WS 2011/2012                exam translation (advanced)          (Staatsexamen Frühjahr 1999)             text #4               

In the eighteenth century when women as a group first began to make their mark on the literary scene, they adopted certain tactics and topics that helped to insulate them as a sex against overt criticism of their effrontery at daring to publish at all. They focused their attention on the subjects they were supposed to know best, on domestic life, with female characters and female conduct the object of their moral concern. Poems and novels by women could safely take love as their theme without being thought to poach on the male preserves of power politics or trenchant social criticism, and romance consequently figured as a major motif in these texts. Over the next two hundred years, as women established for themselves a distinctive place in literary history, these topics remained dominant in their work, appealing to a growing number of bourgeois literate women readers who found in women's writing reflections of the fabric and fantasies of their own lives. Recent feminist literary critics have forcefully revealed the existence of dissident underlying themes in literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and have analysed most perceptively the various tactics employed by women writers who wished to retain the approval of their reading public (and the favour of their male publishers) while yet registering their independent views. The diaries and journals of such writers offer a further insight into the extent of their alienation from popular images of female propriety and, by demonstrating their interests in areas not normally considered to be a female province, show how women's writing for publication was most carefully stage-managed so as to stay within accepted limits.

The journals of Fanny Burney and Louisa May Alcott reveal for instance a fascination with war and politics, subjects that they learned to treat with caution in their published fictions; Burney, partly through her involvement with the English court and partly through her marriage to a French refugee, felt personally implicated in the political situation in Europe. Her journal accounts of post-revolutionary France and in particular of the Napoleonic campaign of 1815 are a major literary undertaking. Similarly Alcott, born into a family with strong political ideas, campaigned forcefully for the anti-slavery cause, and later in life allied herself with the movement for women’s suffrage. The fight against injustice and her belief in individual freedom form a continuous  refrain in her journal, despite the blandness that many twentieth-century readers now find in her popular works.

Judy Simons (1990), Diaries and Journals of Literary Women from Fanny Burney to Virginia Woolf (slightly adapted)

Judy Simons:
Fanny Burney:
Louisa May Alcott:
Virginia Woolf:
The French Revolution:  
"The Scarlet Pimpernel"(cult movie from 1934!):  
Chick Lit: 
"Bridget Jones's Diary":'s_Diary   ·video: 


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