Steele 2009 Ambiguity

Title Information

Author: Rebecca Elaine Steele

Title: The Politics of Ambiguity

Subtitle: Representations of Androgynous Women in Early 19th Century German-Language Literature

Thesis: Ph.D. Thesis, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Year: May 2009

Pages: v + 282pp.

Language: English

Keywords: 19th Century | German History | Representations: Literature / Friedrich Hebbel

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Link: RUcore - Rutgers University Community Repository (Free Access)

Additional Information


My dissertation investigates the tension between political inertia and change in early 19th-century German-language texts through the representation of the female androgynous title figure. My analysis includes other border figures – political, geographical, temporal, epistemological, and aesthetic Grenzfiguren – which are all formulated in terms of the feminine in these texts. I argue that while each text attempts to contain the androgynous, emancipated or emancipating woman and by extension tries to stabilize the other ambiguous border figures, every attempt at containment is undermined by the text itself, thereby demonstrating that political stasis is neither possible nor desirable. Thus, women’s emancipation is inextricably linked to political progress.
Paradoxically, the numerous literary representations of strong, independent, and politically successful women in German-language literature of the early 19th century stand in stark contrast to contemporaneous theoretical discussions of gender that declared women to be naturally weak, subservient, and only suited for wifehood and motherhood. These literary representations call natural or essential femininity into question, thereby challenging the social and political mechanisms that kept women contained in the private sphere. This paradox informs my reading of Friedrich Schiller’s Maria Stuart (1800), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Die natürliche Tochter (1803), Friedrich Hebbel’s Judith (1841), and Adalbert Stifter’s Brigitta (1844/1847). Each of these texts was written in and is historically situated at a time of political upheaval and change. My analysis uncovers an intimate connection between the strategies used to contain these transgressive women and to stabilize the political volatility present in each text.« (Source: Thesis)


  Abstract (p. ii)
  Acknowledgements (p. iv)
  Introduction (p. 1)
    The Literary Tradition of Androgyny (p. 2)
    The Polarization of Geschlechtscharaktere (p. 7)
    Women's Emancipation (p. 9)
    The Usual Suspects (p. 13)
    The Politics of Ambiguity (p. 16)
  Chapter 1: The Devious Woman – The Dangerous Queen: Friedrich Schiller's Maria Stuart (p. 23)
    I. Gender and Sexuality at the Border (p. 31)
      The Androynous Women (p. 32)
      Sexual Deviants (p. 34)
      Containing Deviance (p. 36)
      A New Order (p. 38)
    II. Language at the Border – The Temporality of Meaning (p. 40)
      The Ring ≠ Engagement
      Re-Envisioning Mercy (p. 42)
      The Speech Act of Death (p. 46)
    III. Aesthetics at the Border (p. 48)
      Creating the "Myth of Maria" (p. 49)
      Debunking the Myth (p. 55)
    IV. The Politics of Necessity (p. 60)
      Political Realism (p. 61)
      The Necessity of Deception (p. 62)
      Containing the Political Woman (p. 66)
      A Necessary Evil (p. 68)
  Chapter 2: Illegitimate Daughter – Illegitimate Woman Goethe's Die natürliche Tochter (p. 73)
    I. The Genesis of a Transgressive Figure (p. 78)
      A Child's Inheritance (p. 78)
      A Figure of Transgression (p. 80)
      Containing Ambiguity (p. 83)
    II. Marriage and Sexuality (p. 86)
      From Zweckehe to Liebesehe (p. 87)
      Autonomy and Choice (p. 90)
      The Vessel of Sexuality (p. 91)
    III. Knowledge and Unenlightenment (p. 93)
      Lost in a Labyrinth (p. 94)
      "Ein offenbar Geheimnis" (p. 98)
      False Prophesies (p. 101)
    IV. The Limits of the Aesthetic in Image and Language (p. 103)
      Image of Death (p. 103)
      An Image – A Dream
      The Limits of Language (p. 109)
    V. Space and Time (p. 113)
      Outside of Time (p. 113)
      Out of this World (p. 118)
  Chapter 3: Judith Contained – Judaism Contained: Friedrich Hebbel's Judith (p. 122)
    I. Gender Roles at the Border (p. 128)
      When is a Man a Man? (p. 129)
      Femininity and Motherhood (p. 131)
      The Third Sex: Androgyny (p. 139)
    II. Exploding Boundaries of Female Sexuality (p. 146)
      Sexuality on the Border (p. 147)
      The Art of Seduction (p. 152)
      Does a Girl Have to Say "No"? (p. 158)
      Guilt Talk (p. 164)
    III. Jews on the Edge (p. 170)
      The Historical Context of Judith (p. 170)
      Judith: A Significant Choice of Material (p. 172)
      The Biblical Judith vs. Judith: Anti-Semitism Revealed (p. 184)
  Chapter 4: Ambiguity Unbound: Adalbert Stifter's Brigitta (p. 192)
    I. Gender Role and Sexuality at the Border (p. 199)
      The Manly Woman (p. 199)
      The Womanly Man and Deviant Sexuality (p. 206)
    II. Aesthetics at the Border (p. 214)
      Silence is Golden – or Deadly (p. 216)
      To Speak or Not to Speak (p. 222)
    III. Time and Space – Negotiating a Multi-Dimensional Border (p. 227)
      Let's Do the Time Warp (p. 228)
      Out of this World (p. 231)
      Wo(man) and/or Nature (p. 233)
    IV. On the Political Border: Reform or Revolution (p. 238)
      Stifter: (A)political Writer (p. 238)
      Hungary in the 19th Century (p. 241)
      Ethnic Ambivalence in Brigitta (p. 246)
      Political (In)stability (p. 253)
  Conclusion (p. 260)
  Bibliography (p. 262)
  Curriculum Vitae (p. 282)

Wikipedia: Christian Friedrich Hebbel

Added: October 25, 2014 – Last updated: October 25, 2014