Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Lente, Johanna van

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Foreign Languages


Fontane; Theodor; 1819-1898--Criticism and interpretation; Dominance (Psychology) in literature; Women in literature


This thesis examines the role of domineering women in the novels of Theodor Fontane, a German realist. The modern-day reader easily identifies with the actions of these women. Their actions are not based on the concept of the submissive role of women during the Wilhelminian era. Instead, Fontane’s domineering women manipulate their surroundings to achieve their goals. Fontane’s cast of characters includes women who display dominant traits for a variety of reasons. This thesis deals with those women who control their families because they are driven by the desire to obtain a better social position. This group includes Jenny Treibel, Helene Treibel, and Corinna Schmidt of the novel Frau Jennv Treibel and Mathilde Mohring of the novel Mathilde Mohring. These women all belong to the social class of the “Burger.” An evaluation of the position of these “Burger” women within the writings of Fontane made it apparent why he depicted them in such an unfavorable light. He criticized the bourgeoisie’s consistent desire to climb the social ladder through the accumulation of money and material wealth. This desire resulted in their domineering behavior. Current secondary literature about Fonta^ overlooks the reasons for the domineering behavior of these women. All agree that Fontane criticized the bourgeoisie. However, depending on the critic, the novels Frau Jennv Treibel and Mathilde Mohrinp are seen as the collision of the bourgeoisie and the educated class, as a continuation of the tradition of the “Bildungsroman,” or as a depiction of emancipated women. The secondary literature does not answer the question why Fontane used women as the vehicle for his criticism. Closer examination of the female characters and the development of the action in the two novels reveal that Fontane did not only criticize their ambitions. He also objected to their bourgeois attitude towards money, social status, and their lack of genuine feelings. He expressed his criticism of the bourgeois through the portrayal of domineering women, because the society of his time would have seen the same behavior by men as part of the role of men in society. By using women he magnified his criticism.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [114]-118)


vii, 118 pages




Northern Illinois University

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