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Violent Women in the German Cultural Imagination

Module Code: GE220 Module

Module Credits: 15

Module introduction and aims

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 how traditional images of female perpetrators shape how society understands violence today. As we dicuss works such as Jutta Heinrich's Das Geschlecht der Gedanken (1977), Margarethe von Trotta's Die bleierne Zeit (1981), Christa Wolf’s Medea. Stimmen (1996), and Elfriede Jelinek's Ulrike Maria Stuart (2006), we will explore how feminist writers have revised and challenged stereotypical images of female perpetrators. To round off our this module, we will consider how David Wnendt approaches the issue of women's involvement in the German Neo-Nazi scene in the film Die Kriegerin (2012). 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 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;
  • 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 works.

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


The module is assessed by either:

  • one 4,000-4,500 word coursework essay; or
  • one 2-hour examination in the summer term.