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2013 Abstracts

Looking Beyond the Wall: A Philosophical Look at Themes of Madness, Chaos, Loneliness, and Suicide in Fin-de-Siecle German Women’s Literature

Matthew A. Kearney, Brigham Young University

Germanic and Slavic

Amid the chaos and anticipative excitement of fin-de-siecle Europe, German society quickly became a historical hotspot of unique political and social transformations. It was felt to be a period of degeneration, but at the same time a period of hope for a new beginning. In the midst of a culture that was still perpetuating lively, discriminating social appetites, it is intriguing to note that a broad examination of texts written by German women at this time, which experiment with the very question of social walls and new decisions, shows that these women most often employed conclusions laden with themes of madness, chaos, loneliness and suicide. For this research I have chosen three significant texts which can be viewed from historical and anthropological standpoints on the subject of traditional walls and choices. These are Jenseits der Mauer by Elisabeth Heinroth, Meine Freundin by Hermione von Preuschen-Telmann, and Helene Monbart-Kessler’s Kameraden. The approach to these works, and for the purpose of my research, evaluates the female literary characters in these texts in light of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical view on the fragile balance between the Apollonian and Dionysian drives inherent in art and in life itself. Nietzsche asserted that in life there rages a constant battle between these two major forces, each striving to control the existence of men and women alike. Against the background of this aesthetic discourse, the three texts I have chosen acquire a new dimension: they become an avenue for examining the causes of balance, or lack thereof, in the lives of these female characters. I believe this evaluation is significant because it foregrounds some of the choices and limitations which many women faced as traditional society was changing its attitudes towards them during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.