Infanticide, illegitimacy, and abortion in modern German literature
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation examines the evolution and interaction of the public policy debate on reproductive issues in Germany and literary portrayals of crisis pregnancies in German literature and concentrates mainly on literature produced in the 20th century. Clusters of works thematicizing infanticide and abortion appear when public attention is focused on issues of morality and population concerns. The discussion about the rising number of infanticide cases during the late 18th century was accompanied by a cluster of works aligned with the Storm and Stress movement. These works explored injustices committed by the upper classes against the lower classes and evoked sympathy for the woman by depicting the woman's circumstances and motivations. During the Weimar Republic left-wing and left-leaning political parties called for a liberalization of the complete ban on abortions in place since 1871. The plays and novels that appeared in the 1920s and early 1930s explored the class-discriminatory effects of the law. Many depicted young, single, working women, an image that called up both positive and negative cultural connotations including a rational, efficient outlook on life as well as decadence and consumerism. The postwar works fall into three phases. The early works of the 1950s and 1960s explore the issue within the context of war atrocities and question society's view of death and killing. In the mid-1970s, abortion was legalized in the East and liberalized somewhat in the West. A cluster of works appeared in the early 1980s that explores the longer-term effects of abortion on both men and women. Two novels by women written after reunification return to a more direct political message and explore how choice affects women's lives. These last two works represent the opposite viewpoint of the works from the 1920s and 1930s, but like their historical precursors, they are opposed to the prevailing legal status of abortion.
Modern literature; Germanic literature