Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

The Horror of Coming Home: Integration and Fragmentation in Caroline De la Motte Fouqué's "Der Abtrünnige"

Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

The Horror of Coming Home: Integration and Fragmentation in Caroline De la Motte Fouqué's "Der Abtrünnige"

Article excerpt

Caroline de la Motte Fouqué's Gothic short story "Der Abtrünnige" (The Turn Coat, 1816) opens on the evening of August 7th 1814, moments before King Friedrich Wilhelm III's regiment returns from the battlefield to Berlin, heralded with a burst of patriotic imagery and pomp. The Prussian eagle on the flag seems to circle above the newly liberated capital city; braziers illuminate the Opernplatz; and the streets of Berlin fill with a sea of lights shining amid laurels and flowers. A crowd waits in tense, silent anticipation until the king appears, in all of his regal glory; "Er wird die Sonne der Nacht" (112; he becomes the sun of the night).1 Transformed into the very source of light, the king embodies Prussian patriotism in this scene. The crowd erupts into a loud "Hurra!" (112) and follows the king, cheering through the streets to greet the regiment at the Brandenburger Tor.

Such patriotic scenes were common during the summer of 1814 as victorious soldiers returned from the Befreiungskriege to Prussia. For example, Fouqué's description of the events of August 7th bears striking similarities to the historical account of the homecoming celebration published in Königlich privilegirte Berlinische Zeitung.2 Prussia's role in the Befreiungskriege (1813-14) was in part the result of large-scale social and military reforms enacted after Prussia's defeat by the French in 1806. Following the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and the French occupation, Prussia began a series of reforms aimed at strengthening its military and uniting its citizenry against the French, with the goal of one day reclaiming its sovereignty. This provoked a rise in nationalism and anti- French sentiment among the educated middle and upper classes throughout German-speaking Europe in general and Prussia in particular. Although the fragmented state of German-speaking Europe prevented the articulation of a unified German identity, Germany existed as a Kulturnation, bound by a shared culture, language and literature.3 This understanding of Germany was key to promoting the war effort that would eventually defeat Napoleon. Military homecoming ceremonies, such as the one depicted in "Der Abtrünnige," referenced this shared Germanness and therefore played an important role in constructing national identity before Germany became an actual nation.

In her work Revisiting Prussia's Wars against Napoleon (2015), Karen Hagemann identifies multiple functions that such patriotic homecoming celebrations served: they fostered "patriotism and a feeling of national belonging among the population" (209), constructed collective memory through a "collective emotional experience" (226) and sought to symbolically reintegrate soldiers into civilian life (224). The opening ceremony in "Der Abtrünnige" embodies these goals. The crowd is described as an "anschwellende[r] Menschenstrom" (112; rising stream of people) emphasizing its size. When the king emerges, the text reports that "alle Herzen zittern" (112; all hearts tremble) at the sight of him, implying a Prussian citizenry unified in its love of king and country. The protagonist who watches these events, an unnamed officer, is immediately struck by the presence of many attractive young women. The patriotic symbols, crowds of people honoring the king, and the officer's thoughts of women and-by extension-domestic life correspond to the three symbolic functions of homecoming ceremonies outlined by Hagemann.

Although "Der Abtrünnige" begins with a fairly typical scene of a jubilant public homecoming, the celebratory narrative of return and reintegration is quickly undermined by the introduction of Gothic elements that destabilize the protagonist's sense of belonging and security after the war. I argue that the text employs the Gothic mode to explore the difficult reality of postwar reintegration.4 By "Gothic" I am referring both to a set of motifs that have become "stock figures" in Gothic texts, including ghosts, corpses, and haunted buildings, and to the more abstract tendency of Gothic literature to dissolve those binaries with which one orders reality, thus blurring the boundaries between life and death, self and other, conscious and unconscious. …

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