Literature and Motherhood – “Sometimes I confuse my books with my children”

“Natasha got married in the early spring of 1813 and by 1820 had already given birth to three daughters and a son, whom she so desperately wanted and brought up herself now. She had become so full and wide, that it was difficult to recognize her in this strong mother Natasha was formerly known as the thin and flexible Natasha.” (From “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy)

“My life – well, I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I didn’t have children,” says author Anke Stelling.

The permanent theme of children

“For me, motherhood is definitely something I have to work through constantly,” says literary scholar Bert Glanz, speaking on behalf of most women.

“I think there is just a decade in the lives of many women in which the topic of having children from abroad is constantly brought up. Therefore, between 30 and 40 years in Germany, I would say, you have to take a stand on this topic. You are not immune to you as a woman or as a person able to give birth.

Despite this, motherhood, with all the difficulties and contradictions associated with it, has become an increasingly important topic since the beginning of the feminist movement, but women writers have dealt with it in literature only a few years ago.

“There are simply topics that you can work on imaginatively, like grief, loneliness, etc., and I think motherhood and this special relationship you have with your child hasn’t been a part of for that long,” Beret Glanz says.

Bad and cold mothers

Previously, the mother characters were mostly secondary characters. Motherhood was characterized by a female character, and the performance of the role of mother was considered a criterion for assessing the figure. This is evident even in famous literary figures.

Bad mothers can be like the stepmother in the Grimm’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel”. The effect of this centuries-old status of a wicked mother or a wicked stepmother continues to be in the dissatisfied mother characters who make life difficult for her children because they do not find the full life they had hoped for in motherhood.

Another popular and wonderful type of mother with a long literary tradition is the cold mother. Among them are Madame Bovary by Flaubert or Gerda Budenbrueck. The latter did not originally want to marry and did not care about children, but lived for the sake of music. There is a contradiction in it that the women writers will later take in many different ways: How can motherhood and art be reconciled?

The authors explore motherhood

Since the feminist movement of the 1970s, more and more novels have been published in which the focus is on the experience of motherhood and the female character is no longer judged on the basis of her performance of her role as a mother.

Anke Stelling’s books, winner of the 2019 Leipzig Book Fair for her novel “Schäfchen im Trockenen”, has made a significant contribution to the consideration of motherhood as a theme in literature.

Writer Isabel Lane says, “There are now various notions of the family that are also told and discussed in the literature. New forms of motherhood, perhaps with a trans man, as with Maggie Nelson.”

The fact that more and more women writers are writing self-novels has contributed to this development. In “Spring Awakening” she tells the story of a writer of the same name who, among other things, struggles with not having children.

“What amazes me is that there is literature that functions as a kind of soliloquy for women, self-confidence, questioning one’s own desires and attitudes, and I think this is something new, that it is considered relevant, that it is taken seriously, that it is considered worthy of publication and is not excluded from menstruation prose “.

In her book, Canadian author Sheila Hetty asks for some kind of revelation, dealing with the possible consequences of childlessness and ultimately answering the narrator’s question, but not for her readers:

“There is no right way for a woman: If you have a profession and you have a child, you will be criticized for not paying enough attention to the child. If you do not have a profession, you will be criticized for not getting the profession to do. No matter what a woman does, she will be criticized for it.”

Who gets the children and who gets the books?

The same goes for women writers, whose profession means book publishing, as Anke Stelling writes:

“I just read a novel by Isabel Lynn. It’s about, after graduation, who’s going to have kids and who’s going to get the books? And that’s so much fun, because I’ve noticed that he’s very close to me. So, sometimes I confuse my kids and my books a little bit.”

The idea that books are like born children rather than children is closely related to the persistent bias that children and novel writing do not go together. He summed it up poorly in the advice Marcel Reich-Ranicki once gave Judith Hermann: you should never give birth, or else you will stop writing novels.

“Everything looks so tattered here.”

For a long time, having children did not fit into the image of a writer — or a writer. But that changes when women writers write about these cliches. And when authors deal with the various aspects of motherhood in literature, these structures become visible as well.

“I’m sorry it all seems so tattered here, but I am who I am and I will no longer pretend to have the same qualifications as Martin Walser.” (from “Sheep in the Dry” by Anke Stelling)

Because Reese has three children to take care of. And this goes hand in hand with all sorts of everyday things that were given a little space in literature long ago.

“But before I blame myself for losing my house and having my children, I must first prepare dinner quickly, wash lunch boxes, check my schoolbag, clip my nails, yell, carry out various agreements and make speeches, read a little, and then supervise brushing, toothbrushing Better then shut off the toothpaste tubes, hang up the towels and yell again, apologize for the yelling, collect the clothes that were thrown in the corners and fold the blankets, hand out the desired cups of water and of course look for the stuffed animals and goodnight.”

British novelist Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) in contemporary photograph.© Image Alliance / dpa

This excerpt illustrates the difficult circumstances in which women with children often have to write. As early as 1929, Virginia Woolf asked in a “room of her own”:

“A woman must have money and a room of her own to be able to write.”

As author Deborah Levy says:

“Virginia Woolf was very pragmatic. The women of her generation gave good advice: Find a room of your own. Bearing in mind that Jane Austen wrote her novels in the living room, where people constantly come and go.”

And today? Was this advice implemented? Rather no, you think you’re Stilling:

“If I think briefly about who has a study in the apartments that I know and who doesn’t, who might have their own room and who doesn’t, it is shocking how unequal their distribution is.”

More variety in literature

Thus, the practical demands for having its own room and living room are still relevant.

“We need more diverse voices,” says literary scholar Bert Glanz. “I think we need to think about structures and think about how we can leave out the structures of literary works, literary marketing of certain voices, and strengthen certain voices.”

Regarding the working conditions of women writers with children and the concepts of literature promotion, much needs to change.

As far as the topic of motherhood is concerned, the literary debate has made it possible to take a more complex look at it. This is important because the issue of motherhood as the “mother of all questions” is a societal issue that shapes women’s identity. However, the fact that a woman may or may not have children is only one aspect of many that makes her a woman and a mother.

Author: Sonia Hartl
Speakers: Veronica Bachchuscher, Bettina Corte, Elka Tishmuller
Directed by Beatrix Akers
Sound: Martin Eichberg
Editor: Dorothea Westphal

Repeat from 19/7/2019

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