Women role models in plays of Austrian women dramatists from the French Revolution to the First World War

Date of Completion

January 1998


Literature, Germanic|Women's Studies|Theater




In the course of the nineteenth century the number of women dramatists steadily increased. At the end of the eighteenth century only a few women dared to write, but later, they became more educated and more interested in theatre. Most of these women dramatists have fallen into oblivion, although many plays were performed successfully in their time.^ The dissertation concentrates on an analysis of the female roles within the plot of the dramas, comparing them with the experiences that the dramatists had in their own lives. Therefore as a prerequisite, the first chapter presents a brief description of the situation in which Austrian women of the nineteenth century found themselves.^ Since societal expectations on women varied with stages of their life, it turned out to be useful to subdivide the major part of the dissertation according to the age of the characters: childhood, youth, wifehood, motherhood, old age. Within these chapters, the roles are presented according to the specific life situation, e.g., mothers with little children or mothers with mature children. The year of publication determines the chronological order in which the roles with comparable features are set. This arrangement makes it possible to show how social conventions changed during the nineteenth century.^ The eighth chapter consists of an analytical overview of what the characters present in their plays. The more serious plays are compared with those which were written only to entertain. Several female paradigms of the nineteenth century (e.g., femme fragile, femme fatale) recur in the plays; others are modified or are not utilized at all.^ In contradiction to assumptions that women dramatists would use the stage for direct or implied criticism of men and of their patriarchal system, we can conclude that these plays differentiate between the roles of the individual characters. Men as well as women are portrayed as suffering under a rigid system. The evidence presented in this investigation excludes any generalization as to a gender-specific assignment of blame. A short description of the life and work of each woman dramatist concludes the thesis. ^