Marieluise Fleißer (1901-1974)
Marieluise Fleißer is one of the most important women writers of the Weimar Republic, and ranks among other talented female writers of her generation, such as Irmgard Keun and Gabriele Tergit. As well as being a major exponent of the Volksstück (folk play), she produced an impressive body of prose fiction: a novel and several short stories.
Born in Ingolstadt in Bavaria, she went to Munich in 1919 to pursue a course in Theatre Studies. There she met Bertolt Brecht and Lion Feuchtwanger. She spent the second half of the 1920s in Berlin. In 1930 she returned to Ingolstadt and married a tobacconist. Her works were banned by the Nazis and she spent most of the rest of her life working in her husband’s tobacco shop. Towards the end of her life she was rediscovered by a younger generation of Bavarian dramatists including Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Franz Xaver Kroetz.
Her first play was originally titled Die Fußwaschung; The Washing of the Feet (first draft written 1924). With Brecht’s help, it was staged in 1926 at the Junge Bühne (Deutsches Theater) in Berlin, where it was retitled Fegefeuer in Ingolstadt; Purgatory in Ingolstadt. The play was revised in 1970-71, and premiered in Wuppertal in 1971. Fleißer described the second version as ‘ein Stück über das Rudelgesetz und die Ausgestoßenen’; ‘a play about the law of the human hunting pack and those who are excluded from it’ (Fleißer, Ingolstädter Stücke, Frankfurt/Main, Suhrkamp, 1977, p. 132). The two main characters are Olga, a young woman who is unmarried and pregnant; and Roelle, a young man who sees angels and thinks that he has supernatural powers.
Fleißer’s second play, Pioniere in Ingolstadt; Pioneers in Ingolstadt, was written in 1928 and it premiered in Dresden in the same year. The second version was staged by Brecht in 1929. However, Brecht changed the action of the play from 1926 to 1910 against Fleißer’s will, and the two of them fell out. The third version was premiered at the Residenztheater in Munich in 1970. The play is about a company of sappers (military engineers) who are assigned to build a wooden bridge in Ingolstadt. The soldiers have sexual liaisons with Berta and Alma, two young women. Berta is a housemaid who is bullied by Unertl, her employer. She falls in love with one of the soldiers, Korl Lettner. Korl is bullied by his sergeant and takes revenge by loosening some screws in the bridge. The sergeant falls off the bridge but survives. Later the sergeant is drowned when his foot is caught in the anchor line of a boat. The incident is declared an accident. The bridge is completed and it is time for the army brigade to leave town. Korl and Berta have sex one last time in the bushes. Afterwards, a photographer takes a picture of couple, and Karl pays for it so that Berta can have a souvenir of their affair.
After the Second World War, Fleißer and Brecht renewed their friendship, and Brecht promoted a production of Fleißer’s play Der starke Stamm; The Strong Tribe (1950), which was written in Bavarian dialect.
According to the critic Michael Billington in The Guardian: ‘Extraordinary Bavarian dramatist Marieluise Fleißer’s revelatory Ingolstadt plays prove the extent to which the contribution of women dramatists to world drama has been written out of the history books.’
Fleißer’s novel, Mehlreisende Frieda Geier; Frieda Geier: Travelling Flour Seller, appeared in 1931. She revised the text in the early 1970s and it reappeared in 1972 under the new title Eine Zierde für den Verein; A Credit to the Club. Both editions of the novel also have a subtitle indicating the novel’s focus on everyday activities: Roman vom Rauchen, Sporteln, Lieben und Verkaufen; A Novel About Smoking, Sport, Loving and Selling.
The novel depicts the relationship between Frieda Geier (‘Geier’ literally means ‘vulture’), a travelling saleswoman, and Gustl Amricht (Gustl Gillich in the 1972 version of the text), a tobacconist and swimming champion. Gustl and Frieda fall in love, but the relationship breaks down because Gustl cannot forgive Frieda for trying to maintain her financial independence. He is outraged because, instead of investing everything in his tobacco shop, she insists on paying for the education of her younger sister Linchen at a Catholic boarding school. Gustl is capable of heroic acts – he saves people from drowning, and catches a criminal who tries to bomb a train – but his approach to women is essentially exploitative. The narrative voice offers a distanced, often laconic commentary on the events of the plot.
Purgatory in Ingolstadt and Pioneers in Ingolstadt, trans. by Elisabeth Bond-Pablé and Tinch Minter, in Annie Castledine (ed.), Plays by Women: Volume Nine (London: Methuen Drama, 1991)
Further Reading in English
Elizabeth Boa, ‘Women Writers in the “Golden” Twenties’, in The Cambridge Companion to the Modern German Novel, ed. by Graham Bartram (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 123-37
Sarah Colvin, Women and German Drama: Playwrights and their Texts, 1860-1945 (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2003), Chapter on Fleißer
Susanne Kord, ‘Fading Out: Invisible Women in Marieluise Fleißer’s Early Dramas’, Women in German Yearbook 5 (1989), 57-72
Helmut Lethen, Cool Conduct: The Culture of Distance in Weimar Germany, trans. by Don Reneau (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), pp. 141-45
Further Reading in German
Moray McGowan, Marieluise Fleißer (Munich: Beck, 1987)
Maria E. Müller and Ulrike Vedder (eds.), Reflexive Naivität: Zum Werk Marieluise Fleißers (Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 2000)
Ernest Schonfield, ‘Alltägliche Aktivitäten in Marieluise Fleißers Eine Zierde für den Verein’, in Das Abenteuer des Gewöhnlichen: Alltag in der deutschsprachigen Literatur der Moderne, ed. by Thorsten Carstensen and Mattias Pirholt (Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 2018), pp. 181-98
Christiane Solte-Gresser, Spielräume des Alltags. Literarische Gestaltung von Alltäglichkeit in deutscher, französischer und italienischer Erzählprosa (1929-1949) (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2010), pp. 169-231
Web Link in German
The Marieluise Fleißer Society in Ingolstadt