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Focusing on seminal but hereto-fore neglected autobiographies by German and Austrian women from the turn of the twentieth century, Truth to Tell shows how women positioned themselves between tradition and modernity and how they shaped many of the cultural and political discourses at their particular junction in history.
Katharina Gerstenberger argues that women autobiographers responded articulately to the vicissitudes of modernity. What did "woman" mean at the fin-de-siècle Women autobiographers sought to answer this fundamental question as they themselves remained a part of the subject under debate. The cultural meanings of this paradox, the deployment of female autobiography in the gender debates, and the autobiographical strategies of women writers are the subject of this book. Elucidating the tensions between tradition and change, female autobiographers enrich our understanding of the gendered discourses of nation, race, and sexuality that occupied their contemporaries.
The book discusses in depth the works of four autobiographers. German-born Nahida Lazarus describes her conversion to Judaism during a time when Jews were increasingly marked as racial outsiders. Margarete von Eckenbrecher, a colonizer and settler's wife, narrates how the anticolonial war of 1904 shattered her hopes of farm life in German Southwest Africa. The Austrian Social Democrat Adelheid Popp recalls her impoverished childhood in late-nineteenth-century Vienna. Finally, Wanda von Sacher-Masoch, wife of the Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, describes her journey through the sexual and literary practices of masochism.
Combining major insights of cultural studies with analyses based on close readings, Gerstenberger argues that social and cultural concerns of the time are reflected as well as refracted in the autobiographies of women writers. Her work implies, moreover, that seemingly unrelated issues such as colonialism and religious conversion intersect in one of the most troubling problems of modernity, the question of race.
Truth to Tell adds significant new dimensions to our knowledge of turn-of-the-century culture. This book will be of interest to scholars of German, gender, and literary studies.
Katharina Gerstenberger is Associate Professor of German, University of Cincinnati.