Women’s writing and writing women in the seventeenth century : an examination of the works of Sibylle Schwarz and Susanne Elisabeth Zeidler



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This dissertation is primarily concerned with women's writing in the mid-seventeenth century, comprising the years from 1624 to 1686. It covers the period immediately following Martin Opitz's vernacular literary reforms in Germany and takes as its primary subject the resultant increase in female authorship. It arises out of an interest in two separate but interrelated issues. The first is out of an interest in female literary production in Germany during the seventeenth century, specifically between 1624 and 1686, dates demarcated by the publication of Martin Opitz's Buch von der deutschen Poeterey and the publication of Susanne Elisabeth Zeidler's collection of poetry, Jungferlicher Zeitvertreiber. The second is the question of women's self-concept within a patriarchal society and the discursive strategies of female authors struggling "against complex odds" to "com[e] to written voice" (Olsen 9). In order to fully explore this subject, I have chosen to focus on the work of two poets, Sibylle Schwarz (1621-1638) and Susanne Elisabeth Zeidler (1657-1706?). Writing at different stages in this period and from dissimilar social positions, the two poets offer contrasting strategies of self-representation and self-authorization. By negotiating the demanding terrain of female authorship in a period inhospitable to female learning in different ways, they illustrate the tensions faced by female poets and the various strategies for overcoming the challenges they faced. I look first at the construction of female gender in the early modern period and the ways female writers could subtly shift the prevailing ideas and definitions to include the act of writing as an acceptable component of female identity. The analysis and comparison of the works of Schwarz and Zeidler also offers a glimpse into the changes in self-awareness and self-concept of female poets across the period.