The Virginal Mother in German Culture presents an innovative and thorough analysis of the contradictory obsession with female virginity and idealization of maternal nature in Germany from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Lauren Nossett explores how the complex social ideal of woman as both a sexless and maternal being led to the creation of a unique figure in German literature: the virginal mother. At the same time, she shows that the literary depictions of virginal mothers correspond to vilified biological mother figures, which point to a perceived threat in the long nineteenth century of the mother’s procreative power.
Examining the virginal mother in the first novel by a German woman (Sophie von La Roche), canonical texts by Goethe, nineteenth-century popular fiction, autobiographical works, and Thea von Harbou’s novel Metropolis and Fritz Lang’s film by the same name, this book highlights the virginal mother at pivotal moments in German history and cultural development: the entrance of women into the literary market, the Goethezeit, the foundation of the German Empire, and the volatile Weimar Republic. The Virginal Mother in German Culture will be of interest to students and scholars of German literature, history, cultural and social studies, and women’s studies.
About the Author
LAUREN NOSSETT is a visiting assistant professor of German at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia.
“The Virginal Mother in German Culture is a very compelling, well-organized, and detailed analysis of the contradictory and developing tensions between eighteenth to twentieth century fascinations with virginity and the idealization of maternal nature in Germany. It is a unique and field-transforming study.” —Susan Gustafson, author of Goethe’s Families of the Heart
“German literature and film are full of chaste young women who fulfill social expectations by serving as maternal caregivers. In her provocative new study, Lauren Nossett suggests that such selfless servants perpetuated patriarchy and provided a sense of stability in a German society thrust into the maelstrom of modern times. Lucid, thorough, and sophisticated, it is highly recommended for all students of modern German literature and culture.” —Todd Kontje, author of Imperial Fictions: German Literature Before and Beyond the Nation-State
"Beautifully written, persuasively argued and extensively researched, this book details the cultural, social, and political importance of the 'virginal mother figure.' While many English novels feature a governess, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German literature prefers a non-professional alternative: a chaste, young woman who takes care of someone else’s children. Nossett demonstrates convincingly that the figure of the virginal mother is made to serve various ideological agendas, both conservative and progressive: she polices female and male sexuality and justifies the exploitation of female domestic labor, but she also undermines notions of woman’s innate propensity toward caregiving and exemplifies the need for the education of the female sex." —Elisabeth Krimmer, UC Davis
". . . a pleasure to read, combining a clear, direct prose style, well-organized chapters, accessible historical and theoretical contextualizations, and transparent literary analyses. As a result, it will be an important resource not only for specialists of German literature and culture, but also for students and for scholars of motherhood and gender in other fields." —Katra Byram, German Studies Review