Impossible Communities in Prague’s German Gothic: Nationalism, Degeneration, and the Monstrous Feminine in Gustav Meyrink’s Der Golem (1915)
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
My dissertation investigates the contribution of Gustav Meyrink’s best-selling novel The Golem/Der Golem (1915) to the second revival of the international Gothic. While previous scholarship suggests that this genre disappeared from the German literary landscape in the 1830s, I interpret The Golem as a Gothic contribution to the “Prague Novel,” a trend in Prague-based, turn-of-the-twentieth-century German-language literature that found inspiration in the heated sociocultural and political tensions that characterized the milieu.
Structured around the demolition of Prague’s former Jewish ghetto under the auspices of the Finis Ghetto plan, a historic Czech-led urban renewal project that leveled the district of Josefov/Josephstadt between 1895 and 1917, The Golem portrays a German-speaker’s perspective on ghetto clearance and its impact on the city’s ethnic minority groups. Not only does Meyrink’s novel aestheticize the pessimism felt by many of Prague’s middle class and aristocratic German speakers living in a city governed by Czech nationalists; it also exemplifies a trend in Prague-based German-language literature to use the Gothic mode to translate experiences of ethnic marginalization, the rise of nationalism, and fears of social degeneracy. Like Max Brod’s A Czech Servant Girl/Ein tschechisches DienstmÃ¤dchen (1909) and Paul Leppin’s “The Ghost of the Jewish Town”/“Das Gespenst der Judenstadt” (1914), The Golem opens a window onto the cultural controversies and debates at the Jahrhundertwende that coalesced in radical municipal action targeting Prague’s German-speaking Christian and Jewish communities.
Drawing upon theories of the Gothic highlighting cultural despondency, trauma, and human monstrosity, this dissertation argues that The Golem recreated the Finis Ghetto as an analog to the homogenization and expulsion of Prague’s all of German-speaking communities under Czech political leadership. The Golem addresses the radical social, linguistic, and economic reform enacted by Czech nationalist movements in three ways: 1) by portraying the “German experience” in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Prague after the entanglements of cultural privilege have dissipated; 2) by providing a representation of the social depravities in the ghetto that Czech nationalists cited as reasons to demolish Josefov/Josephstadt and disperse the city’s German-speaking non-Jewish and Jewish communities; and 3) by challenging the effectiveness of the Finis Ghetto in purging the city of its “monsters”—particularly its degenerate, promiscuous women. The Golem ultimately suggests, as I outline, that without social reform to accompany physical renovation of the city, these “monsters” will continue to plague Prague society.
Chair and Committee
Elizabeth Allen, Caroline Kita, Erin McGlothlin, Gerhild Williams,
Braun, Amy Michelle, "Impossible Communities in Prague’s German Gothic: Nationalism, Degeneration, and the Monstrous Feminine in Gustav Meyrink’s Der Golem (1915)" (2019). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1809.
Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/e3wb-cc28