Aspects of distorted sexual attitudes in German expressionist drama with particular reference to Wedekind, Kokoschka and Kaiser

Diethe, Carol Anne. 1987. Aspects of distorted sexual attitudes in German expressionist drama with particular reference to Wedekind, Kokoschka and Kaiser. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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This thesis attempts to demonstrate that Wedekind, Kokoschka and Kaiser display a variety of distorted sexual attitudes in their plays, sometimes consciously (for example, when Kaiser portrays incest) but more often unconsciously, by a tenacious adherence to conventional Wilhelmine attitudes towards sexuality. Conventionality as such does not, of course, constitute in itself a distorted sexual attitude. However, certain Wilhelmine assumptions can, from a presentday point of view, legitimately be seen as reflecting a distorted sexual attitude, most notably the notion that in sexual matters the male was essentially aggressive and the female essentially passive, which led in its turn to further distortions: the gearing of girls' upbringing to male expectations, the denial of female sexuality and the condonation of sexual violence. The mainstream of medical opinion encouraged the view that a respectable lady was sexless and a sexually eager woman was sick. Although this view did not go completely unchallenged, it certainly encouraged the belief that women of a certain type enjoyed rough treatment. It will be shown that Wedekind shared this tendency to condone sexual violence towards women. At first sight, Wedekind, Kokoschka and Kaiser seem to challenge conventional views by choosing sexually dynamic women as their protagonists. This, in itself, was an achievement, as it brought sexuality to the foreground in German Expressionist drama and opened up the subject for further discussion. However, the actual fate of these female protagonists is usually such that their sexuality is completely negated, thus reinforcing rather than challenging the Wilhelmine tendency to deny women's sexuality. Evidence is also presented that women often accepted male assumptions concerning their sexuality, which stressed their biological destiny as mothers and insisted on a suppression of sexual desire. This acceptance makes many of the distortions found in the plays easier to understand. If women themselves misconstrued their own sexual impulses, male authors can more easily be forgiven for not fully understanding female sexuality. The satirical tone adopted by Wedekind and Kaiser cannot be criticised as such: however, it will be criticised when the satire descends to the level of a sexist joke, thus reinforcing the strong undercurrent of misogyny, derived from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, which prevailed during the period under discussion.

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Thesis (Doctoral)

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Wedekind, Kokoschka and Kaiser, plays, sexual attitudes, German Expressionist drama, misogyny



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Date Deposited:

05 Jul 2023 11:47

Last Modified:

08 Aug 2023 12:43


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