The making of a Romantic female hagiography

Christine Rapp Dombrowski, University of Pennsylvania


My dissertation explores hagiography as a significant and, as yet, overlooked form of Romantic literature, in which the authors reconstruct medieval, female typological traditions according to Romantic aesthetics and ideals. Four separate authors are represented in this study including: Joseph Görres (1776-1848), Clemens Brentano (1778-1842), Dr. Franz Wesener (1782-1832), as well as the early nineteenth-century, female mystic Anna Katharina Emmerick (1774-1824). Each unique text opens a new facet to the figuration of the female saint, paying particular attention to the intersections of medieval and Romantic social and gender theories, and to the agenda and authority of the author. In Görres' Christliche Mystik, a bourgeois-inspired figuration of the mystic Maria von Mörl equates the medieval saint's life to the Biedermeier lifestyle by simultaneously emphasizing her role as that of the traditional female mystic and the domestic Hausfrau. My analysis of Brentano's Emmerick-Biographie centers upon his cumulative utilization of the traditional Romantic type of the woman-child saint, wherein his characteristic questioning of language's social and aesthetic function help to formulate his saintly vita. In Wesener's Emmerick portrait, I explore the female vita as a saintly pathology. Wesener's journals and brief Emmerick biography present the figuration of a female saint with a decidedly proto-hysteric viewpoint, yet once again reinforce the medieval type of female stigmata and holy anorexic within the misogynistic Catholic Church. Finally, Emmerick herself is examined emerging from the texts of her male amanuenses and providing a counterbalance to the highly stylized male-authored portraits. Her autohagiography above all the other nineteenth-century female vita most authentically revives the traditional medieval female mystic's life; most pointedly enacted in her imitatio Christi and Eucharistic devotion. Her personal account provides a foundation for the exploration of the other male-authored, biographies. This dissertation then concludes with a definition of a new Romantic text form: the late Romantic female hagiography, where the female mystic is alternately fashioned in the role of conventional female stigmata and mystic, bourgeois housewife, alliterate woman-child saint, or a proto-hysteric stigmata and ecstatic. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Germanic|Women's Studies|Gender Studies

Recommended Citation

Rapp Dombrowski, Christine, "The making of a Romantic female hagiography" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3309428.