[This page by Michael Navratil]

Franziska (first published 1911, first performed 1912)

Franziska was first performed in Munich in 1912, with Frank Wedekind himself playing Veit Kunz and his wife Tilly Newes playing Franziska. The play’s subtitle reads ‘Ein modernes Mysterium’ (‘A modern mystery play’). Allegedly Franziska was Wedekind’s favourite play (on this point see below, Ariane Martin, ‘Spiel mit Konventionen’, p. 75).

Franziska is divided into nine parts (‘Bilder’). In the first part Franziska and her mother are having a dispute about Franziska’s equivocal moral conduct. Having witnessed her parents’ agonising marriage, Franziska has no intention of living the bourgeois life of a married woman. Veit Kunz, purportedly a concert agent from Berlin, appears and makes a deal with Franziska: she will enjoy the advantages of being a man for two years; after this time, she will have to surrender to him unconditionally. The second part shows Franziska visiting a wild night club, her first free move into the world and at the same time a playful, modern version of the tavern scene in Goethe’s Faust I. In the third part, Franziska (now called Franz) is married to a woman called Sophie, a most unhappy union because of the impossibility of sexual consummation.

Parts four to six deal with events at the court of the Duke of Rottenburg, whose marriage to a strong-willed woman is a complete disaster. The duke stages a play of his own in which a primordial reconciliation between sexuality and truth is imagined. Ultimately, the performance is interrupted by an agent of censorship – a hint at the conflicts with bodies of censorship Wedekind repeatedly had to deal with. After an intermezzo with Veit Kunz and Franziska in the seventh part, in the eighth part Veit Kunz rehearses a mystery play of his own, depicting an encounter between Christ and Helen of Troy. Franziska, whom Veit Kunz had been all too sure to have in his power, escapes with her latest lover, the actor Breitenbach.

The ninth and last part shows her as a single mother. Veit Kunz and Ralf Breitenbach, the two possible fathers of her son Veitralf, visit Franziska and offer to support her, but Franziska, who embraces life as a single mother, does not need her former lovers anymore: ‘Eine Mutter, die mit der Welt in Einklang lebt, versteht sicher mehr von Erziehung, als ein Elternpaar, das sich täglich in den Haaren liegt.’ (‘A woman living in harmony with the world certainly knows more about education than two parents who are constantly fighting.’) The play ends with the reassurance that Veitralf – although he does not have a father – is being loved and will therefore prosper.

Wedekind planned Franziska as a ‘weiblicher Faust’ (‘female Faust’). There are a number of references to Goethe’s tragedy, among them the pact with the ‘devil’ Veit Kunz, the satirical reenactment of the tavern scene in Faust I, the mentioning of Helen of Troy and Veit Kunz’s final loss of his victim, echoing Mephisto’s loss of Faust’s soul at the end of Faust II. However, these references often have a playful character, suggesting that it is not only Goethe’s Faust Wedekind refers to but also – in a mocking way – the humourless reception this work experienced in the Wilhelmine Empire.

In Franziska, Wedekind invokes a whole set of gender stereotypes and assumptions about the differences between the sexes. However, the play uses essentialist vocabulary mainly in order to undermine it. Its heroine exposes male attributions of gender-related features as deluded patriarchal imaginings. Despite the attempts of her surrounding characters to limit her to a certain model of the feminine, Franziska insists on her freedom and ultimately comes to terms with her role as a woman and mother.

Franziska can be regarded as Wedekind’s last main contribution to the ‘Frauenfrage’ (‘women’s question’) and at the same time as a recapitulatory statement of the author’s extensive artistic involvement with topics related to sexuality and questions of gender and society.

Further Reading in English

Michael Navratil, ‘“Ich wollte meine Unschuld endlich loswerden.” The Subversion of Wilhelmine Gender Norms in Frank Wedekind’s Franziska’, German Life and Letters 68:3 (2013), 277-91

Further Reading in German

Elke Austermühl, ‘Frank Wedekinds Franziska – ein weiblicher Faust?’, in Andreas Härter et al. (eds.), Dazwischen. Zum transitorischen Denken in Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaft (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003), pp. 79-100

Sabine Doering, Die Schwestern des Doktor Faust, Eine Geschichte der weiblichen Faustgestalten (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2001), pp. 250-77

Anja Manneck, ‘Tizians Die himmlische und die irdische Liebe – Programmatische Kunstzitate in Wedekinds Franziska’, Alman Dili ve Edebiyatı Dergisi – Studien zur deutschen Sprache und Literatur 40:2 (2018)

Ariane Martin, ‘Spiel mit Konventionen: Goethes “Faust” und Franziska Gräfin zu Reventlow in Frank Wedekinds ‘modernem Mysterium’ “Franziska”’, in Sigrid Dreiseitel and Hartmut Vinçon (eds.), Kontinuität – Diskontinuität; Diskurse zu Frank Wedekinds literarischer Produktion (1903-1918) (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2001), pp. 75-96

Hartmut Vinçon, Frank Wedekind (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1987), pp. 230-33