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Bridges to Scandinavia

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Andrea Meregalli
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Camilla Storskog

Corinne in the North. Madame de Staël’s Influence on Sophie von Knorring and August Strindberg

Andrea Berardini

Résumé

Since its publication in 1807 Mme de Staël’s novel Corinne, ou l’Italie has become a fundamental reference point for many women writers, who have found in it a prototypical representation of the conflict between genius and current definitions of femininity. Translated into Swedish in 1808-09, Corinne inspired writers such as Fredrika Bremer and Sophie von Knorring. The latter offered, in her 1836 novel Kvinnorna, a rewriting of de Staël’s novel, using it to reflect on a woman’s place in a patriarchal society and on the relationship between art and femininity. Later on, when the Woman Question became a widely debated topic, echoes of Corinne can be found even in one of the stories that August Strindberg collected in Giftas II, this time deployed in a misogynist key. Studying the way in which the myth of Corinne is rewritten in different social and literary contexts provides an interesting key to analysing the ideological positions involved in the Woman Question and to discussing gender bias in aesthetic matters

Texte intégral

1In a letter from 1832, the English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote that Germaine de Staël’s 1807 novel Corinne, ou l’Italie is “an immortal book, and deserves to be read [...] once every year in the age of man” (Lewis 2003, 107). Barrett Browning was not alone in her admiration for Mme de Staël’s work: her enthusiasm was shared – even though perhaps not to the same degree – by many nineteenth-century writers who assiduously reread and rewrote Mme de Staël’s novel, as recent literary criticism has shown (among recent comparative studies, see for example Szmurlo 1999, 204-56; Lewis 2003; Vincent 2004). The influence of Corinne on later literature did not depend only on the richness and depth of its reflections on relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; what made it ‘immortal’, especially for the following generations of women writers, was the way in which de Staël rewrote the myth of the Romantic artist from a feminine point of view. Corinne’s talented and flamboyant heroine became a symbol of the struggles any aspiring woman writer had to face at a time when creative genius and femininity were defined in almost mutually exclusive terms (Battersby [1989] 1994, 103-30).

2Corinne’s influence, however, was two-sided: as Ellen Moers (1976, 174) points out, “the myth of Corinne persisted as both inspiration and warning”: while it offered women writers an empowering example of a successful woman artist, it was also read as a cautionary tale, which showed what necessary renunciations had to be made in order to pursue an artistic career. As Evy Varsamopoulou (2002, 2) remarks, the only way in which de Staël could “accomplish the mythic union of genius and femininity” was by letting her heroine be both a triumphant improvisatrice and a belle souffrante. The whole novel is thus structured around the opposition between art and love (spelled out by Corinne’s ill-fated passion for Lord Nevil) and the contrast between different conceptions of femininity (exemplified by independent and resourceful Corinne and her submissive half-sister Lucile). These elements are so recurrent even in later rewritings of the story that they can be read as constituting what Fredric Jameson defines as ‘ideologeme’. While Jameson ([1981] 2002, 61) analyses ideologemes in the context of class conflict, seeing them as “the smallest intelligible unit of the essentially antagonistic collective discourses of social classes”, in the case of the myth of Corinne we find a protonarrative solution to conflicts as to what role women could play in society, what the defining features of femininity were, and the extent to which gender-based stereotypes could be applied even to the domain of aesthetics. After Corinne, almost any Künstlerinroman would depict its heroine as having to choose between art and love, often favouring an unhappy ending.

3Since its translation in 1808-09, with the title Corinne eller Italien, the novel gained a long-lasting success also in Sweden. For example, novelist Fredrika Bremer often depicts her most romantic characters reading it; even Selma Lagerlöf, towards the end of the century, pays homage to it, having Fru Uggla in Gösta Berlings saga (1891) choose it as the only book she wishes to save when her possessions have to be sold at auction. Mme de Staël, who, having been married to the Swedish ambassador in Paris, was already well-known in Sweden by the time Corinne was translated, and whose earlier works had partially already been translated into Swedish, became herself a literary character: her 1812 sojourn in Stockholm is mentioned in Sophie von Knorring’s 1836 novel Illusionerna (The Illusions), where the French writer puts in an outrageously provocative cameo appearance.

4It was once again Sophie von Knorring who penned what is in all probability the first Swedish text which engages in a continuous intertextual dialogue with Corinne. Her novel Kvinnorna (The Women), published in 1836, transfers Corinne’s basic plot elements to a Swedish provincial milieu, illustrating, like the original, the conflict between different conceptions of femininity through the opposed destinies of its two leading female characters.

  • 1   “The most celebrated woman in Italy [...] poet, improvisatrice, one of the loveliest persons in R (...)

5Kvinnorna centres on the learned and ambitious Thekla, who, like Corinne, is a woman of genius and many artistic talents: she can sing, act, paint as well as improvise verses and songs. If one compares the first descriptions of Thekla and Corinne, one can see how the two are presented, in a very similar way, as torn between ambition and modesty. When we first meet Corinne, she is on her way to be crowned at the Capitol. She is described as “la femme la plus célèbre de l’Italie [...] [é]crivain, improvisatrice, et l’une des plus belles personnes de Rome” (Staël [1807] 1843, 31).1 At the same time, despite the solemnity of the occasion and the pride she derives from it, Mme de Staël attributes typically feminine character traits to her:

  • 2   “Her attitude on the chariot was noble and modest: one sensed that she was content to be admired; (...)

Son attitude sur le char était noble et modeste: on apercevait bien qu’elle était contente d’être admirée; mais un sentiment de timidité se mêlait à sa joie et semblait demander grâce pour son triomphe (33).2

6When von Knorring introduces Thekla, she does so in a similar way; she is an extraordinary character, almost larger than life, but at the same time she shows typical feminine virtues:

  • 3   “Thekla was the most beautiful girl in the country, the richest, the brightest, the most gifted a (...)

Thekla var den skönaste flickan i landet, den rikaste, den snillrikaste, den kvickaste, den kunnigaste, den alla andra överlägsna. Dessutom var hon god och nästan anspråkslös […] hon tog emot väl den hyllning som alla gav henne; men hon tycktes aldrig fordra den, och det kanske även därför, att ingen nekade henne den (Knorring [1836] 2004, 35).3

7The contradictory elements in both descriptions point straight to what the two heroines’ main problem is: their unwillingness to draw a line between the male public world and a narrowing female private space. As Toril Moi (2001) observes, Corinne exemplifies a woman’s quest for individuality in an ideological framework that confines her to a subordinate role within the hidden sphere of domesticity. Both characters’ preference for the performing arts, their desire to appear in public, is a metaphor for their more general ‘desire to be seen’, in a society which equalled any attempt to show one’s talent to showing off, thus breaking the norms of proper feminine behaviour.

  • 4   “A common girl, a common woman, with modesty, shyness, weakness, faults and ignorance.”
  • 5   “Alas, I cannot stand any Corinne!”

8In one of the first scenes in which Thekla makes her appearance, she is hosting a reception, entertaining her guests with exquisite singing. If it is evident to all that her gifts are extraordinary and the proof of uncommon talent, still not everyone is equally fascinated by her performance. Both Thekla’s fiancé, Count Leonard, and his friend Doctor Jarno, are somewhat annoyed by her behaviour. Leonard appreciates Thekla’s genius, but he also wants his soon-to-be wife to be “en vanlig flicka, en vanlig kvinna, med för- lägenhet, blyghet, svaghet, brister och okunnighet” (Knorring [1836] 2004, 65).4 Doctor Jarno, much more cynical and detached, cannot help but find Thekla theatrical and affected, and exclaims – making clear what the model for Thekla’s character is: “Ack, jag älskar inga Corinnor!” (29).5

9Despite her ambition, Thekla is soon to realise that her identification with a Corinne-like ideal can cause her serious trouble. This happens when another woman comes into the picture: from her first appearance, it is evident that Linda, a destitute widow with two children under her care, perfectly modest and selfless, is the incarnation of Leonard’s dreams of domes- tic happiness. Noticing how Leonard is increasingly attracted to her rival, Thekla starts to tone down her most problematic traits, abandoning her artistic performances. At the same time, the narrator struggles to distantiate her from the stereotypical image of the woman of genius as unfeminine:

  • 6“In all her being there was also something so womanly, so pleasant, that nobody had yet happened t (...)

I hela hennes väsen var det ock något så kvinnligt, så behagligt, att ännu aldrig hade det fallit någon in att kalla henne ett lärt eller vittert fruntimmer; men nu insåg Thekla, att stunden var kommen, då hon mer än någonsin skulle akta sig för denna miss- fosterlika benämning, som dödar all känsla för och brer ett grått stoft över den kvinna, som det läggs till (Knorring [1836] 2004, 235; italics in the original).6

10Despite this threat, Thekla still requires an outlet for her ambition. She seems to find it in a different kind of artistic practice. During Leonard’s prolonged absence, Thekla starts to write him long warm-hearted letters, which, without her noticing, soon grow into something more than mere declarations of love; they become longer and more poetic, until Leonard, in a significant reversal of traditional literary conventions, becomes a sort of distant source of inspiration, an absent muse for Thekla’s creative impulse. In a momentary overlap of the romantic and artistic plot, Thekla’s love feelings inspire and guide her writing, as her imagination nurtures her romantic passion – a burning, ‘southern’ love, as the narrator has it – all the more detached from reality and, certainly, different from Leonard’s ideals.

  • 7   “A complete heroine, both talented and feminine.”
  • 8   The transition from performing to writing does not only mark a turning point in Thekla’s life; Ca (...)
  • 9“And on this earth I have nothing more to wish – nothing more to conquer! May I die now!”

11As Åsa Arping (2002, 215) points out, von Knorring seems to offer her readers the portrait of “en komplett hjältinna, en som är både talangfull och kvinnlig”.7 Thekla and Leonard get married, and she publishes – anonymously – her first work of fiction, with notable success. This compromise, though, is only momentary. The myth of Corinne was too strong, too overwhelming and radicated to be so easily surpassed.8 Thekla keeps on writing and, during a celebration for Leonard’s birthday, she even goes back to acting. In the same moment, she receives an enthusiastic review of her latest work. The party is immediately put on hold. In a melodramatic scene Thekla, overwhelmed with joy, exclaims: “Och på jorden har jag inte mera att önska – inte mera att vinna! Må jag få dö!” (Knorring [1836] 2004, 288; italics in the original).9 Poetic justice immediately grants her wish: that same night Thekla suddenly falls ill and dies a few days later in Leonard’s arms, having him promise he will marry Linda.

12As if the opposed fates of the two women were not enough, the narrator makes the message quite explicit:

  • 10   “Should you, last and finally [...] want to draw some moral conclusions from this whole little bo (...)

Skulle du slutligen och äntligen […] vilja dra någon liten moralisk slutsats av hela denna lilla bok, så lägg de orden på ditt hjärta, antingen du är man eller kvinna, att:
Kvinnan måste ettdera fullkomligt ägna sig åt konsten och konstnärslivet i den eller de grenar hon valt, eller ock åt husmoderliga och husliga plikter. Hon må aldrig tro sig om att förena både delarna, ty då blir det fusk av alltsammans (336).10

13Thekla’s death, immediately following her artistic triumph, can be read as a capitulation to the current feminine ideal, in a sort of extreme conversion. Moving towards its tragic ending, the novel, much like Corinne, makes explicit use of narrative strategies derived from sentimental literature: the conflict between two opposed ethical ideals (the individualistic desire to affirm one’s will and the social pressure to renounce it) is mirrored in a love-plot that tends towards the reaffirmation of virtue over forces potentially destructive of a social order. Both Thekla and Corinne assume the pose of the belle souffrante, according an ethical value to suffering, atoning through agony for their faults. As Kristina Fjelkestam (2010, 82-88) notes, virtue for women was conceived in essentially ‘negativeterms, as consisting in abstaining from reprehensible actions more than in performing good deeds; thus, any form of action was perceived as suspect, while the kind of forced inaction and passivity generated by illness became the supreme example of feminine virtue.

14Nonetheless, one might be tempted to read Thekla’s death not merely as a simple concession to bourgeois gender ideology. According to Toril Moi (2002), Corinne’s agony and death at the end of de Staël’s novel can be read as a kind of metaphorical suicide, an extreme vindication of her right to individuality. The same can be said in Thekla’s case. In the course of the novel, Thekla’s individuality is slowly eroded: from being, physically and symbolically, at centre stage in her social environment, she is gradually pushed back into domesticity, and her art as improvisatrice is replaced by the secluded and anonymous exercise of writing. Thekla’s desire to die after the excellent review of her latest novel and her last performance during Leonard’s birthday party sounds quite like a farewell to her extraordinary talent; instead of accepting to be completely subdued in her domestic role and having silence imposed upon her, she chooses to be silent.

15The moralistic remark that closes the novel, then, can be read as an ironic commentary on the deadlock that neither character nor author are able to resolve. The alternatives the narrator proposes are not equally viable: choosing to ignore one’s domestic duties does not only mean having to renounce every chance of romantic happiness; it is also, in a sense, a betrayal of a woman’s very nature: it implies being covered in a ‘grey veil’, which, as Thekla knows very well, does not only mean having to face social ostracism, but also putting one’s sense of identity into question.

16Sophie von Knorring’s (and Thekla’s) intuition that being a woman of letters somehow blurred one’s gender identity reflects a quite common attitude. In symbolically renouncing her ‘procreative’ role as mother in order to take up the ‘active’ role of the creative genius, women did not only break social constraints: they also seemed to be tampering with nature itself. Two main rhetorical strategies were used to attack women artists; as Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar point out: “If becoming an author meant mistaking one’s ‘sex and ways’, if it meant becoming an ‘unsexed’ or perversely sexed female, then it meant becoming a monster or freak” ([1979] 2000, 34; italics in the original). Thus, women writers could become masculine amazons and frigid manhaters, or overeroticised beings, as contemptible as prostitutes.

17Later in the century, when the Woman Question became one of the most debated social topics and contemporary literature was deeply concerned with the theme of the relationship between the sexes, the discussion about women’s role in society and within the literary and artistic professions was not only a matter of different ideological standpoints; it also involved the reorganisation of the hierarchy of literary genres. As Boel Englund and Lena Kåreland (2008, 53-136) show in their gender-based analysis of the Swedish literary field between 1880 and 1920, if there ever was a battle of the sexes, it did not involve only husbands and wives; it was also fought between men and women writers.

  • 11   “The woman writer and the woman artist is a whore. = a woman who has lost her sex characters = pa (...)
  • 12   In an expunged part of the foreword to Giftas II, Strindberg delivered a virulent attack on diffe (...)

18August Strindberg shows clearly how the criticism of women writers and artists often took the form of censure on their (presumed) irregular sexuality. In an 1889 letter to writer Ola Hansson, Strindberg writes: “Författarinna och artistinna är hora. = en qvinna som förlorat könskaraktena [sic] = passivitet”11 (quoted in Heggestad 1991, 191). A similar rhetorical and ideological move can be found in Mot betalning (With Fee), one of the stories published in Giftas II (Getting Married II, 1886), where Strindberg portrays a young woman with literary ambitions. Not surprisingly, he illustrates his point satirising the pervasiveness of the myth of Corinne.12

19Helène is the daughter of a general and has lost her mother in early childhood. Her education is flawed by antiquated aristocratic values: her father has passed on old-fashioned masculine values to his daughter, causing her to regret being a woman. She is instinctively disgusted by anything that has to do with the body and with sexuality. In a dramatic scene, Helène’s mare runs away to follow a black stallion; the young girl witnesses the horses’ copulation, before turning away in horror. After that, she refuses to leave the house and takes refuge in the library; there she finds a copy of Corinne, which had belonged to her mother. Identifying herself with de Staël’s heroine, Helène enters a dreamworld of beauty and purity:

  • 13   “The dissatisfaction with the prose of life and the brutality of nature sparked her fantasy to cr (...)

Missnöje med livets prosa, naturens råhet, eldade fantasien att bygga en drömvärld där själarne levde utan kroppar. Denna värld var aristokratisk, ty det fordrades ekonomiskt oberoende för att endast kunna skänka tankar åt själen. Den var de rikes evangelium, denna hjärninflammation som kallas romantismen [...]. Av Corinne gjorde Helène nu ett ideal: skaldinnan, som tog ingivelser ovanifrån, som likt medeltidens nunna avlade kyskhetslöftet för att leva renliv, och som naturligtvis beundrad av en lysande mängd höjde sig över de små vardagsdödlige (Strindberg 1982, 235).13

  • 14   “One day she attempted verse. It succeeded. All lines were equally long and the last words rhymed (...)
  • 15   “The Corinne of 1807 would have been cooking meals and rocking cradles had she lived after 1870. (...)

20Inspired by Corinne’s example, Helène decides to become a poetess herself, although it is made clear that she possesses no talent whatsoever; Strindberg harshly satirises her poetic effusions: “En dag försökte hon på vers. Det lyckades. Raderna blevo lika långa och sluten rimmade” (236).14 It is the ideas that are lacking, and the content of her work is fully derivative of Corinne. Quite significantly, one of the poems Helène composes is entitled Sappho, another prominent figure in the pantheon of female genius, often portrayed in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature as the poet of feminine sensibility and unhappy love (Vincent 2004, 52-56). Helène sends it to a literary review under the pen name of Corinne, but the answer she gets is not what she expected: the editor turns down her contribution, publishing instead a brief sarcastic note: “Corinne av 1807 skulle ha lagat mat och vaggat barn, om hon levat efter 1870. Men ni är inte någon Corinne!” (Strindberg 1982, 237).15

21This first failure fuels Helène’s resentment against men and inaugurates her social downfall; after her father’s death, she accepts a post of lady- in-waiting, but her sympathy for the Blåstrumpor (Bluestockings) leads to an argument with the duchess she is serving, so that Helène is forced to leave. She then tries to gather around herself a circle of intellectuals, but she soon loses her influence to another woman. The only person who remains faithful to her is a lecturer in ethics whose ideas about marriage are noble enough to convince her to accept his proposal. The marriage is of course unhappy, with Helène still incapable of accepting the physical side of love, yielding to her husband’s advances only as a way of enlisting his support for her feminist struggles.

22This short story sums up many of Strindberg’s attitudes towards the Woman Question and the social literature of his time. In it one can trace his criticism, fuelled by his anti-aristocratic bias, of the superficial education many women received, an education deficient in the practical knowledge that would have enabled them to make a positive contribution to society as wives and mothers. In his critique of Helène’s behaviour one might also catch a glimpse of Strindberg’s evolutionary thoughts: the girl’s attitude towards men and sexuality does not only constitute a breach of social norms, it is also a sort of crime against nature, in that she refuses to take up her role in the reproduction of the species, posing a threat both on the social order and on the survival of mankind; it was not uncommon, as Elaine Showalter ([1990] 2010, 34-35) shows, to represent the New Woman as an anarchic figure, depicting her in apocalyptic terms. In Helène’s case, hints at her unnatural, perverted sexuality are provided not only by her disgust for all things sexual, but even by references to the meretricious nature of her marriage (as stressed by the title). The disruptive potential of the kind of women typified by Helène is well symbolised by her refusal of motherhood, which, illogically enough, seems a characteristic inherited from her mother. Earlier in the story we are told that Helène’s family on her mother’s side has suppressed fertility in order to avoid splitting the property. When she finds her mother’s copy of de Staël’s novel, with her pencil annotations in the margins, the identification with the dead woman and the literary character proves to be equally infertile:

  • 16   “The inheritance she received from her mother through her posthumous notes began to germinate. Sh (...)

Arvet hon tog av modren i de postuma noterna började gro. Hon identifierade sig med Corinne och med modren och hon satte bort mycken tid på funderingar över sin kallelse. Att hon var kallad till att leva för släktet, att hon hade en skyldighet att befordra groning och växt av de frön naturen nedlagt i hennes kropp, det slog hon ifrån sig (Strindberg 1982, 236).16

23Not only does the connection with her dead mother drive Helène to reject her reproductive role; contrary to her expectations, it does not inspire her to compose great poetry either. All she derives from it are surpassed ideals that can no longer be useful. The identification with Corinne becomes nothing more than a pose that only leads Helène to frustration and disappointment.

24Whether Strindberg knew it or not, his depiction of the myth of Corinne as nothing more than a stale stereotype was far from being an original conception. It might have surprised him to know that his ideas were in tune with the attitude of many of the most prominent women writers of his time.

  • 17   For an overview of many Künstlerinromane of the period, see Heggestad 1991, 147-91.

25Towards the end of Corinne, de Staël’s heroine gives up her art and retires into silence. As Toril Moi (2001, 165) points out: “There is no denying [...] that Corinne has come to think of her words as histrionic, artificial and violent”. Many late eighteenth-century writers would have agreed. As Linda M. Lewis (2003, 243) writes: “by the end of the century, the would-be Corinnes [...] of the New Woman novel were failing to create great art and at the same time failing to create fulfilling alternative roles”. Although Lewis is concerned with British literature, much the same can be said about Sweden: while some characters, such as Anna Charlotte Leffler’s heroine in the play Skådespelerskan (The Actress, 1883) or Edel Lindblom’s Viola eller sångerskan från Norden (Viola or the Singer from the North, 1888) still retain the tragic grandness of Corinne, one cannot help but notice a wider dissatisfaction with a Corinne-inspired triumphant genius. In most cases female artists appear not as triumphant deities or lovelorn women, but as crippled beings suffering under patriarchal oppression. In Vilma Lindhé’s Vid gassken och dagsljus (In Gas Light and Day Light, 1885) and in Emilie Lundberg’s Ur tvenne verldar (From Two Worlds, 1885) the world of the theatre is heavily criticised for its artificiality, while emphasis lies on the actual conditions of work and on the reality of social and marital relations more than on the depiction of the Romantic artist and the melodramatic conflicts that animate the myth of Corinne.17 Strindberg’s Helène, then, does not only exemplify Corinne’s waning influence; without the patina of irony and scorn the author laid over her, she could almost be the protagonist of a New Woman’s tale: a girl whose dreams and aspirations have been stifled by a poor education and the lack of alternatives other than marriage.

Bibliographie

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Battersby, Christine. [1989] 1994. Gender and Genius. Towards a Feminist Aesthetics. London: The Women’s Press.

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Englund, Boel, and Lena Kåreland. 2008. Rätten till ordet. En kollektiv biografi över skrivande Stockholmskvinnor 1880-1920. Stockholm: Carlsson.

Fjelkestam, Kristina. 2010. Det sublimas politik. Emancipatorisk estetik i 1800-talets konstnärsromaner. Göteborg / Stockholm: Makadam.

Gilbert, Sandra, and Susan Gubar. [1979] 2000. The Madwoman in the Attic. The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven / London: Yale University Press.

Heggestad, Eva. 1991. Fången och fri. 1880-talets svenska kvinnliga författare om hemmet, yrkeslivet och konstnärskapet. Uppsala: Avdelningen för litteratursociologi vid Litteraturvetenskapliga institutionen.

Hesse, Carla. 2001. The Other Enlightenment. How French Women Became Modern. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Jameson, Fredric. [1981] 2002. The Political Unconscious. Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. London / New York: Routledge.

Knorring, Sophie von. [1836] 2004. Kvinnorna. Tyresö: Omnibus.

Lewis, Linda M. 2003. Germaine de Staël, George Sand and the Victorian Woman Artist. Columbia / London: University of Missouri Press.

Moers, Ellen. 1976. Literary Women. The Great Writers. New York: Doubleday.

Moi, Toril. 2001. “A Woman’s Desire to Be Known: Expressivity and Silence in Corinne.” In Untrodden Regions of the Mind: Romanticism and Psychoanalysis, ed. Ghislaine McDayter, 143-75. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press (Bucknell Review 45,2).

—. 2002. “Corinne – kvinnenes grunnleggende modernitetsmyte.” Samtiden 2002 (2): 72-83.

Showalter, Elaine. [1990] 2010. Sexual Anarchy. Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle. London: Virago.

Staël, Germaine de. [1807] 1843. Corinne, ou l’Italie. Paris: Charpentier.

Strindberg, August. 1982. Samlade Verk, vol. 16, Giftas I-II. Äktenskapshistorier, ed. Ulf Boëthius. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.

Szmurlo, Karyna, ed. 1999. The Novel’s Seduction. Staël’s Corinne in Critical Enquire. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press.

Varsamopoulou, Evy. 2002. The Poetics of the Künstlerinroman and the Aesthetics of the Sublime. Aldershot / Burlington: Ashgate.

Vincent, Patrick H. 2004. The Romantic Poetess. European Culture, Politics and Gender 1820-1840. Hanover / London: University Press of New England.

Notes

1   “The most celebrated woman in Italy [...] poet, improvisatrice, one of the loveliest persons in Rome.” All translations are mine.

2   “Her attitude on the chariot was noble and modest: one sensed that she was content to be admired; yet a timid air mingled with her joy and seemed to apologise for her triumph.”

3   “Thekla was the most beautiful girl in the country, the richest, the brightest, the most gifted and learned, superior to all the others. Moreover, she was good and almost unassuming [...] she accepted graciously the praise that everybody granted her; but she never seemed to ask for it, maybe because no one denied it to her.”

4   “A common girl, a common woman, with modesty, shyness, weakness, faults and ignorance.”

5   “Alas, I cannot stand any Corinne!”

6 “In all her being there was also something so womanly, so pleasant, that nobody had yet happened to call her a learned woman of letters; but now, Thekla realised that the time had come when she, more than ever, had to watch out for this monstrous definition, which kills all feelings towards and draws a grey veil over the woman it is attached to.”

7   “A complete heroine, both talented and feminine.”

8   The transition from performing to writing does not only mark a turning point in Thekla’s life; Carla Hesse (2001, 48-49) reads Corinne as a representation of the decline of aristocratic salon-culture. The novel’s tragic ending is caused not only by the character’s refusal of the domestic ideal, but also by the fact that the cultural model Corinne represents was already outdated at the time: “Corinne’s story is the story of a world in which female oral genius no longer has a central place in cultural life. […] The cultural change that Staël recorded in her book was the downfall not of women writers, but of women as virtuosi of the spoken word, as salonnières”. von Knorring seems to have been aware of this, as her character tries to adapt to a changed cultural situation.

9 “And on this earth I have nothing more to wish – nothing more to conquer! May I die now!”

10   “Should you, last and finally [...] want to draw some moral conclusions from this whole little book, then commit these words to your heart, whether you are man or woman: / A woman should either commit herself completely to art and an artist’s life in that or those fields she has chosen, or to domestic and household duties. It should never occur to her that she might be able to conciliate the two, or her whole life will be but a sham.”

11   “The woman writer and the woman artist is a whore. = a woman who has lost her sex characters = passivity.”

12   In an expunged part of the foreword to Giftas II, Strindberg delivered a virulent attack on different women writers of the past and the present, combining arguments based upon gender ideology and discussions of literary value (Strindberg 1982, 352-66). The ideas expressed in these paragraphs, as well as the content of the short stories, in comparison to the first volume of Giftas (1884) and to Strindberg’s earlier works, marked a radicalisation of his position on the Woman Question, causing a break with other progressive intellectuals whose ideas he had previously shared. For a detailed account of Strindberg’s often contradictory positions on the matter, see Boëthius 1969.

13   “The dissatisfaction with the prose of life and the brutality of nature sparked her fantasy to create a dreamworld where souls lived without body. It was an aristocratic world, since it required financial independence to be able to direct every thought to the soul. It was the Gospel of the wealthy, this brain fever called romanticism [...]. Helène now made an ideal of Corinne: the poetess who drew inspiration from above, who like the nuns of the Middle Ages took the vow of chastity to live a pure life, and thanks to the admiration of a brilliant multitude could naturally rise above the common, petty mortals.”

14   “One day she attempted verse. It succeeded. All lines were equally long and the last words rhymed.”

15   “The Corinne of 1807 would have been cooking meals and rocking cradles had she lived after 1870. But you are no Corinne!”

16   “The inheritance she received from her mother through her posthumous notes began to germinate. She identified herself with Corinne and her mother, and spent a great amount of time meditating about her mission. That she was called to live for the species, that she was intended to let the seeds nature had buried in her body grow, she refused to think.”

17   For an overview of many Künstlerinromane of the period, see Heggestad 1991, 147-91.

Auteur

Università degli Studi di Genova – holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Genoa. He is conducting research on the representation of the artist in nineteenth-century women’s literature. His main fields of interest are gender studies, the sociology of literature and the history of the novel.

Acheter

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