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Aston, Louise

Aston, Louise (1818-1871) One of the most radical of the German women writers and political activists of the Vormärz era, preceding the 1848 revolut ion, A ston was alone in equating the situation of women with that of the working class in a capitalist society and in recognizing that the emancipation of both depended on their complete rejection of the institutions of patriarchy: marriage, church, and king. Her provocative and uncompromising positions, especially her challenge to accepted gender-roles, separated her from other women activists of the time. She left no diaries and no letters, so what is knows of her life has been deduced from her writi ngs.

The daughter of a pastor and a disinherited countess, Aston at age seventeen married a wealthy industrialist whom her parents had chosen for her, but only after her father suffered a heart attack after her initial refusal. After thirteen years of marriage, during which she became radicalized by contact with the workers in her husband's factories and by her own growing awareness of the limited role her society allotted to women, she divorced her husband and left with her daughter for Berlin, dete rmined to live as a writer, working for political and social change.

In Berlin she shocked the bourgeoisie with her opinions and by smoking cigars, wearing trousers, and practicing free love, following in the steps of George Sand. In 1848, even before any of her writings has been published, she was exiled from Berlin on charges which included contact with extremist Young Hegelian writers and founding a club advocating women's emancipation and atheism. Declared a public danger, she was also dr iven out of other German cities.

With the changes of 1848, she was able to return to Berlin. In March she fought on the barricades and in late summer went to the Schleswig-Holstein front where Prussia and Denmark were fighting. From November to December, when reaction set in, she published seven issues of what was intended to be a weekly newspaper, Der Freischärler. Recognized today as the first newspaper of the German women's movement, its goal was to emancipate women and wo rkers by uniti ng them with progressive thinkers from all the German states.

When the revolution failed, Aston was once again forced into exile, travelling with her second husband from one European city to another. Sick and emotionally exhausted, she later moved with him to a small town in southern Germany where she lived, unrecognized, as Louise Meier until her death.

Aston belonged to the first generation of early nineteenth century German women to write political lyrics and to m ake women the ce ntral figures of her novels. Critics have credited her with the introduction of a new literary genre, that of the politically engaged woman who acts on her own initiative. The political opinions and insistence on eradication of sexual polarities in her writings were more radical than those of many later women writers.

Aston's most overtly political work was Meine Emanzipation: Verweisung und Rechtfertigung (1846), a leaflet published in Brussels, which protested against and explai ned her expulsion from Berlin. Directing her defiance at the German people, she linked her own fate to that of the general public and called for a complete upheaval in the socio-political system.

Her three novels all combined autobiographical elements with fiction; critics speculate that the fictional layer may have been added as a ploy to divert the censors from the tendentiousness of the works. All promoted social and sexual equality and were denounced at the time for overstepping the bou ndaries of what was allowed to woman writers. The theme of both Aus dem Leben einer Frau (1847) and Lydia (1847) was women's awareness that their own political activism was necessary to achieve their desired equality. In the former she also elucidated her artistic credo. Disputing Goethe's view of art as the attempt to create harmony, she redefined art as an attempt to reflect life's fragmentariness. Her innovative precept confronted physical abuse in marri age. Her novel, Revolution und Contrerevolution (1849), was a forum for Aston's discussion of the failed revolution; her personal account of the revolution interwove the story of a politically engaged but emotional torn woman with a sentimental love story.

Her first collection of poetry, Wilde Rosen (1846), challenged bourgeois values by favoring free love and emancipation for women. The second volume, Freischärler-Reminiscenzen (1850), expressed her hopes for a time whe n women's freedom would be the basis for their happiness. Individual additional political poems decried the failure of the revolution, criticized the reaction, and urged a continuation of the struggle.

S. Friedrichsmeyer


Adler, Hans "On a Feminist Controversy: Louise Otto vs. Louise Aston." German Women in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries: A Social and Literary History Ruth-Ellen B. Joerres and Mary Jo Maynes eds. Bloomington: Indiana UP,1986 , 193-214.

Geiger, Ruth-Esther "Louise Aston." Frauen: Porträts aus zwei Jahrhunderten Hans Jürgen Schultz ed. Stuttgart: Kreuz, 1981, 88-100

Goetzinger, Germaine Für die Selbstverwirklichung der Frau: Louise Aston in Selbstzeugnissen und Dokumenten Frankfort: Fischer, 1983.

Möhrmann, Renate Die andere Frau: Emanzipationsansätze deutscher Schriftstellerinnen im Vorfeld der Achtundvierziger Revolution Stuttgart: Metzler, 1977 .

Secci, Lisa "German Women Writers and the Revolution of 1848" German Women in the Nineteenth Century: A Social History John C. Fout ed. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1984.

Weigel, Sigrid "Der schielende Blick" Die verborgene Frau:Sechs Beiträge zu einer feministischen Literaturwissenschaft Inge Stephan and Sigrid Weigel eds. Berlin: Argument, 1983, 83-137.

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