The Promised Land?

Feminist Writing in the German Democratic Republic

By Lorna Martens

Subjects: Women's Studies
Paperback : 9780791448601, 283 pages, February 2001
Hardcover : 9780791448595, 283 pages, February 2001

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Table of contents


List of Abbreviations

1. Women, Feminism, and Writing in the German Democratic Republic

2. "What Does a Woman Want?" Woman as the Subject of Desire

3. Praise of the Feminine

4. Writing Women's Images

5. The Reality of Women's Lives

Concluding Remarks




Analyzes East German feminism for an American audience through an exploration of their women writers.


From the 1960s on, women writers in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), including Christa Wolf, Irmtraud Morgner, Sarah Kirsch, Brigitte Reimann, Charlotte Worgitzky, Lia Pirskawetz, and Maya Wiens, produced a large, interesting body of writing on women's issues. The Promised Land? is the first book to interrogate the work of these writers as a group for their feminist ideas, ideas that are original, often upbeat, and mostly different from those of the Western feminist movement. In the GDR, a state that existed from 1949 to 1990, women had not only equal rights and good jobs, but also lavish maternity leave and generous childcare benefits designed to make work compatible with motherhood. The ideas presented by the writers discussed here include women as the subject of desire, femininity as a politically progressive model, remaking of the image of woman, and liberating women's speech. By studying these ideas through the lenses of cultural studies, feminist theory, and literary criticism, this book draws comparisons between the situation of women in the GDR and the United States, and between the GDR and Western feminism, and asks whether the GDR really was the "promised land" for women.

Lorna Martens is Professor of German at the University of Virginia. She is the author of The Diary Novel and Shadow Lines: Austrian Literature from Freud to Kafka.


"…lucid, lively study of feminist East German authors … Martens's book is recommended for academic libraries and specialized collections in women's writing." — Library Journal"This is the first book-length study to present an analysis of East German feminism for an American readership. Martens situates her literary investigation in the broader context of feminism and socialism in the former GDR and draws compelling parallels to dominant currents in American and West German feminism." — Susan Anderson, University of Oregon

"The author brings together literature and historical/cultural information on a major question that could help in the process of coming to terms with the German past: To what extent were women in a communist country emancipated? What part did literature play in the conception of feminism in the GDR? This book, in a sensitive way, answers these open questions, thus easing an understanding of present-day discrepancies in awareness of women living in the East and West regarding their private and public life." — Helga W. Kraft, University of Illinois at Chicago