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Sincerity In The Work Of Karoline Von Günderrode (Conference Version)

4866 words - 20 pages

Karoline von Günderrode and Sincerity (conference version)

Introduction
In 1804, when asked why she published her work, Karoline von Günderrode wrote that she
longed “mein Leben in einer bleibenden Form auszusprechen, in einer Gestalt, die würdig sei, zu
den Vortreflichsten hinzutreten, sie zu grüssen und Gemeinschaft mit ihnen zu haben.”1 In light
of such statements, it is perhaps not surprising if, despite some exceptions, much of the still
relatively scant literature on Günderrode reads her works largely in terms of how they articulate
and manifest Günderrode’s desires, frustrations, and character, for the most part ignoring their
imaginary, creative, and intellectual aspects. This ...view middle of the document...

Günderrode’s Writing as Autobiography
The tendency to interpret Günderrode’s work in terms of its relationship to the life and character
of its author has both legitimacy, since it is borne out by many of Günderrode’s own statements,
and value, since it helps us understand some of the meanings of her work. However, the extreme
emphasis on this form of interpretation in Günderrode’s case is problematic for a number of
reasons. In the first place, the exposition of Günderrode’s writings on the basis of psychological
and biographical factors fits a sexist mould of underplaying the creativity women as well as men
use in producing literary and philosophical work, reducing women’s statements to expressions of
their life-experiences and emotional states, especially where these emotional states are
understood as pathological. Thus we see Günderrode’s works described as manifestations of her
“otherwordly,” “mystical,” and morbid character, her feeling for nature, or of what is depicted as
her uncomfortably conflicting character as both “masculine” and “feminine.” For example,
Christa Bürger claims Günderrode had “einer Seele, die nur die Dämmerung kennt” and that she
created a shadow-world in her work, peopled with schemata. Others describe Günderrode as
having “no worldly weight,” and as embodying “körperliche Schwache und geistige Starke,
Weiblichkeit als Gegebenes und Mannlichkeit als Erstrebtes.” In particular, Günderrode’s
suicide, sometimes in conjunction with her affairs with Friedrich Carl von Savigny and Friedrich
Creuzer, is often treated as the key to understanding both her life and works, with the result that
her life may be presented by her interpreters as tending towards this conclusion as a result of her
nature, while her works have their mystical and death-oriented elements emphasized and their
other concerns sidelined.2

2

Apert p.12 “La seule véritable question oú la biographie de Karoline von Günderode entre en jeu est celle du
suicide”; Becker-Cantorino 2000 p.225 “Sie suchte ihre aesthetische Identitaet in der Darstellung der tragisch
endenden Liebe der Frau, die auch als Liebende und als Dichterin in ihrem negativen Handlungsspielraum gefangen
blieb.”; Becker-Cantorino 2010 p.51 p.52 „It is my thesis that Guenderrode’s intensive study of the ‚new

2

Günderrode’s work is also often described as attempting to reconcile “contradictory”
elements of her character and living conditions, specifically those between “masculine” and
“feminine” elements of her character, and between her desires for action and adventure or for
recognition as a poet and the reality of her life as a woman at the turn of the 18th century.3
Günderrode herself claimed to be beset by a struggle between “masculine” characteristics, which
thirsted for war, glory, and intellectual achievement, and her “feminine” nature:
Warum ward ich kein Mann! ich habe keinen Sinn für weibliche Tugenden, für
Weiberglückseeligkeit. Nur das wilde Grose, Glänzende gefällt mir. Es ist...

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