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GE220 Violent Women in the German Cultural Imagination

Module Code: GE220
Module Name: Violent Women in the German Cultural Imagination

Module Coordinator: Dr Katherine Stone

Delivery Mode: 2 hours in-person (mixed lecture/seminar)
Module Credits: 15


Module Description

From Medea to Kriemhild, Charlotte Corday to Irma Grese, violent women haunt the cultural imaginary as figures of horror and fascination. This module will use the exceptional figure of the female perpetrator as a frame for considering shifting ideas about women and society in modern German culture. We will begin by discussing canonical representations of violent women using short-texts and visual art, considering why the female perpetrator is such a prominent artistic motif and how her representation relates to anxieties about the gender hierarchy and social order. We will particularly investigate whether traditional images of female perpetrators shape how society understands violence today.

As we dicuss works such as Margarethe von Trotta's Die bleierne Zeit (1981) and Christa Wolf’s Medea. Stimmen (1996), we will explore how feminist writers have revised and challenged stereotypical ideas about women's relationship to violence. To round off our this module, we will consider how David Wnendt and Fatih Akin approaches the issue of women's involvement in the German Neo-Nazi scene in their films Die Kriegerin (2012) and Aus dem Nichts (2017). How far has feminism transformed cultural assumptions about women and violence?

This module will give students the opportunity to engage in more depth with post-1945 literature and film, as well as contemporary women’s writing. By the end of the semester, you should be able to:

  • provide an overview of the representation of female violence in contemporary German literature;
  • demonstrate an enhanced understanding of women's role in the Holocaust, the Red Army Faction, and contemporary Neo-Nazi groups;
  • relate literary representations to broader debates about gender in East Germany, West Germany, and Austria;
  • demonstrate a critical understanding of the relationship between women’s writing and feminist politics;
  • analyse the formal and thematic properties of literary and filmic works.

This course gives students the opportunity to engage with some of the key authors and filmmakers in post-1945 East Germany, West Germany, and Austria and introduces them to a range of creative genres and movements, from experimental literature and monologues to New German cinema and mainstream film culture. Using cultural case studies as a starting point, we will learn more about women's involvement in the Third Reich, Rote Armee Fraktion, and the Extreme Right, as well as explore attitudes to violence in the West German women's movements.

Indicative Reading List

Works we may look at include: Jutta Heinrich, Das Geschlecht der Gedanken (novel, 1977); Margarethe von Trotta's Die bleierne Zeit (film, 1981); Christine Brückner's Wenn du geredet hättest, Desdemona (monologue, 1983); Elfriede Jelinek Krankheit oder moderne Frauen (play, 1984); Elisabeth Reichart, Februarschatten (novella, 1984); Christa Wolf Medea. Stimmen (novel, 1996); David Wnendt, Die Kriegerin (film, 2012); Fatih Akin Aus dem Nichts (film, 2017).

Please note that these texts deal at times with difficult subject matter, including suicide and bereavement, as well as some graphic depictions of violence and sex. Students will be warned in advance if these topics will feature in the reading and will have the opportunity to flag any potential concerns before class --- either anonymously or in person. Where classroom discussion focuses in on these issues, the approach aims to be both sensitive and academically rigorous; however, the module convenor is open to discussing and accommodating student concerns.

Module Programme 2021-22

Week 1: Course Introduction: Framing the Female Perpetrator

Week 2: Elisabeth Reichart, Februarschatten (1984) [Thematic Focus: Women and National Socialism / Literary Commentary]

Week 3: Elisabeth Reichart, Februarschatten (1984) [Thematic Focus: Perpetrator Trauma / Close Reading]

Week 4: Margarethe von Trotta (1981), Die bleierne Zeit [Thematic Focus: Violence and the Women's Movement / Film analysis]

Week 5: Margarethe von Trotta (1981), Die bleierne Zeit [Thematic Focus: The origins of the Rote Armee Fraktion / Critiquing Secondary Literature]

***Week 6: Reading Week***

Week 7: Christa Wolf, Medea [Thematic Focus: Historical Allegories]

Week 8: Christa Wolf, Medea [Thematic Focus: Politics, Myth, and Critiquing Secondary Literature]

Week 9: David Wnendt, Die Kriegerin (2011) [Thematic Focus: The Rise of the Far Right]

Week 10: Fatih Akin, Aus dem Nichts (2017) [Thematic Focus: Stereoypes: Skinheads, Skingirls, and Narratives of Revenge]

Films will be available to view on Moodle. You are expected to purchase copies of the literary texts. In class, we will be working with the following editions:

  • Elisabeth Reichart, Februarschatten (Salzburg: Otto Müller Verlag, 2011 — 9783701308996]
  • Christa Wolf, Medea. Stimmen (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2013 - 3518460080)

There are translations of these texts but we will be working with the German in class.


  • 20%: Close Analysis (800-1000 words) of a passage or short clip from one of the works studied before reading week.
  • 20%: Critique (800-1000 words) of a piece of secondary literature relating to one of the primary works studied over the course of the module. A rubric will be provided.
  • 60%: Essay (2000-2500 words) on any of the primary works, provided that that work was not the focus of the close analysis AND critique.