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Kirsi Tuohela

Loved and Hated, Read and Forgotten.
The Reception of the Baltic German Writer Laura Marholm-Hansson in Nordic Countries and Germany


Laura Marholm-Hansson (1854–1928) was a female author of the fin de siècle, the late nineteenth-century Scandinavia and Germany. She has been included to the group of New Woman writers of the 1890's, portrayed being a female decadent, amateur psychologist and essayist. She was a controversial figure who raised debate with her book Das Buch der Frauen that came out in 1895 (Modern Women, 1896). She was largely read and also celebrated by "conservative" males and uneducated women while she at the same time was hated and seen as an anti-feminist by first rang feminists. She got fame and readers in the late 1890's but was also soon forgotten ten years later.

She was born in the city of Riga in the 1850's. Her career as a writer started with two historical plays that were published and played in Riga in the 1870's. She tried to enter German theatre stages as well, but got disappointed and left fictional writing for a long time focusing on critics, reviews and translations instead. After moving from Riga to Copenhagen in 1886, she contacted Georg Brandes, the leading cultural radical of the time, and became part of literary circles of 1890's Copenhagen. She met there heated debates about social issues, the women's issue and sexual double morals, and started to write about these themes herself too.

From essays published first in a journal called Freie Bühne in Berlin, she reworked a book that was entitled Das Buch der Frauen (Modern Women. After some difficulties she got it published with quite a large publicity and several translations. Being first an unknown literary critic and translator from the remote Russian city Riga (today's Latvia), she became a well-known anti-feminist (with Ellen Key and Lou Andreas-Salomé) for the German women's movement. Her ideas about woman's spiritual and psychological birth through love (between man and woman) were rejected being either against women's political rights or too sensual and physical in their nature.

In my paper I use Laura Marholm as an example of the networks of reception of the 1890's. I ask what women of the late nineteenth century wanted to write, what they could write and publish, what their readers wanted to read and how they reacted to themes they liked but also sometimes disliked.

AsK, September 2012

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