Reforming the state by re-forming the family: imagining the Romantic mother in pedagogy and letters, 1790-1813

Reitz, Anne Catherine
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This dissertation examines ideological and political elements of portrayals of the family, especially the mother, in early romantic German literature. It claims that Proto-Romantic writers used conservative, traditional images of mothers to conceal much more radical political agendas of egalitarian relations or republicanism. The first chapter offers an overview of motherhood in the historical German context. It investigates two pedagogy treatises, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi’s Wie Gertrud ihre Kinder lehrt (1801) and Jean Paul Friedrich Richter’s Levana, oder Erziehlehre (1806), before moving to the letters of Caroline and Dorothea Schlegel. Both treatises depict mothers as central to the family and creators of socio-political change, who, in schooling children, shape nations. They instill social consciousness and foster national self-identities in their children, thereby changing social power structures. Early-childhood education tracts thus produce an ideology that elevates mothers as contributors to free nations in a peaceful Europe. The correspondences of two Romantic mothers, Dorothea Schlegel and Caroline Schlegel Schelling, demonstrate how mothers themselves used conventional rhetoric about maternal dedication to negotiate social expectations, veiling unacceptable choices a traditional rhetoric of mother-love. The notions that mothers are central to their children’s lives and dedicated to their welfare expand, in these mothers’ letters, an older social order into an emerging Romantic public sphere. This dissertation thus reconsiders scholarly debate about the ideological weight of the feminine and the maternal in Romantic thought. These mothers, like their contemporaneous treatises, made daily maternal practices into a facet of the Romantic agenda for rethinking social structures. They married the tasks of maintaining a communal, multi-generational artists’ household with an ideal of friendship and the responsibilities of motherhood, and integrated writing, editing, and personal correspondence with Romantic theories of education. The result questions canonical generic and epochal divisions in German literature by interpreting new possibilities for the images and ideology of traditional maternity.