Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Germanic Languages and Literature

First Advisor

Catriona MacLeod


How fragile is the femme fragile and what does it mean to shatter her fragility? Can there be resistance or even strength in fragility, which would make it, in turn, capable of shattering? I propose that the fragility embodied by young women in fin-de-siècle Vienna harbored an intentionality that signaled refusal. A confluence of factors, including psychoanalysis and hysteria, created spaces for the fragile to find a voice. These bourgeois women occupied a liminal zone between increased access to opportunities, both educational and political, and traditional gender expectations in the home. Although in the late nineteenth century the femme fragile arose as a literary and artistic type who embodied a wan, ethereal beauty marked by delicacy and a passivity that made her more object than authoritative subject, there were signs that illness and suicide could be effectively employed to reject societal mores. I offer a queer feminist reading of writing on and by women in Vienna 1900 that complicates our understanding of female subjectivity and sexuality at the time. My study explores works by both canonical male authors--Arthur Schnitzler, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Stefan Zweig--and less known female authors--Betty Kris, Else Kotányi, Elsa Asenijeff, making a necessary contribution to existing scholarship on fin-de-siècle Vienna and to feminist criticism that aims to uncover overlooked texts by women. Furthermore, the dissertation is an example of how a queer feminist methodology serves literary analysis by providing new questions and entry points when approaching both canonical and less known texts and figures. Part one, "Fragility," establishes the foundation for understanding feminine fragility in fin-de-siècle Vienna. Chapter one provides an overview of women in Vienna 1900 and outlines their options at the time, while chapter two locates the Viennese hysteric in a history of hysteria and of the femme fragile. Divided into three chapters, part two, "Shattered," considers literary suicide and death as a kind of feminine strategy of refusal. Throughout I address the role writing plays in a fragility that both shatters and has been shattered: letters, diaries, case studies all contribute to a newly complicated fragility.

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