioned allegorically, indicating something invisible, something beneath the surface of Stifter's realism. According to one critic, his landscapes illuminated "die Durchsichtigkeit und den Schimmer der Traumwelt" (Wiener Zeitschrift, 1997). Justasthecontentandmeaningofthis"Traumwelt"remainundefinedbymostcritics, so too does the question of which landscapes piqued their interest. As perhaps theonly textfrom the 1840s to foreground travelto bothItaly and Hungary, Brigitta occupies an unusual place within nineteenth-century prose fiction. Whether addressingscenessetin theHungarian Steppe,Neapolitantopography, orboth, critics were clear in describing how Stifter, with his realism, departed from English and French models while trying to grapple with the legacy of German Romanticism. SomefoundStifter'seffortsproductive,2 while othersurged the promising author to be more cautious. For instance, a review in the popular Viennese periodical, Der Wanderer, warns Stifter against the "Scilla" of affectation and the "Charibdis" of artificiality, two romantic obstacles the realist writer must ostensibly overcome as part of a literary and cultural inheritance (1155).3

The second tension identified by readers, which corresponds to the allegorical mode of realism at stake in the first, concerned the gendered aesthetics and erotic relationships portrayed in the novella. The Blätter für literarische Unterhaltung from Leipzig draws attention to how the Major-the narrator's travelling companion in Italy, whose identity as Stephan Murai is disclosed in the final pages of the tale- attracts both men and women (1431). Though a seemingly minor detail in the work as a whole, his appeal might complicate the central mystery of the motivations underlying Stephan's relationship to his estranged wife: the ugly, eponymous androgyne Brigitta. Indeed, many critics were quick to note Brigitta's "amazonische" qualities, the amazon being a rather popular literary topos in German literature from this period, but one critic even suggested that multiple relationships in the textaresubject toasystem of naturaldevelopmentandhidden,concealed processes.4 The only other relationship fitting such an assessment could be that of the Major and the nameless narrator, which raises questions about the nature of their renewed contact and the Italian origins of their bond.

The final tension apparent within contemporary critical reviews concerns the politics of the novella. The text both invited and repelled political readings at the same time Stifter indulged in slow-paced depictions of landscape, mysterious character portraits, and the development of amatory entanglements. Reviewing Stifter's Studien-version, a writer for theLondon publication, Athenaeum, notes thatthe volume was published in the capital of Hungary, "the city, of all others in the Austrian dominions, from which one would least expect many contributions to German literature." The critic identifies Brigittaas "the only Hungarian subjectin the collection" and further suggests that it will attract significant attention, given the "recent political events" and nationalist strivings in Hungary (851-53). In flagrant contradiction to this piece, a German literary critic reviewing the same volume in Die Gegenwart specifically praises the apolitical nature of Stifter's writings (575).5 How are these competing views to be reconciled? Or, to put it differently, might there be a basis for linking the allegorical quality of Stifter's non-mimetic mode of realism with the characters' "hingestreuten" relationships in the text, while also accommodating its (non)political pretensions and curious cultural geographies? …

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