Women Political Prisoners in Germany: Narratives of Self and Captivity, 1915-91

Kim Richmond
19 February 2016
234 × 156 × 13 mm
200 pp
Hardback: 978-0-85457-247-2
One of the few major enquiries into women’s narratives of political incarceration, this volume examines first-person accounts written against a backdrop of momentous historical events in twentieth-century Germany. Rosa Luxemburg’s prison letters are the starting point for the study, which explores the ways in which writing is used as a response to incarceration: how does the writer ‘perform’ femininity within the de-feminizing context of prison? How does she negotiate a self-representation as a ‘good’ woman? Central to this investigation is an awareness of the role of language as a means of empowerment within the disempowering environment of prison. As a key female political figure in twentieth-century Germany, Luxemburg wrote letters from prison that encapsulate prevalent notions about womanhood, prison, and political engagement that are perceptible in the subsequent texts of the study. The diaries of Luise Rinser and Lore Wolf from National Socialist prisons show, in different ways, how the writer uses language to ‘survive’ prison, whilst Margret Bechler’s and Elisabeth Graul’s retrospective accounts of GDR incarceration give insight into the elastic concept of both the political prisoner and the ‘good’ woman. All narratives provide examples of the role of language in resisting an imposed identity as ‘prisoner’, ‘criminal’, and object of the prison system.

Kim Richmond completed her PhD at the University of Edinburgh and is now an Associate Lecturer in Languages at the Open University.
Table of contents: 
Introduction: ‘Die Absicht des schreibenden Gefangenen ist die Bewahrung seiner Identität’
Prison and Writing the Self
The Political Prisoner: Context and Labelling
Gender Subversion, Labelling as Criminal and Punishment
Audience, Performance and Agency
Life Writing and the Problem of ‘Truth’

1. ‘Ich bin hier ach! so schwach’: Rosa Luxemburg’s Prison Letters
‘Shameful’ Weakness and Femininity
Public Strength and Masculinity Negotiating Female Authority
Prison as a ‘Feminizing’ Space?
Conclusion: the Public Luxemburg versus the Personal Function of Her Prison Letters

2. ‘Das Wort schiebt sich gnädig isolierend zwischen mich und das nackte Erlebnis der Haft’: Narratives of Survival in Two Prison Diaries
Female Political Prisoners in the Third Reich and the ‘Rewriting’ of the Self
Luise Rinser’s Gefängnistagebuch
The Dehumanization and Defeminization of Imprisonment
Non-ideal Prisoners
The Ideal Female Political Prisoner
National Socialist Criminals
Conflict and Self-awareness
Conflicting Narratives
Writing as Survival in Lore Wolf ’s Ich habe das Leben lieb
The Maternal, Strong Political Prisoner
Cultural Narratives and Writing for Survival
Wolf as Leader
Autonomy within the Prison Narrative

3. ‘War ich nicht selbst jemand?’ Locating the Maternal Self in Margret Bechler’s Warten auf Antwort
The Function of Prison Autobiography
The Pursuit of Authenticity in Collaborative Autobiography
The Role of Bechler’s Audience
Constructing the Ultimate Female Victim
From non-Prisoner to non-Criminal Inmate: the Empowerment of Prisonization
Bechler’s Ideological Trajectory
Negotiation between Two Worlds
The Feminine Political Prisoner

4. ‘Die Gefangene ist die Überlegene’: Agency and Femininity in Elisabeth Graul’s Die Farce
Prison Writing and its Readers
Authenticity and Authority in Graul’s Prison Narrative
Prison as Damaging
‘Deviance’ in the Prison Microcosm
Self-representation as a Child
Authority and the ‘Real’ Maternal Self (the Real Outcome of Prison)
Incorrigible Political Prisoner and Feminine Reformer
Conclusion: the ‘Real’ Elisabeth Graul
Conclusion: The Future of Women’s Prison Writing in the German Context