German Writing, American Reading: Women and the Import of Fiction, 1866-1917

Ohio State University Press
Publication year

This book is available in full, for free, from the publisher at the link above. See in particular Chapters 4: "The German Art of the Happy Ending: Embellishing and Expanding the Boundaries of Home," 5: "Enduring Domesticity: German Novels of Remarriage," and 6: "Feminized History: German Men in American Translation."

This was a German literature that seeped into American culture via popular reading in translation; it brought with it a host of beliefs and values that reinforced and sometimes expanded the boundaries of American domesticity, upholding marriage with emotionally satisfying stories in which wedlock is often embedded in an idea of nation. In translation this literature forfeited many of its national cultural valences only to highlight, as points of international entry, the plots with their inevitable happy endings, emotional appeal, and social and moral messages. (5)


Chapter 4 examines German novels as American reading from the perspective of the happy ending, an international signature of romance novels and of nearly all of the German novels by women in my dataset. The chapter uncovers and analyzes variations in plotting ritual death and recovery to a state of freedom that characterize these German novels and that appealed to American readers by offering them the vicarious experience of a multiplicity of female subjectivities and female-determined male subjectivities while cautiously expanding the boundaries of home in a place called Germany. I combine analysis of texts with examination of exemplars of books and the history of the book publication of each translated text.
In chapter 5 I identify and describe a significant subset that, paraphrasing Stanley Cavell, I have labeled the novel of remarriage. Deviating from the codes of romance that prescribe unmarried protagonists, these novels feature married—or sometimes betrothed—couples, tracing their breakup and reconciliation as a paean to marriage calibrated to female happiness and agency. The restored marriages project matrimony as emotionally satisfying while also economically beneficial and critical to the stability of the social order. Both men and women achieve maturity over the course of marital strife, the female characters playing a critical role in the reeducation of both sexes and the management of domestic prosperity and felicity. Close reading and book-historical analysis of ten examples, combined with examination of specific exemplars (covers, format, and inscriptions), demonstrate the variations within the genre and their American appeal. (26)


If Louisa May Alcott’s sentimental preunification German professor, Mr. Bhaer, was too grandfatherly for some American readers who hoped for more romance for Jo March, Werner’s postunification Fernow gave them a German professor-soldier-poet who could satisfy romantic dreams of war and peace. (164)

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