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Rosa Mayreder and a case of "Austrian fate": The effects of repressed humanism and delayed enlightenment on women's writing and feminist thought in Fin-de-siecle Vienna

By Kay Lewis Mittnik

Abstract

Despite increased interest in turn-of-the-century Austrian literature, women writers of the period have suffered the classic "Austrian fate": their works remain unrecognized. Yet a comparison of both the fiction and non-fiction by women of Vienna's Fin de siecle uncovers parallels between these works and those of eighteenth-century women. These parallels provide insight into the discrepancies between a woman's public and her private self-image in the age of male liberal humanism since the Enlightenment. Rosa Mayreder's nonfiction projects progressive ideals which are compromised in the fiction where the protagonists assume roles created for them by Western patriarchal society. Closer examination shows that women of the eighteenth century also compensated and compromised their positions in order to secure a reading public. Rosa Mayreder's utopian vision of a reformed patriarchal ideology (non-fiction) gives way to resignation in the fictional works. But where the modernists endeavor to sustain the ideals of humanistic thought even under historic conditions that prevent its realization outside the spheres of art, Rosa Mayreder does not bow to the psychology of repression or to the relentless sexism of patriarchal society. She reconciles her revolutionary feminist thought with narrative forms to which women have traditionally had access. But she attacks nineteenth century institutions associated with the patriarchal oppression of Viennese society. And her female protagonists, who neither preserve their sanity through cold and brilliant intellectualism nor balance their feminine hysteria against the dictated images of a symbolic order in which they no longer believe, are among the first who defy the exaltation of womanhood through the internalization of male humanist standards. Eighteenth century bourgeois patriarchy's predilection for liberal humanism, much like that of the late nineteenth century in Austria, lent ammunition to the growing feminist movement and to the rebirth of women's literary endeavors. It was not by chance that these endeavors were met by an onslaught of patriarchal constructions and male stereotyped images of women. By not "saving" her protagonists from resignation and despair, Mayreder forfeited her rank in the literary canon. But she should be recognized as one of the first woman writers of this century to make visible progress toward the deconstruction of stereotyped images of women

Topics: Germanic literature, Women's studies
Year: 1990
OAI identifier: oai:scholarship.rice.edu:1911/16371
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