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Elisa Mueller-Adams

A German Jane Eyre? Amely Bölte and the English governess novel

In spite of her large œuvre which includes almost 30 novels and collections of short stories as well as a number of contributions and articles for magazines, Amely Bölte (1811-1891) has been largely neglected by scholarly research. She is considered mainly as an interesting witness for the life of German exiles in London in the 1840s and 50s. Only recently Bölte has been rediscovered as a cultural mediator between England and Germany and as an author who transgresses gender and genre boundaries. The writer and women’s rights campaigner Bölte spent 13 years in Britain, living and working as a governess and translator. During her time in London, Bölte was also part of a large network of authors and other persons of the cultural sphere. She had links both to German women writers such as Ida Hahn-Hahn and Fanny Lewald and to English female writers such as Harriet Martineau and Elizabeth Gaskell.

The paper will examine the influence of English women authors on Bölte’s literary work. Focussing on Bölte’s novels about governesses (which always focus on women’s attempts to gain (economical) independence – very often comparing England and Germany), the paper will analyse how Bölte uses the genre of the English governess novel and especially the model provided by Charlotte Brontë to develop her own form of social novel to promote women’s rights and thus allowing her to find a voice in the political discourse. By comparing the early text Louise oder eine Deutsche in England (1846) to the much later Elisabeth oder Eine deutsche Jane Eyre (1873), the paper will also point out the changes and developments in Bölte’s perspective taking into consideration the intertextual relationship of the later novel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

SvD, April 2008

  • Conferences > NEWW international conferences > Chawton 2008 > Mueller-Adams

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