Academic journal article German Quarterly

Homoeroticism and the Liberated Woman as Tropes of Subversion: Grete Weil's Literary Provocations

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Homoeroticism and the Liberated Woman as Tropes of Subversion: Grete Weil's Literary Provocations

Article excerpt

The German-Jewish survivor author Crete Weil (1906-1999) is best known in Germany and the U.S. for her two autobiographical novels which she published late in her literary career: Meine Schwester Antigone (1980) and Der Brautpreis (1988) for which she received several awards.1 Weil's body of work is considerably larger, however, and includes three more novels, a puppet play, a novella, two librettos, two collections of short stories, and an autobiography.2 Almost all of these works, and in particular Weil's publications from the 1980s and 1990s, are to some extent autobiographical. They recount Weil's life as an assimilated upper middle-class Jew growing up in a progressive milieu in pre-Hitler Germany, her escape with her husband to Amsterdam in the mid 1930s, their wartime experiences under the Nazis, her husband's arrest and murder in Mauthausen, and finally, her attempts to rebuild her life as a Jewish survivor after her return to postwar Germany. In these novels and stories, Weil uses her memories of these experiences to address the cultural, political and psychological aftermath of the war, the experience of racial persecution, and the larger implications of the Third Reich and the Holocaust for Germans, and German Jews specifically. Her later works add issues of aging and female identity to the aforementioned themes.

Considering the success of Weil's novels Meine Schwester Antigone und Der Brautpreis, it seems odd that one of Weil's other novels of this later period, Generationen (1983), published between Meine Schwester Antigone and Der Bmutyreis, received far less critical acclaim upon its release, and since then has virtually disappeared from the critical discourse on Weil. Since Weil's death in 1999, this omission has become more glaring as her work has finally become part of a (minor) canon of German-Jewish Holocaust literature.3 Today, Weil is finally represented in some standard works of German postwar literature, but in many of these entries, her novel Generationen does not find mention and is missing even from bibliographies of her work.4 Furthermore, Generationen remains Weil's only novel of the 1980s that has not seen reprints in Germany, and that has not been translated to English.5 As a result of these omissions and the lack of access to the novel, it appears in some respects, then, as if this novel had never existed.

Some might argue that the exclusion of Generationen is merely accidental, or perhaps that it is simply not as good as some of Weil's other work. Yet, precisely because its publication date coincides with Weil's most productive and successful literary period in the 1980s and because it forms a trilogy with the very successful Antigone and Brautpreis novels,6 its omission is even more noteworthy. Generationen functions as a prequel and a sequel ?? Meine Schwester Antigone and as such, an elaborate and intriguing form of embedding occurs. Meine Schwester Antigone is set in West Germany of the mid- to late 1970s, in which a female narrator creates a complex and fragmented memoir of Weil's childhood, her survival under Hitler, and her attempts to come to terms with this past through a rewriting of the Antigone story, a story that is also told within the novel. Generationen has a similar narrator and an almost equally complex and fragmented narrative structure and addresses many of the same issues, but now includes a description of the narrator's writing of the novel Meine Schwester Antigone during the mid- to late 1970s. The action in Generationen thus on the one hand predates the existence of the Antigone novel (the narrator is still in the process of writing it), on the other hand the story describes how this novel was finished up, the success it garnered once it was published, and the narrator's response to its reception. In addition, Generationen actually considers an alternative ending to the Antigone novel. Given this link to Antigone, one might expect scholars and the reading public of Meine Schwester Antigone to remember Generationen at least as its sequel-but this is not the case. …

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