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Katja Mihurko-Poniž, Ursula Stohler, Zsuzsanna Varga

German women authors received in smaller language communities:
The case of Eugénie Marlitt in the Czech lands, Hungary and Slovenia in the 19th and early 20th centuries


This presentation looks at the presence of foreign popular literature by women (translated or in the source language) during the second half of the nineteenth century in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Language communities that began to develop a national consciousness during that time, such as the Czech, the Hungarian, or the Slovene, depended strongly on the import of books from other language communities. Regarding women´s writing during that time, up to a third of all books on the market were by foreign female authors in the Czech and Hungarian case, while in Slovenia also foreign books dominated the bookmarket. It seems important to include popular and foreign, translated literature when looking at a national literatures. As Franco Moretti has demonstrated, the canonized works represent only a fraction of the books that were read during a particular time. The high-brow, classical literature was mainly a means to form "imagined communities", in the words of Benedict Anderson.

The case of works from the German language community in the Austro-Hungarian empire is particularly interesting, as this language worked as a lingua franca of the region, with urban population being often native German speakers or bilinguals in German during at least the first sixty years of the century. Germans often worked as a cultural intermediary between the Czech, Hungarian, and Slovene speakers and other parts of Europe. Other language communities, whose works by women appeared often in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (in the Czech lands and Hungary in particular) are the Swedish (Emilie Flygare Carlén and Marie Sophie Schwartz), the English ([ Mary Braddon), and the French (George Sand). Regarding German women writers, the most popular in the region are Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer, Luise Mühlbach, Natalie von Eschtruth and E. Marlitt.

In our presentation, we are going to focus on the reception of E. Marlitt´s works in the Czech, Hungarian, and Slovene literary cultures during the second half of the nineteenth century, as she was a best-selling author whose works were well known and widely translated in various countries in Europe (such as France, England, Denmark, the Netherlands), and outside Europe (for instance in the USA). Translations of her works often appeared in the same year as the original work. She was so well-known that her name was often used as a synonym for “best-selling author,“ used both positively and negatively, and she was considered to be an inspiration for various works, of popular fiction as well as of high-brow literature. Gartenlaube, the journal in which her works appeared often before coming out in book form,was widely read in the German original in the Austro-Hungarian empire, yet there also appeared imitations of this journal in other languages, for instance in Hungarian.

Supported by careful research in Czech and Hungarian National Bibliographies as well as in Slovene lending library catalogues and private collections, our contribution will present reception patterns of Marlitt´s work in these three language communities and point out differences and similarities. In particular, we will try to demonstrate that Marlitt´s popularity, (as reflected by book publishing) in the Czech and the Hungarian language communities is quite similar. Differences between the two are that in the Czech lands most translations appeared during the 1880s, whereas in the Hungarian this happened already in the 1870s. In the 1890s, hardly any Czech translations of Marlitt´s works appeared, whereas in the Hungarian literary culture there appeared many. During the 1910s and the 1920s there was a peak of translations of her works both in the Czech and in the Hungarian literary culture (and again after 1990). Re-editions and festive, illustrated editions appeared in both language communities (as well as in the USA), especially during the first two decades of the twentieth century.

The reception of Marlitt’s work in Slovenia displayed similar patterns, although ‘reception’ here does not mean translation, rather, the presence of the works in the original German in rental and sale catalogues. Furthermore, textual evidence gained from periodicals such as the Laibacher Zeitung and from authors’ memoirs, suggests (Bartol, Kveder) that Marlitt was widely read. A backhand way of showing Marlitt’s influential nature was shown by critics who criticised Slovene sentimental novelists such as Luiza Pesjak (1828-1898) and Pavlina Pajk (1854-1901) by likening their writing to Marlitt’s ‘bad’ fiction.

Our comparative research suggests that language communities such as the Czech and the Hungarian had similar reception patterns of the German bestseller author E. Marlitt, whereas her presence in a smaller language community, such as the Slovene, was different, as she was less often translated there, even though widely read in the original. We conclude that works by popular women writers, such as E. Marlitt, transgressed linguistic and political boundaries during the long 19th century.

SvD, 26 May 2013

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