Caroline’s Review of Marianne Ehrmann

Caroline’s review of a posthumous anthology of the writings of Marianne Ehrmann.

Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1796) 401 (Wednesday, 28 December 1796) 747–48:

Hamburg, in der Mutzenbecherschen Buchhandlung: Amaliens Feierstunden. Auswahl der hinterlassenen Schriften von Marianne Ehrmann. Volume 1. Amaliens Schreibtafel. 1796. 307 pages. 8vo. (20 gr.). The same book under the special title Amaliens Schreibtafel. Fragmente für Freundinnen des Nachdenkens.

A healthy, unambiguous sensibility animates the ideas of the authoress, presented here in part in quite short, and in part in more lengthy sentences. These ideas are well suited for provoking reflection where even the slightest receptivity is present in a feminine mind, and strive toward both the visible and the hidden cliffs upon which amiability, merit, and happiness so often founder. The authoress seeks to influence her sex with respect not only to feminine, but also to more broadly understood human traits, and herself seems imbued with a lively and genuine feeling for universal human dignity.

Although the fundamental contours of her manner of instruction are hardly new, her individual views often are, and she emphatically alludes to otherwise neglected considerations. Hence she begins and ends, for example, by urging consistent, purposeful, well-organized activities. Her words ring quite true when she says (p. 48) that “those who want to see lasciviousness, coddling indulgence, ill humor, lustfulness, in a word: who want to see the picture of a living dead woman, need only observe a habitual idleress.” On page 304 she tries to counter the opinion that would restrict women solely to mechanical activities: “Only after a woman’s mind has become engaged can she reflect with all her powers on the consequences of bad household management etc.” And further: “Although there are indeed women to whom one refers as good housekeepers in the usual sense regardless of how incapable they are of engaging their minds purposively simply because they have never urged it to do so, yet who can, or indeed who will deny that precisely these woman do not act without plan, without feeling, and merely mechanically? — Can her spouse, can the servants at her side be as happy as they might be if her intellect were to set the tone in everything?”

The only problem is that the frequent use of the expression “female thinker” in this and similar contexts refers too pedantically to the more delicate intellectual activity of women; nor is the authoress by far completely free of similar fulsomeness. To such we also reckon her somewhat dry and barbaric contempt for beauty. Page 69: “If young girls could but comprehend how enormously attractive a cultivated young woman is for a thoughtful man, they would deliberately scratch and disfigure their faces simply that they might attain a far more glorious conquest with intellectual virtues.” On pages 71 she calls beauty a quotidian asset of little significance, indeed one the rabble also finds pleasing. “And can that which pleases the rabble possess any value for the thinker?” —

But can a female thinker draw such a patently false conclusion? The chapter on self-deception so excessively incorporates all the drives and all the inclinations in human beings even remotely capable of generating the slightest blindness that one could as easily be dispensing with humanity as such as with self-deception. Here our female thinker is merely moralizing. By contrast, pages 171f. contain a passage one might well take to heart about “self-indulgent domestic slovenliness.”

Although the writing style is neither clean nor correct, it lacks neither power nor fullness.

Translation © 2012 Doug Stott