Bildung and Gender in Nineteenth-Century Bourgeois Germany: A Cultural Studies Analysis of Texts by Women Writers

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2008-05-30

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Abstract

Throughout the course of the nineteenth century, the German Bildungsbürgertum used the civic and inner components of Bildung defined by Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) as a means to characterize its social identity and prominence. Together with the transitions related to the industrialization of society in the second half of the century, the German intellectual middle class recognized the changes of Bildung that adapted to the expansion of the bourgeois public sphere but simultaneously upheld the construction of the "eternal feminine" that emerged during the period of Weimar Classicism around 1800. Therefore, the idea of Bildung became associated with the cultural reality of young men. This event leads to the question: If bourgeois society excluded women from the process of inner and civic Bildung, how did women in return view themselves as members of the Bildungsbürgertum?

Drawing on both the inner and civic aspects of Bildung, this project investigates the interrelationship of Bildung and gender as portrayed in a variety of literary and non-literary texts. Selected writings by Fanny Lewald (1811-1889), Hedwig Dohm (1833-1919), Franziska Tiburtius (1843-1927), Gabriele Reuter (1859- 1941), and Ricarda Huch (1864-1947) reveal that many women created new interpretations of Bildung that were quite different from the mainstream conception defined by the male public voice. In addition, a variety of texts from the nineteenthcentury press shows how women simultaneously raised awareness of the gender paradox in Bildung in mainstream bourgeois culture, particularly by women associated with the nineteenth-century German bourgeois women's movement. The methodological paradigms of New Historicism and Gender Studies play a vital role in my analyses of women's Bildung as it existed in a cultural discourse of "otherness",and how women's Bildung changed and shifted throughout the course of the century.

My project examines the role of gender within multiple contexts of Bildung as portrayed in the texts mentioned above. These discourses include upbringing, selfawareness, self-cultivation, literacy, institutionalized education, and vocational training. In addition, my analysis asks how Bildung played a role in either creating or breaking a woman's gender consciousness and idea of "self" in regards to the construction of "proper" femininity.

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