One of the first professional female authors in Germany

Posted on 4th February 2020 by simonbeattie

A major theme of this latest catalogue, Anglo-German Cultural Relations, is, perhaps predictably, translation. One of the most significant examples in the catalogue is an English translation of Benedikte Naubert‘s historical novel Alf von Dülmen (1791) or, as it is titled in English, Alf von Deulmen [sic]; or, the History of the Emperor Philip, and his Daughters.  Translated from the German by Miss A. E. Booth …  (London, J. Bell, 1794).

The book was ‘elegantly printed by Bulmer’ (The Oracle, and Public Advertiser, 16 Feb. 1795), and Sir Walter Scott later called it an ‘excellent romance’; ‘since the mid-nineteenth century, Scott’s name has been linked to Naubert’s, and many have pointed to similarities in the authors’ approaches to historical fiction’ (Hilary Brown, Benedikte Naubert (1756–1819) and her Relations to English Culture (2005), p. 121).

‘Benedikte Naubert (1756–1819) was one of the first professional female authors in Germany [and an important translator from English literature]. Although her work has been overlooked in literary history because of its “trivial” associations—a pejorative term, particularly in German literary historiography [Trivialliteratur = light fiction]—she influenced writers such as Ann Radcliffe and Friedrich Schiller by establishing the secret tribunal novel (Vehmgerichtsroman).  Hermann von Unna (“Hermann of Unna”, 1788) was the first of two such novels, with the second, Alf von Dülmen, following in 1791.  Recently her oeuvre has been recognised for its importance in the development of the historical novel and fairy tale as literary genres, as well as preparing the ground for the genre of Gothic fiction’ (Taylor Institution blog, 15 Sep. 2017).

Alf von Dülmen has a remarkably Gothic/sublime mise-en-scène: the desolate valley, … barren rocks, the ruined castle with its dungeons in which Alf spent forty years …  Here are the hero-villain, two Cain-figures, a robber band, and a memorably Gothic contraption, related to the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg, in the form of a so-called sword-mill …  Nor is this all, for here too are a buried manuscript, papers said to contain the story that is about to be told, assumed names and titles, dreams, and, for good measure, some notable Gothic (and baroque) metaphors: the dark caverns of death, the abyss of misery, and the like’ (Patrick Bridgwater, The German Gothic Novel in Anglo-German Perspective, 2013, p. 137).

For more, stay tuned for the PDF link to Simon’s latest catalogue, Anglo-German Cultural Relations.

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