Molly Seaward '09
Beyond the Fräuleinwunder and Feminism: Julia Franck's Novel Die Mittagsfrau as Historiography of Gender & Sexuality
While studying abroad in Tübingen for the spring semester of my junior year, I took a class on contemporary litertature. Having studied the works of German literature from every time period except the present, I was eager to fill in this gap in my German literary education. This class provided me with a very brief abridged sampling of contemporary German literature, yet its focus on male authors (the notorious Popliteraten) and the troubling themes of the novels left me dissatisfied. I wanted to read and analyze a contemporary German novel that would supplement what I read while abroad, yet would not be fraught with teen angst and self indulgence.
I wrote a historical analysis of Die Mittagsfrau, a novel written by the German author Julia Franck. Although Franck was awarded the prestigious German Book Prize in 2007 for this novel, there was very little scholarly literature and only a few critiques written on the novel. The few articles published about the novel or about its author contained mixed reviews primarily due to the novel's serious and sometimes dark content matter. Scholarship on the novel seemed preoccupied with Franck herself and whether or not her writing should be defined as "feminist." In my thesis, I argue that Die Mittagsfrau is a multi-layered piece of literature that extends beyond traditional definitions of feminism; rather the historical context and the types of intimate relationships described in the novel and make Die Mittagsfrau a historiography of gender and sexuality. In other words, it is a contemporary novel that explores gender relations and sexuality during the first half of the twentieth century.
Writing this honors thesis was certainly the most rewarding academic experience of my Bowdoin career. I discovered and honed reading, writing and analytical skills while learning a great deal of historical information about Germany in the early twentieth century, a topic that was unfamiliar to me. I was also extremely fortunate to have Professor Smith as an advisor and mentor, because the amount of intellectual growth I experienced as a result of this thesis was mostly because of her.
Molly Seaward '09 is currently working in an ophthamology research lab for Children's Hospital Boston.