Since its inception at the end of the eighteenth century, the genre of the artist-drama has concerned itself with conflicts particular to the artist and the creative process. My dissertation project deals with women writers’ artist-dramas that stage female artist-protagonists in their struggles for artistic expression. I argue that a gendered conceptualization of creativity that focuses on the traditional conflicts and crises of male artists (e.g. poverty, or distance from mundane experience due to the extraordinary talent) overlooks female artists and their experiences related to the creative process. The selected dramas critique conventional narratives on artists’ crises by presenting the vastly different conflicts creative women encounter in their work. Furthermore, they highlight the interdependency of constructions of masculinity and femininity as pivotal to the experience of female artists.
The four dramas include Elsa Porges-Bernstein’s Johannes Herkner (1906), Marie Itzerott’s Hilde Brandt (1905), Mathilde Paar’s Helene (1882) and Anna Croissant-Rust’s Der Standhafte Zinnsoldat (1896). Driven by feminist literary criticism and notions of New Historicism, my analysis expands current understandings of the genre by exposing the distinctive conflicts experienced by women artists. Read through this lens, the dramas reveal new insights by linking discourses on public performance with prostitution, by demonstrating the debilitating effects of masculinity in its performance of honor codes and claims to ownership, and by expounding the pervasive effects of discourses that produce and perpetuate gender roles.
My aim in this project is twofold; I strive to contribute not only to the re-discovery of women writers and to the re-reading of their texts, but I also argue that their (disruptive) contributions provoke a re-evaluation of the genre’s traditional narratives.