Academic journal article German Quarterly

Amazons and Apprentices: Women and the German Panassus in the Early Enlightenment

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Amazons and Apprentices: Women and the German Panassus in the Early Enlightenment

Article excerpt

Goodman, Katherine R. Amazons and Apprentices: Women and the German Parnassus in the Early Enlightenment. Rochester: Camden House, 1999. 316 pp. $59.00.

Katherine Goodman's Amazons and Apprentices: Women and the German Parnassus in the Early Enlightenment concerns itself with an under-appreciated group of women writers during a much berated period of German literary history. By placing the discussion of the role of early eighteenth-century women authors in the context of the development of Germany's national culture, Goodman sheds new light on why these spirited amazons were denied a place on their country's Parnassus.

In her insightful readings of reference works, journals, drama, and poetry, Goodman explores how the concept of the learned woman was deployed in the struggle to define Germany's cultural identity. She points out that German writers of the early eighteenth century, informed by the querelle des femmes, often attributed the bloom of French culture to the prominent role of French women writers. Consequently, it was felt that, if German literature wanted to rival the accomplishments of its neighboring country, it had to promote the literary ambitions of its own women. It is in this spirit that Gottlieb Siegmund Corvinus's Frauenzimmerlexikon (1715), proposes the model of the gallant housewife. But even though Corvinus encourages women-or, more specifically, the wives of upwardly mobile businessmen-to pursue intellectual interests beyond the domestic sphere, his discussion of female talents is rendered questionable by the fact that his idea of a "learned" woman might comprise as little as the basic ability to read and write.

Goodman detects the same absence of a well-defined meaning of "learned" in Johann Caspar Eberti's Schlesiens Hoch- and Wohlgelehrte Frauenzimmer (1727), which relates learning to a pious concept of inner knowledge. Eberti's focus on devotional literature was inspired by his wish to emphasize the merits of his native Silesia. Like Corvinus, Eberti believed that the education of women contributed to the betterment of the national culture. The fictional female editors of Johann Christoph Gottsched's weekly Die vernunftigen Tadlerinnen also shared this assumption. Convinced that vice is the result of ignorance, Gottsched/ Calliste, encouraged women to educate themselves but did not question the primacy of female domesticity. The woman intellectual was accepted as an exception only. …

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