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literature

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German and Austrian Literature: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries  
 
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In the novels of the period, the homosexual often takes the identity of the sexual-social outsider, as, for example, in Klaus Mann's works. The orientation itself is no longer the "problem" of the literary work, but the homosexual figure cannot find a place within his or her society to survive, much less flourish.

The attempts of the majority society to punish homosexuals who transgress the narrow confines of a socially allotted space are depicted in John Henry Mackay's (1864-1933) Puppenjunge (The Hustler [1926]) and Hans Siemsen's (1891-1969) Verbotene Liebe (Forbidden Love [1927]).

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Whereas these two novels were directed mostly at a homosexual readership, Ferdinand Bruckner's (pseud. of Theodor Tagger, 1891-1958) plays Krankheit der Jugend (Disease of Youth [1926]) and Die Verbrecher (The Criminals [1928]) sought to rouse liberal, heterosexual sympathies for the plight of the unjustly persecuted homosexual. Were this persecution to continue, Bruckner implied, the homosexual might become a psychopathic outlaw, as he is indeed depicted in Arnolt Bronnen's (1845-1959) Die Septembernovelle (September Novella [1923]).

Lesbians, in particular, fared poorly in the fiction of this period, although they, too, appeared in greater numbers. The lesbian as an antisocial, unnatural, destructive force fuels Hans Kaltneker's (1895-1919) moral drama, Die Schwester (The Sister [written 1919, premiered 1922]).

Women who are abused in marriages to men turn to each other for love and then for revenge on one of the husbands in Alfred Döblin's (1878-1957) novella, Die beiden Freundinnen und ihr Giftmord (The Two Girlfriends and Their Murder by Poison [1924]), based on an actual court trial.

Christa Winsloe and Anna Elisabet Weirauch

By far the more aesthetically successful works of the Weimar period, and ones that resonated more deeply among lesbian readers, were written by the two best-known lesbian authors of the era, Christa Winsloe (1888-1944) and Anna Elisabet Weirauch (1887-1970).

Winsloe told the story of Manuela Meinhardis, a girl who commits suicide when her love for her teacher is crushed by the authoritarian school that traps them both: Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform [1931]), best known in the film version.

Weirauch's trilogy Der Skorpion (The Scorpion [1919, 1920, 1931]), traces the path Mette Rudloff takes toward a lesbian identity of her own, not one modeled on the futile or misleading identities she encounters in the women she loves along the way.

Bertolt Brecht

Germany's greatest dramatist of the twentieth century, Bertolt Brecht (1895-1956), wrote quite often about male homosexual desire in his early works. There it is something amoral, even immoral, that upsets or destroys the normal order of things, whether that be heterosexual affairs (Baal [1918-1922]), the so-called rules of life aboard a pirates' ship ("Bargan läßt es sein," ["Bargan Lets Things Be"], 1921), the "friendship" of two gangsters (Im Dickicht der Städte [In the Jungle of the Cities], 1924), or a political system (Leben Eduards II [Life of Edward II], 1924).

The burgeoning homosexual subculture of the Weimar period produced a "Trivialliteratur" (popular literature) aimed specifically at a homosexual readership. Gay and lesbian newspapers and magazines printed stories and poems; small publishing houses brought out novellas, short story collections, and novels.

All these works shared a belief that homosexual love was natural although bound to be persecuted by a society. In its naturalness lay its beauty (often heavily romanticized); in its persecution lay its tragedy (often steeped in bathos).

In Erich Ernst's novel Symphonie des Eros (Symphony of Eros [1925]), a typical example, a high school teacher falls in love with one of his students. Despite the resistance of family and school authorities, homosexual love triumphs in this novel, as it also does in Max Schneider's Glück (Happiness [1927]).

By the late Weimar years, most works took a liberal, generally tolerant attitude toward homosexuality, as illustrated by the gay secondary characters in Esch oder die Anarchie (Esch or Anarchy [1931]) by Hermann Broch (1886-1951) and Die Wandlung der Susanne Dasseldorf (The Transformation of Susanne Dasseldorf [1932]) by Joseph Breitbach (b. 1903).

Nonetheless, the place allotted to homosexuals generally remained that of outsider. Either the nature of same-sex desire remained fundamentally unacceptable or the character was unable to express that desire.

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