Women and Writing in the Works of Novalis: Transformation beyond Measure?

By Grimm, Catherine | German Quarterly, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Women and Writing in the Works of Novalis: Transformation beyond Measure?


Grimm, Catherine, German Quarterly


Hodkmson, James R. Women and Writing in the Worksof Novalis: Transformation beyond Measure? Rochester: Camden House, 2007. 271 pp. $75.00 hardcover.

In this thought-provoking yet not entirely persuasive study, James R. Hodkinson examines the different roles both literal and figurative women have played in Friedrich von Hardenberges life and work. The introduction offers a brief biographical overview of the life of this Early German Romantic poet-philosopher, followed in Chapter One by an insightful review of the secondary literature that has dealt with the issue of Novalis (Hardenberg' s well-known pseudonym) and gender. By skillfully interweaving modern-day responses with close-readings of primary sources, Hodkinson is able to provide a nuanced picture of that perhaps most vexing of Novalis myths, the so-called Sophienerlebnis, in reference to a supposed vision of his nancee which Hardenberg supposedly had while visiting her grave a few months after her death. Before turning to how Hardenberg wrote about (and to) women, the second chapter focuses on the Fichte Stuthen, his early interpretations of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, which for Hodkinson culminate in the crucial insight that for Hardenberg "the absolute can only be experienced as a representation or Darstellung, which does not encapsulate or disclose identity" (58). In order to contextualize Hardenberg's approaches to gender, this chapter also contains a useful recapitulation of the 18th century's "codification" of gender characteristics as either naturally feminine or masculine, which coincided with a growing interest in the "biological nature of femininity" (70). After outlining his understanding of what Poesie signified for Hardenberg, namely a "writing practice that exhibited idealizing and ironic, constructive and deconstructive dynamics" (78), Hodkinson turns to analyzing 'Poesie in operation, particularly in the context of its application to gender" in specific Novalis texts with varying success. His reading of the fragment collection Glauben und Liebe does not emphasize strongly enough the degree to which these fragments were an intentionally enigmatic response toa specific historical moment in time, namely the ascension of Friedrich Wilhelm III and his immensely popular wife Luise to the Prussian throne in 1 797. More satisfying are Hodkinson 's analyses of femininity in the collection of scientific notes commonly referred to as Das allgemeine Brouillon.

After a straightforward historical account of Hardenberg's actual correspondences with women in Chapter Three, Chapter Four presents the author's claim that in connection with "a model of inter-subjective communication," Novalis "developed a holistic vision of the universe, which he conceived among other things in terms of an extended allegory of music" (135). …

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