"Die Feder führ ich unermüdlich:" Helmina
Rosamunde as Intertext in Elfriede Jelinek's Der
Tod und das Mädchen III (Rosamunde)*
Elfriede Jelinek's short play Rosamunde was first published as Der Tod und das Mädchen III as part of the book In den Alpen. Drei Dramen (2002) and a year later again as the middle one of five plays in Der Tod und das Mädchen I-V (2003) which all deal with women in history, mythology, and literature. A number of women characters appear or are referred to in the five short plays: Grimm's most famous fairy-tale princesses Snow White (I) and Sleeping Beauty (II), Rosamunde (III), the writers Ingeborg Bachmann, Sylvia Plath, and Marlen Haushofer (IV), and the first lady Jackie Kennedy (V). Jelinek comments on her dramatic endeavor in the after word to the plays in which she relates some of her observations on princesses in Western culture to the death of and reverence to Diana, Princess of Wales, who died at the age of 36.
A number of critics have noted that the third one of Jelinek's plays, Der Tod und das Mädchen III (Rosamunde), paraphrases Helmina von Chézy's play Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern (1823). However, critics have not yet assessed in what way Jelinek employs aspects, characters, and excerpts of the dialogue of the 19th century Chézy play. Jelinek's familiarity with Schubert's music for the play and her choice of title for the five plays suggest that she read the Chézy play shortly after it was first published in 1996 and found it intriguing enough to integrate quotes by Chézy's characters into her own play in order to highlight Chézy's work and the role of the mythical Rosamunde figure.
Jelinek's five short plays which are subtitled Prinzessinnendramen analyze girls' and women's dreams to become and live like princesses. Not only the text but also the music of Rosamunde, written by Franz Schubert, and the lyrics by Matthias Claudius of the famous "Der Tod und das Mädchen" poem invoke the theatricality, desire, and power struggle expressed in the plays. While issues of sexuality are hinted at but overall suppressed in Chézy's five-act play, Jelinek points to physical desire and physical harm in her short Rosamunde play. In this article I examine how Jelinek draws on parts of Chézy's libretto Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern and exaggerates references to sexuality and gendered roles of the characters Rosamunde and Fulvio in order to illustrate unequal power relationships and outdated gender dichotomies in contemporary Austrian and European cultural life, and how she critiques the admiration for mythical princess characters like Rosamunde.
The name Rosamunde has had a long history in German literature and culture. There are stories about Rosamunde by Hans Sachs, Vittorio Alfieri, Algernon Charles Swineburne and Friedrich de la Motte-Fouqué, to name but a few. Friedrich Schiller started writing a Rosamunde fragment in 1800; Theodor Fontane wrote a novel about Rosamunde, Christoph Martin Wieland wrote a "Singspiel" called Rosamunde (1778), and Annette von Droste-Hülshoff wrote a poem entitled "Rosamunde" at a very young age. There were dozens of literary sources and operas that used the name Rosamunde but, according to Till Gerrit Waidelich, while Chézy may have known a number of them and used them as inspirations, none of these in particular can be considered a source for Chézy's plot line.
The historical facts and myths that have evolved around the British
version of the Rosamunde legend, in which the woman is called "Fair Rosamond," are
difficult to trace back. Bodo Plachta points out in his investigation
into the sources of the Droste poem that the legend's essence was that
Henry II managed to uncover the plans for a takeover of the government
by his wife and sons and openly professed his love for his mistress:
Die historischen Grundlagen der Sage von der schönen Rosamunde in
mittelalterlichen englischen Chroniken sind nur spärlich belegt.
Die Chroniken berichten lediglich, dass sich Heinrich II. von England
(1133-1189) öffentlich zu seiner Geliebten Rosamunde de Clifford
bekannte, nachdem er 1173 ein Komplott seiner Ehefrau Eleonore von Aquitanien
und seiner Söhne gegen ihn und seine Regierung entlarvt hatte. Rosamunde
starb bald (um 1176) nach diesen Ereignissen. Heinrich ließ sie
im Kloster von Godstow beisetzen, wo ihr Grab von den dortigen Nonnen
gepflegt und verehrt wurde. (35)
Yet, besides the British version there are several others with varying sources for Rosamunde legends. Susanne Neuenfeldt maintains that Jelinek uses the Germanic version of a Rosamunde legend: "Chézys Drama geht auf die Rosamunde-Sage zurück. Rosamunde, die Frau des Langobardenkönigs Alboin (6. Jahrhundert), ließ ihren Mann ermorden, nachdem er sie gezwungen hatte, aus dem Schädel ihres erschlagenen Vaters zu trinken" (157, n. 40). In the Lombard or Germanic version, Rosamunde has a similar reputation as Medea as one of the mythic female avengers. While Medea supposedly killed her sons and made her husband eat their flesh, Rosamunde convinced Alboin's armor-bearer and foster brother Helmichis to kill Alboin cold-bloodedly in his bedroom after Rosamunde took away Alboin's weapon. In 572, according to Paul the Deacon, a Lombard chronicler, Alboin who was "most famous in war through the overthrow of so many enemies, perished by the scheme of one little woman" (83). The roles of Rosamunde in the British and the Germanic myths are contradictory and yet related in their presentation of the princess and queen. While the British Fair Rosamond lives up to the images of the demure princess who dies for love, the Germanic murderess portrays the image of the deceiving woman who concocts many plans to take revenge on her husband. Yet, after the death of Alboin, Rosamunde's plans of staying queen and marrying her lover eventually failed and Helmichis, who had helped her to kill her husband Alboin in order to become king, poisoned her. Both Rosamunde figures die an early and tragic death.
Jelinek intended to allude to Chézy's libretto, and by using quotes of the 1823 play in a distorted manner, the author comments on images of Rosamunde as a pure or revengeful woman and on the difficult role of women like Chézy who wrote for the stage in the 19th century. Rosamunde is a name that is evocative of several female figures in history and popular culture and Jelinek makes use of this multiplicity of allusions. Besides the history of the British woman Fair Rosamond and the Lombard queen Rosamunde, there is the famous beer polka song with the German lyrics: "Rosamunde, schenk mir dein Herz und dein 'Ja.'" The name also recalls the contemporary writer Rosamunde Pilcher whose many romance novels have been made into movies for German TV audiences. Jelinek refers to a multitude of these women that cross our minds when we hear the name Rosamunde. As in so many other montage texts or Sprachflächen, as Jelinek has called her layered texts, the author uses a number of quotes from Chézy's Rosamunde, and by putting them in a different context alienates them in a Brechtian way from their original meaning. Jelinek has used this twisting of quotes in many other plays such as Totenauberg, Stecken, Stab und Stangl, Lebewohl, and Bambiland, to name but a few.
Helmina von Chézy's biography unveils that she was a prominent although not a famous figure of her time. Her unusual childhood and difficult adult life as a divorcee in the 19th century demonstrate the obstacles she faced as a woman writer. The reception of her literary work was controversial and her personal situation was complicated as she separated early on from her second husband, lived most of her life as a single mother, and earned some money and little fame as a published writer. Chézy's maiden name was Wilhelmine Christiane von Klencke, and she was born in 1783 in Berlin to Karoline von Klencke and Carl Friedrich von Klencke. Anna Louise Karsch (1722-1791), better known as Die Karschin, was Chézy's grandmother and had a strong influence on her granddaughter's writing career. Helmina von Chézy's parents separated when she was only a year old. Her mother and grandmother raised her while her father moved to Hamburg where he remained for the rest of his life. Due to lack of money, her education was not of any high standard but much better than for the average girl. She received some training and private lessons but later regretted that she did not receive more formal instruction. In 1799, she married a baron at the age of 16 and divorced him a year later. In 1806, she married the French orientalist Antoine-Léonard von Chézy and had two sons Wilhelm (1806-1865) and Max (1808-1846). In 1810, Chézy separated from her husband after which she raised her two ailing sons alone. She met a number of key figures of her time such as Dorothea and Friedrich Schlegel, Adelbert von Chamisso, Karoline Pichler, Georg Herwegh, Bettina von Arnim, August Varnhagen von Ense, Therese Huber, among many others. Chézy traveled widely in Europe and lived in Paris for ten years, also in Dresden, Munich, Vienna, and a number of other big cities. After slowly losing her eyesight, Chézy dictated her autobiography Unvergessenes. Denkwürdigkeiten aus dem Leben der Helmina von Chézy. Von ihr selbst erzählt (1858) to one of her nieces and died in Geneva in 1856.
Chézy's primary work consisted of writing and editing articles for newspapers and magazines. She also wrote and published poetry and then became known for writing the libretto for Carl Maria von Weber's opera Euryanthe (1823). The play Rosamunde by Chézy opened shortly after Weber's opera was received very poorly and her contemporaries criticized it harshly. For the longest time, the text of Rosamunde was lost while Schubert's music and the lyrics for the songs survived. Chézy's text only recently reappeared in the early 1990s and was published in 1996 as part of the Schubert Studien. Even though it is not the first version with four acts as it was staged in Vienna in 1823 and Munich in 1824 but a longer revised version with five acts it is very similar to the original.
The plot of Chézy's Rosamunde is quickly summarized. Rosamunde's uncle Fulvio poisoned his brother Rudolf and sister-in-law Bianca in order to rule Cyprus after their death. The king and queen died when their daughter Rosamunde was only three years old. She was taken away to be raised in hiding. Her foster mother Axa raised her and is supposed to tell Rosamunde that she is the rightful heir to the throne in Cyprus when she turns 16. So far, Fulvio has governed the state but now that Rosamunde is old enough, she is supposed to claim the throne. According to her parents wish, Rosamunde is supposed to marry Alfons, the prince of Candia (Crete). Rosamunde meets Alfons without knowing any of these plans and they fall in love with each other. Fulvio denies Rosamunde the right to the throne and after unsuccessfully wooing her, he tries to poison her with a letter that he sends her. Yet, Rosamunde does not receive the letter because Manfredi, who was supposed to deliver it to her, changed his mind. Impressed by Rosamunde's purity and knowing that he would be sentenced to death for the murder of his brother and sister-in-law, Fulvio intentionally touches the letter and thus kills himself so that Rosamunde and Alfons can rule over Cyprus.
In Jelinek's Der Tod und das Mädchen III, the conversation between Rosamunde and Fulvio focuses on Fulvio's attempt to dominate Rosamunde socially and sexually. He describes Rosamunde as a thing, like the second fiddle that yearns to be a victim, like a dog or duck rather than a human being with equal rights (56). It is Jelinek's Fulvio who uses language such as "schnackseln" for intercourse or "Schlampe" (52) for a love goddess and thus he objectifies sexual partners. Bell Hooks writes in her analysis of links between the concepts gender and sexuality: "No matter how much feminist thinkers talked about equality, when it came to sexual desire and the enactment of sexual passion the dynamics of power and powerlessness evoked in the sexual arena disrupted simplistic notions of oppressor and oppressed" (88-89). Jelinek describes heterosexual relationships and their intrinsic power struggles as relationships in which sexual desire and sexual passion disrupt ideas of oppressor and oppressed. The dialogue between the man and the woman are a hateful tirade. In Jelinek's dialogue the word "Hass" occurs 22 times. In Chézy's text it appears repeatedly but not with the same frequency as in Jelinek's play. The relations between the sexes in Chézy's Rosamunde are still intact when Rosamunde marries Alfons who is of the same social standing and the same generation. However, Jelinek's text refuses to offer an ultimately fulfilling, positive relationship between a man and a woman.
Jelinek has been a torchbearer of a linguistic and cultural revolution of sexual affairs. Her analysis of confrontations and conflicts between genders and other cultural fractions has led to new insights into the language and images that describe sexual encounters and clashes. In Der Tod und das Mädchen III (Rosamunde), Jelinek weaves different contexts into the dialogue between the characters Rosamunde and Fulvio to depict the ongoing struggle that woman and man take out on each other and that dates back to the beginnings of patriarchal order. The excerpts from Chézy's play are incorporated into Jelinek's play in a fractured manner that only an inquiry into the details of the two texts can uncover in order to lay bare the interconnections, overlaps, and differences between the plays of these women writers.
In the first act of Chézy's Rosamunde, the protagonist describes
her longing for a prosperous, happy future and exclaims:
Hätt ich Flügel, mich zu tragen, / Hin, wo blaue Klippen
ragen, / Scharf gezackt im Purpurstrahl, / Daß ich säh von
ihren Zinken, / Wipfel ragen, Fluthen blinken, / Sanft geschwungen durch
das Thal. / / O, wer thut mir kund, ob jene / Thale bergen, was ich wähne;
/ Still ersehnet, - o, wo blüht / Fern ein Glück in goldnen
Räumen, / Wie es oft in süßen Träumen / Stürmisch
meine Brust durchglüht? (R 83).
Chézy's Rosamunde desires to view nature's beauty from a bird's
perspective. Jelinek offers the reader a riddle: references to technology,
cars, and an accident which takes place later in the play, are contrasts
to the language of water and nature that is used in both Chézy's
and Jelinek's play. Jelinek's Rosamunde figure who is a drowned body
or "Wasserleiche" explains at the beginning of the play:
Jawohl, jetzt kommts, hier, plötzlich, das Blinklicht von Fluten, die nicht für mich gebremst haben, obwohl sie es sogar für Tiere tun. Und da bohrt sich doch glatt dieser Zinken von einer Flut in meinen Kühlergrill. (...) Im Purpurstrahl leuchtet meine Motorhaube noch einmal auf, sanft schwingt sich das Tal drüber weg, elegantem Sprung. Das Tal, von Bergen eingekesselt, hätt auch mich noch tragen sollen (...) Fern ein Glück in goldnen Räumen, ja oder nein? (...) Wieso hat sich jetzt jeder, auch ich, so eindeutig für das Glück entschieden? (...) Drüber läßt sich vieles sagen, was die Täler so alles bergen, was ich still ersehne, wo was blüht und wo des jungen Tales Licht jetzt wieder hingefallen ist, wo ichs nicht finden kann" (T III 43-44, emphasis added).
The Zinken or beak is employed here as a phallic symbol that drives itself into the Kühlergrill, or radiator grill, the most vulnerable part of the female speaker. Similar images of masculine sexuality as an aggressive force reoccur in many of Jelinek's other writings. Jelinek juggles with excerpts from Chézy's text to depict the hopeless situation of the protagonist.
In Chézy's Rosamunde, the protagonist implies that her foster mother Axa enjoys seeing her daughter suffer by not telling her the truth but Jelinek's Rosamunde re-directs these words at Fulvio. Chézy's character Rosamunde addresses her foster mother: "Mutter, theure Mutter, / Wie ist Dir meine Marter eine Lust!" (R 84), while Jelinek's Rosamunde addresses the audience: "Ist Ihnen Marter etwa eine Lust?" (T III 44, emphasis added). While Chézy subtly implies that Fulvio has a masochistic streak, Jelinek emphasizes Fulvio's lust for cruelty when he derives pleasure from seeing Rosamunde suffer.
As in so many other texts such as in Sportstück, for example, Jelinek returns to the author herself and designs a role for the writer in this play. Chézy's foster mother Axa describes one of her nightmares to her foster daughter Rosamunde: "... O, welche bange Träume schreckten mich, / Verloren warst Du mir, warst mir verschwunden. / Und einsam irrt ich in der Welt umher, / Und fand Dich nimmer, nimmer - o, Entsetzen! / Und einsam starb ich (R 84). In Jelinek's play, Rosamunde describes similar fears: "Ich krieg schon keine Luft mehr, bange Träume schrecken mich: (...) wo ich so lang gesucht hab, in der Welt herumgeirrt, ohne meinen Schreibtisch zu verlassen, so lang und sowieso allein, ... Doch einsam werd ich sterben" (T III 45-46, emphasis added).
Jelinek's Rosamunde is a drowning (or drowned) writer who struggles to keep breathing and to find a voice. The "ich" that does not leave the writing desk and strays around the world will die in solitude. Unlike Axa who dies a lonely death in her dream, Jelinek's Rosamunde projects her death into the future (even though she seems to be already dead when speaking). She maintains that she has seen the world while (paradoxically) not leaving her desk. Here, the author comments on a meta-level on language and the secluded act of writing itself.
Jelinek uses references to Chézy's description of Rosamunde's mother and the blueness of her eyes that mirrors the blue heaven or sky. Chézy's Rosamunde directs her words again at Axa: "Ja, die Augen / Blau, wie der Himmel, und holdselig lächelnd / Die bleichen Lippen - (...) / Nicht D u bist meine Mutter? (R 85). Chézy's Rosamunde faintly remembers the death of her parents she suppressed for so long. Jelinek's use of a phallic symbol inserts an anticipated brutality when Rosamunde cynically addresses Fulvio whose masculinity and potency are at stake: "Bist du meine Mutter? Nein, die bist du nicht, du Null von einem Messer, harmlos wie das Blau am Himmel, der es selbst ist, ich meine: Blau ist er halt (...) Entschuldige, Himmel, wollte dich nicht beleidigen mit meinem deutschen Mittelklassemodell von vor sechzehn Jahren" (T III 45, emphasis added). The phallic symbol of a knife sticking out reminds the reader of an underlying threat. It is the afterthought that makes Jelinek's statement so provoking when she first uses the meaning of being drunk for "blau ist er halt" but then switches back to the blue sky, adding that she does not want to insult the sky when referring to a "Mittelklassemodell" which brings the conversation back to outdated models of cars.
Like many of Jelinek's stage characters, Rosamunde seems to have a split personality and speaks with several voices representing different characters that have personality overlaps. Chézy's Rosamunde shouts: "Sieh! / Ein Schiff! Entmastet irrt es auf dem Meer - / "(R 87), while Jelinek's Rosamunde observes: "Entmastet irr seit längerem ich auf dem Meer, aber ich kann mich auch bequemer irren, falls gewünscht, hier, diese Wachs-, ich meine Wach- und Schließfigur an meinem Schreibtisch, die bin ich, eine Tochter, die sich nähert, (...)" (T III 45, emphasis added). While Chézy's Rosamunde describes a ship near the island of Cyprus that wanders about aimlessly, Jelinek draws on the metaphor of a ship for a person and recycles the ship without its mast into an image for the writer Rosamunde. The ship without the mast represents a woman who supposedly struggles with the lack of a penis. The phallic symbol of the missing ship mast makes the ship wander about in a clueless manner while the mast (and sail) would have made it possible for the sailors and captain to be in control of their ship and to head for a port. Jelinek adds that Rosamunde can stray around more easily by comparing the writer Rosamunde (and thus the author who creates Rosamunde while sitting at her desk) to a figure made of wax, one that seems always awake and remains in only one observing but lifeless position. By playing with the terms "Wachsfigur," "Wachfigur," and "Schließfigur," a being that remains alert and one that can be opened and closed and "Wach- und Schließgesellschaft," Jelinek relates these expressions to the company that guards and locks property to keep it safe in order to show how the writer who aimlessly wanders the sea feels like being made of stone when sitting at her desk but being able to be closed in either from the outside or by her own will. The sexual overtones of the implied "öffnen" and "schließen" are unmistakable Jelinek's way of negotiating the writer's struggle with language and the sexual power play.
In one passage, Chézy's Rosamunde describes the comfort she receives
from her teacher Alberto who visits Axa and Rosamunde regularly in their
hiding space in the hills of Cyprus. Chézy's Rosamunde refers
to Alberto's stories: "Erzählt von Taten hoher Helden, von
/ Der alten Welt und auch der Neuen, Trübes, / Und Herrliches, und
wenn ich bitter weine, / Dass sich die Menschen hassen und ermorden /
Auf Gottes schöner Erde, daß der Tiger / Das Lamm zerreißt,
dann weiß Er mich zu trösten, / Mich zu erfreun - Auch Vieles
lehrt Er mich, / Die Feder führ' ich - fremde Sprachen red' ich,
(...)" (R 92). In comparison, Jelinek's character does not cry but
depicts herself as concerned and shocked by what she learns about the
brutality of the world. Despite the fact that people have told her not
to muddle in politics, Jelinek's Rosamunde cannot but write about events
on the world stage without tiring. Here, Jelinek "foregrounds the
precarious position of the writer," as Fatima Naqvi convincingly
argues. "The author speaks both as aggressor, imitating the dominant
discourse and bringing out its absurdities, and as victim of this discourse" (74).
Jelinek's Rosamunde declares:
Ich bin ziemlich betroffen, daß ich davon gleich ertrinken muß.
Auf Gottes schöner Erde zerreißt der Tiger das Lamm. Nur kann
ich mir nicht helfen. Bin vor allem betroffen, auch von dem, was mich
nichts angeht. So bin ich und so bleibe ich, nur Neues, Trübes seh
ich an der Welt. Man sagt es mir tausendmal, was soll ich machen, auch
das hat mich schon wieder betroffen! Die Feder führ ich unermüdlich,
keine fremden Sprachen red ich, und wenn, dann falsch. (T
III 43, emphasis
The character (or author) does not speak in foreign tongues that can be understood but she writes in her native tongue yet questions her remarks immediately after making them "und wenn, dann falsch," while simultaneously questioning a right and wrong when it comes to statements. The character Rosamunde (who wrote poems and letters in Chézy's play and states that she is a writer in Jelinek's play) and the writer Elfriede Jelinek overlap and they find themselves caught in the dominant discourse of the day and the century old discourse that situates women not at the writing desk, not commenting on world politics.
Sexual relations between man and woman in Jelinek's play as in many of her other texts are described as a chase in which the man hunts down the woman and then abuses her like an animal. Jelinek emphasizes that the hunters' aim is not a deer but a young woman. She thus refers to the fairy-tale worlds of "Schneewittchen," "Rotkäppchen," "Allerleihrauh," and many other stories in which the "Jäger" or hunter catches (and sometime helps) the female victim. Jelinek's critique is that women have existed only as reflections of what men think of them and, therefore, women feel the need to be defined by men. They feel incapable of existing without men's approval or disapproval or without man chasing after them. While Chézy creates a harmonic picture of hunter and hunted, Jelinek's Rosamunde highlights her active engagement in the hunt. Chézy's "Jäger Chor" calls out: "Bald zeigt' sich das Ziel unsres Strebens, / Ein schlankes, ein schüchternes Reh! / Getroffen bald sinkt es vom Pfeile, / doch L i e b e verletzt, daß sie heile, / Horch Mägdlein, Du schüchternes Reh, / Süß Liebe gibt Wonnen für Weh!" (R 95, emphasis in original). The deer, as Chézy portrays them, are partly responsible for their victim position and the hunters assure them that their wounds will intensify their pleasure. Jelinek's Rosamunde calls out: "Ich schüchtern Reh, das jahrelang die Kugel sucht und dann bloß an jemand anderen weiterschickt (...) Geben Sie mir bitte noch etwas Wonne für mein Weh" (T III 47, emphasis added). In Jelinek's version, the victim Rosamunde is actively looking for the hunters' bullet but then redirects it to somebody else. In Chézy's text, love offers blissfulness but also pain. Jelinek's Rosamunde explicitly desires blissfulness for her pain because she has been told by the hunters that the one cannot exist without the other.
In a conversation with her foster mother Axa, Chézy's Rosamunde recalls fading childhood images from the traumatic escape from the palace: "Auch weiß ich noch von einem hohen Manne, / Der einst in stürm'scher Nacht mich, weinend Kind, / Nach einem Schiffe trug, fern in das Dunkel, / Weit aus der lichten Welt, die mich umblüht, / Den süßen Blicken fern, die mich umstrahlt" (R 85). Jelinek's Rosamunde tries to reassert herself as a speaker and writer: "Also ich wanke trotzdem nicht in meinen unzerbrechlichen Überzeugungen, ich weinend Kind, das es nicht sagen darf, nur: was? (...) Keine lichte Welt, die mich umblüht, kein süßer Blick, der mich umstrahlt, nicht einmal der Zigarettenanzünder, wieso, der läuft doch auf Batterie?" (T III 47, emphasis added). In both instances, the women describe themselves as children. While Chézy's Rosamunde remembers her childhood, Jelinek parodies the image of the woman as child. Jelinek employs the contrasting images of light and darkness to show her indestructible convictions that she has to speak up against injustices. Again, the car is part of the technological world that juxtaposes the water world with the fire of the cigarette lighter in which Rosamunde is trapped.
When Fulvio's men surround Rosamunde and her friends, Chézy's Rosamunde yells: "O haltet ein! zurück! die erste Wunde / In diesem Kampf ist meine Todeswunde! / Ich bin ein armes, ein verwaistes Kind (...)" (R 99). Jelinek's Rosamunde hollers: "Oje, die erste Wunde in dem Kampf, den ich nicht suchte, ist schon die Todeswunde, obwohl ich die Frage gar nicht richtig verstanden habe. Nun wird mir alles klar. Ich beug mich über mich und sag was über mich und schick es ab und trag mich weg in einen tiefen Raum" (T III 47, emphasis added). Through the mouthpiece of the writer Rosamunde, the author Jelinek comments on the tricky role of female writers. Rosamunde sends written remarks off like an email and takes herself along with it into a deep dark room (possibly the water from where she speaks) which may be the place where she will be buried (alive?) in dark space, an image also alluding to the Internet where traces are lost in space visible to human eyes.
When Fulvio reminds Rosamunde in Chézy's play that her mother's
last wish is for her to marry Alfons of Candia (Crete), Rosamunde reaffirms
her love for her mother but refuses to grant this wish: "O, meine
Mutter, / Vergieb mir! Du warst milde, hast die Liebe / Gekannt! O, wenn
Du lebtest, diese Thränen, / Die Martern sähst, die mir die
Brust durchwühlen, / Du würdest Mitleid üben! Fulvio!
/ Ich kann dem fremden Manne nicht mich opfern / Die Seine wird' ich
nimmer!" (R 113). Jelinek's Rosamunde comes to a dramatic climax
when she relentlessly insists:
Ungeheuer! O meine Mutter, vergib mir! O mein Schreiben,
vergib mir! O mein Werk, vergib mir! Natur, vergib
mir auch! Mein Schreiben,
vergib mir noch einmal! (...) Tritt auf mich, wenn
ein Forscher kommt, nein, kein Forscher, natürlich einer, der
forsch ist! Wer denn sonst?
Fremder Mann, der mich opfert, vergiß mich danach
sofort wieder! Fremder Mann, der mich opfert, vergiß mich danach
Martern, die mir die Brust durchwühlen, vergebt mir (T
III 51-52, emphasis added).
Jelinek intensifies and questions the Christian overtones of asking forgiveness from a higher being. Her Rosamunde asks the writing process and the stranger for forgiveness. She not only asks the mother for forgiveness but associates her with an "Ungeheuer," a monster. The author also asks her work and nature for forgiveness. The strange man with resolute attitude (der forsche Mann, ein "Forscher") and the researcher (der Forscher) sacrifice her. She then asks the excruciating pains that follow and rummage her chest (or breast) for forgiveness. By combining paradoxical elements in this passage that are part of Rosamunde's cry for help and forgiveness, Jelinek shows the absurdity of the human feeling of guilt. As she did in Die Klavierspielerin, Jelinek also problematizes the role of the mother who exhibits jealousy and steps on her daughter when a man shows interest in the younger woman.
In his last effort to convince Rosamunde to marry him, Chézy's Fulvio exclaims: "Nein! wende nicht den Blick von mir, der strahlend / Den Himmel giebt! Mein guter Engel sei, / Denn es ist Nacht in mir (...) / Mein mußt du sein, / Betörtes Kind! Ich will's, ich bin Dein Meister! / Dein Leben hängt an meinem Augenwink, / O, sei mir hold, und kosend schmieg ich mich / Zu Deinen Füßen -" to which Rosamunde harshly responds: "Ungeheuer!" and Fulvio impatiently reacts: "O !!! Uns ruft das Fest! Erlauchte Rosamunde!" (R 114). Jelinek's Fulvio reiterates these lines by contemplating on the usefulness of women and their endeavor to remove their shackles: "Mein guter Engel sei. Uns ruft das Fest. Ein Fest ist immer da, das uns ruft. So, Rosamunde. (...) Weg das Mädchengeschwätz! Mein mußt du sein, dein Leben hängt an meinem Augenwink! Bitte fahren Sie mit der Kamera etwas näher heran (...) O sei mir hold, und kosend schmieg ich mich zu deinen Füßen" (T III 53, emphasis added). Then, it is no longer Fulvio but Jelinek's Rosamunde again who takes the words from Chézy's Fulvio when she comments: "Ich wende den Blick von mir. Ich fordere endgültig, daß Frauen sich mehr und mehr das Recht nehmen, ihre Sexualität zu leben. Ich fordere endgültig, daß Frauen sich das Recht nehmen, endgültig zu leben" (T III 54, emphasis added). Rosamunde literally refuses the male gaze (through which she sees herself as a woman and is seen by others) and removes it thus freeing herself. Jelinek's Fulvio demands of Rosamunde that she must obey him and enter a stage of sexual obedience, while the dead Rosamunde demands for all women the right to live independent of men's desires and images forced on women. Only as a dead woman (and writer) can she speak out.
Jelinek's Fulvio invites a television crew with its camera to witness the fall of the woman and to take a close-up of this confident man who takes women's obedience for granted. Here, Jelinek comments on the role of the theater and film in exposing the complexities of domestic heterosexual relationships. By bringing in the cameras and juxtaposing Chézy's version of Rosamunde with modern day technological equipment, the author criticizes contemporary TV viewers' voyeurism. Jelinek hints at reality shows that seem to offer glimpses into the everyday world of people by hiding that their action are staged when the actors invite the cameras to tape their disputes with others. While Fulvio claims that Rosamunde's life depends on the wink of his eye, Jelinek's Rosamunde demands that women finally claim their right to live their sexuality and to live their lives the way they want.
After refusing his offer to marry him, Chézys Fulvio misinterprets Rosamunde's initial rejection and reiterates his wish by insisting: "Nein, bleib, denn Alles muß / Sich jetzt, in d i e s e m A u g e n b l i c k entscheiden! / Von einer Centnerlast bin ich befreit, / Vollende nun dein Werk, und mache mich / Zum Glücklichsten der Welt -" (R 113-4, emphasis in original). Jelinek's Fulvio insists that Rosamunde chooses to support him and laments: "Rosamunde. Ich sag dir ausdrücklich: Alles muß sich jetzt in diesem Augenblick entscheiden" (T III 53, emphasis added). And in his next response he addresses her as if Rosamunde were a dog: "Faß! Füg dir ein Aussehen hinzu und faß! Was, du faßt es nicht? Faßt nicht, daß du mich zum Glücklichsten der Welt machen könntest? Daß es für dich unfaßbar ist, gefaßt zu werden? Faßt lieber in Worte?" (T III 55, emphasis added). The ridicule of Fulvio shows that he cannot believe that the author prefers to write rather than marry him. Jelinek plays with the different meanings of "fassen" here: "catch" for a dog, "understand or comprehend" for a person, "being caught by someone," "to put something into words." Fulvio degrades Rosamunde into a dog that follows her master's instructions in their unequal relationship but he also realizes that it is unthinkable ("unfaßbar") for her to get caught ("gefaßt zu werden").
When Chézys Fulvio reveals his true cunning, unethical and unscrupulous self, he tries to force Rosamunde to marry him: "Wie konntest du nur wähnen, stolzes Weib, / M i c h habest du besiegt? Bei Gott! 's ist lustig! / Ein Bild von Zucker, eine Gliederpuppe, / Ein schwankes Rohr in dieser nerv'gen Faust!" (115). Rosamunde does not surrender but announces that she would rather die than marry him: "So muß ich sterben!," after which Fulvio mockingly replies "Ho! noch kein Mädchen starb am Hochzeitskuß! / Zu meinen Füßen sollst Du noch dereinst / Um meine Liebe winseln, die Du jetzt / Tollkühn verschmähst im spröden Übermut! / Ich warne Dich! Reiz nicht des Tigers Wuth!" (R 115) Again, Chézy's Fulvio uses images of whimpering, whining dogs ("winseln") that beg for love and attention at their master's feet. In Jelinek's version, Rosamunde responds to Fulvio's previous speech and his question why she is a victim by declaring: "So muß ich sterben, im verhältnismäßig besten Alter?" (T III 56, emphasis added). By contrasting the announcement of the impending suicide with "at a relatively best age," Jelinek alienates the statement and ridicules the speaker's intention by showing that women (or at least their self-confidence) died at a young age when forced into marriage. By relativizing a superlative, Jelinek plays with the language in a way that goes against all rules. Jelinek's Fulvio continues: "Wie konntest du nur wähnen, stolzes Weib, mich habest du besiegt? Bei Gott, 's ist lustig! Ein Bild von Zucker, eine Gliederpuppe, ein schwankes Rohr in dieser nervgen Faust! (...)" (T III 56-57, emphasis added) and when Rosamunde offers Fulvio the circlet that was burning on her head, Fulvio responds: "Ach nein. Behalt du ihn ruhig! Aber ruhig bist du ja nie und wirst du nie sein. Zu meinen Füßen sollst Du noch dereinst um meine Liebe winseln, die du jetzt tollkühn verschmähst im spröden Übermut! Ich warne dich! Reiz nicht des Tigers Wut! " (T III 58, emphasis added). The images that Jelinek picked out of Chézy's text represent traditional images of the woman as vulnerable deer and the man as omnipotent tiger or the woman made of sugar, a doll or an instable tube that can easily be bent by the iron fist of the man who warns her that he will crush her if she disobeys.
Yet in the end in Chézy's version, Fulvio intentionally touches the poisoned letter that he had sent to Rosamunde because her heart could not be won or poisoned. After reciting the content of the letter from memory and revealing his intention to kill Rosamunde, he presses the letter against his face and dies. Chézy's Fulvio recites the last few lines of the letter when addressing Rosamunde: "O, Du himmlisch Wesen, / In deren Brust der Haß nie Wurzel schlug, / Weine um mich, ich war einst gut, die Hölle / Hat mich verlockt, Dich liebend konnt' ich mir / Den Himmel nicht zurück erstürmen, muß / Hinunter -" (R 149). Jelinek's Rosamunde uses these words in her second to last reaction to Fulvio's attempts to silence her: "Ich glaub, du mußt jetzt hinunter. Grad schlägt der Haß in meinem Herzen Wurzeln, schon wieder, er ist zurück, ach nein, er schlägt nicht andere, er schlägt mich ... (T III 60, emphasis added). Fulvio responds: "Sagt. Schlage einen Funken in der Hölle. Völlig überflüssig. Dich liebend, konnt ich mir den Himmel nicht zurückerstürmen. Muß hinunter. Also diese Scheinheiligkeit dieser Gesellschaft regt mich jetzt unheimlich auf. ... (T III 61, emphasis added). Jelinek parodies the images of heaven and hell and connects them to the hypocrisy of society. By using Chézy's text, Jelinek reiterates the power of the mythic tale that praises the story of the saved queen of Cyprus and she simultaneously questions the image of Alfons' role as "knight in shining armor" who comes to rescue the helpless Rosamunde in the Chézy play. In both plays, Fulvio decides to kill himself and to go down to hell. While Chézy's Rosamunde forgives Fulvio, Jelinek's Rosamunde declares that hatred has struck roots in her heart but that the feeling hurts her more than her antagonist. While the original Rosamunde play by Chézy makes use of the expression "Wurzeln schlagen" as in to "take roots," Jelinek adds another layer of violence by reiterating "schlagen" in the sense of "to hit" and thus personifies the hatred that hits the person who feels it.
At the very end of Chézy's play, Rosamunde tries to comfort her good friend Claribella whose father Fulvio has died. Rosamunde exclaims: "Zum Himmel blicke, Hoffe, Liebe, Glaube!" While Chézy's Rosamunde finds comfort in the Christian imagery of hope, Jelinek's Rosamunde finally seems to lose her voice but in Jelinek's contradictory fashion the character comments on this loss with her own voice: "Meine Stimme. Meine Stimme. Meine Stimme. Meine Stimme. Sagt nichts" (T III 62). The loss of voice of a woman stands for sexual abuse and a loss of identity, which the character Rosamunde is trying to retain control over in her dialogue with Fulvio who questions her authority and ability as a speaker and writer throughout the play. Jelinek's Rosamunde complains earlier about her inability to speak: "Ansonsten hab ich keine Stimme und hab auch keine gewinnen können" (T III 47). Fulvio even threatens to cut off her tongue: "Danach [nach dem Fest] ist ihre Zunge die Rede nicht wert, die sie so lose geführt hat. Alles nur Show. Die Zunge schneid ich dir ab, und wo ist jetzt das Wort? Siehst du, weg ist es. Das Wort wird jetzt ganz bestimmt nicht mehr so schlimm sein, wie du es erzogen hast" (T III 53). Jelinek plays with the idiom "der Rede wert sein" implying that the tongue is not worth mentioning and that the tongue cannot talk ("reden") anymore. Jelinek thus negates a meaningful message that is easy to decipher at the end of the play. She does so by taking the voice from the female character Rosamunde who is supposedly granted and simultaneously not granted a voice when the character is incapable of speaking.
By comparing Chézy's and Jelinek's texts, it has become evident that Jelinek uses quotes from Chézy's play as an intertext in her 2002 Rosamunde play to investigate the mythical figure Rosamunde and to introduce to her readers a play long lost and a writer who struggled to stage it. The types of quotes Jelinek incorporates show the jittery dynamics between the seemingly powerful Fulvio and the powerless Rosamunde. Jelinek combines outdated sounding expressions with contemporary domestic talk and thus alienates the old context by plugging it into a new meaning. The Nobel laureate uses a range of phallic symbols to draw attention to the frictions and power struggles between man and woman. She contrasts nature and technology and underscores the abusive talk of Fulvio on the one hand and on the other, she emphasizes Rosamunde's efforts to find a voice (as an undead and a writer) and to make that voice heard in speaking (on stage) and in writing (the play).
*I would like to thank Barbara Mennel for her advice on an earlier draft of this article. I am also grateful to Karin Baumgartner for sending me a copy of Chézy’s Rosamunde play and the introduction by Till Gerrit Waidelich.
1 An analysis of the third play in interconnection with the others would
be a rewarding task, as they might offer a more thorough view of Jelinek's
dissection of the role of real princesses, literary princesses, and princesses
in the West's imagination. However, this paper can only focus on one
of the plays.
2 See Jelinek, "Unterwelt." The after word first came out as
an article in Die Zeit in early 1998 and commented on the difficulties
of Diana's life and the discourse that transferred her from a human being
into the superhuman realm of mythical figures: "Eine Frau, zu Lebzeiten
schon transzendiert ins Überirdische, muss jetzt hinunter" (148).
3 See Susann Neuenfeldt and Bärbel Lücke.
4 Compare Till Gerrit Waidelich and Magdalene Heuser. Around the time
when Jelinek wrote Der Tod und das Mädchen III she also wrote a
3-page piece on Franz Schubert's musical genius and his mental breakdown
(1998) which is posted on her website.
5 Grosse Frauen 398. For modern versions of these tales, see Robert
Gordian, Rosamunde: Königin der Langobarden and the second part by Gordian,
Die Mörderin Rosamunde: Königin der Langobarden.
6 See Bodo Plachta 40-41.
7 See Waidelich who goes back to Calderón and other Spanish sources
but cannot find any that resemble the plot for Chézy's play. He
mentions Shakespeare's Measure for Measure that offers some similarities
8 Neuenfeldt refers only to this one version (157). Daniela Strigl refers
back to Neuenfeldt's article when she mentions the role of Rosamunde
and describes her as "eine gefährlich zornige Frau" 94,
9 Compare Wilhelm Wägner, Deutsche Heldensagen 17-24.
10 Besides the many literary versions of this story, the Baroque painter
Peter Paul Rubens created a painting entitled "Alboin and Rosamunde" in
1625. The painting hangs in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and
depicts how the king points at the cup made from Kunimund's head (Rosamunde's
dead father) requesting Rosamunde to drink from it.
11 See Magdalene Heuser and Karin Baumgartner.
12 See Gisela Brinker-Gabler et al. 52-54. Compare also Till Gerrit
zog gleich aus der Manteltasche?"
13 Compare Till Gerrit Waidelich, "Helmina von Chézys Drama" 59
and Waidelich, "Ein fragmentarischer autographer Entwurf."
14 In Jelinek's play, not all quotes that Rosamunde and Fulvio utter
in Chézy's text are put into Rosamunde and Fulvio's mouths in
Jelinek's play. For example, "Was Liebe? Liebe ist ein Knabentraum," (R
108) claims Chézy's Fulvio, while it is Jelinek's Rosamunde who
reiterates that this abstract idea of love is a boy's dream: "Was
Liebe? Liebe ist ein Knabentraum" (T III 58). While Chézy's
Fulvio suggests that love is for the young, Jelinek ridicules the utterance
and maintains that the concept of love works for young men but not women.
15 In this analysis, I will only be able to point to a few similarities
and overlaps. While usually the first part is quoted from Chézy's
text, I mark Jelinek's use of Chézy's words in bold print.
16 In another passage, Chézy's Rosamunde dreamingly assures Alfons: "Wir
bleiben mit der Lieb', und mit dem Frühling / In diesem Hochthal -" to
which Alfons rationally replies: "Lieblich träumest
Du! / Hörst du Geklirr der Waffen? feindlich nahen / Dir Haß und
Rache!" (R 136). While Rosamunde still hopes to live in secret hiding
from the rest of the court, Alfons reminds her that she cannot escape
her role as queen. Jelinek's Rosamunde explains: "Ich mußte
zu Hause bleiben wie ein Hund, der kein Lamm hat zum Zerfetzen. Ich lese
schöne Bücher dort im Hochtal, aber was mach
ich jetzt im Wasser, ich Herrliche, auch wenn ich bitter weine?" (T
III 47, emphasis added). Contrasting
the valley in the mountains with the water in which the speaker is trapped
illustrate the paradoxical situation of woman and writer.
17 Jelinek's Fulvio says "Mein mußt du sein" earlier
(T III 49).
18 One of the most famous songs from Chézy's play is Franz Schubert's
song "Romanze" which has been part of Schubert's oeuvre for
almost two centuries. Unlike Chézy's text that was lost since
the middle of the 19th century, Schubert's piece survived. Chézy's
Axa sings: "Der Vollmond strahlt auf Bergeshöhn, / Wie hab
ich Dich vermißt, / Du süßes Herz, es ist so schön
/ Wenn Treu die Treue küßt. / Was frommt des Maien holde Zier?
/ Du warst mein Frühlingsstrahl, / Licht meiner Nacht, o, lächle
mir / Im Tode noch einmal. / Sie trat herein, beim hellen Schein, / Sie
blickte himmelwärts, / 'Im Leben fern, im Tode Dein.' / Und süß brach
Herz an Herz." (R 130). The lyrics reappear verbatim in Jelinek's
version and are introduced by a TV commercial for a chocolate bar: "Kindermilchschnitte
fürs Zwischendurch" (T III 48). The introduction to this plug-in
song in which the moon shines on a couple that is kept apart in their
lifetime but that reunites in death ridicules the sincerity and romantic
underpinnings of the lyrics on the one hand, while reaffirming its beauty
on the other by questioning the commercialization of Schubert's music.
19 Besides the many references to Chézy's play, Jelinek also refers to Leni Riefenstahl's movie Blue Light (Blaues Licht, 1932) in which a married couple arrives at an inn in a small village. They receives a picture of a woman long deceased. In Jelinek's text, Rosamunde thinks of Riefenstahl: "Schneebleiche Gipfel. Leni R. Was hat sie uns heute zu sagen? Die verfluchte Schönheit klebt an uns wie Mutterkuchen. Jeder wird ihn los. Keiner wird ihn los. Wir wenden die Lasertechnik an und schneiden uns zu einer beßren Form zurecht. Zuerst blaues Licht, dann: Weiß. Gelbliches Weiß. Alt. Farblos. Kein Ergebnis. Dieses Licht hat die falsche Farbe" (59). There are parallels between Jelinek's story line for Der Tod und das Mädchen III (Rosamunde) and Riefenstahl's story line in her movie. The couple that arrives in the car could be the couple Rosamunde and Fulvio. In a 20th or 21st century version, they comment on the relationship between Rosamunde and Fulvio in Chézy's version. While Chézy's play is set in the natural environment on the island of Cyprus, Jelinek's is set in a city-like environment in which an urban couple has an argument. Riefenstahl's female character Junta is depicted as somewhat like a fairy-tale character with blue crystals. She finally plunges to her death, misunderstood by the community of villagers. Chézy portrays Rosamunde as a pure-hearted woman who has to be rescued by the duke Alfons because she would otherwise perish in the world of brutal politics. In Jelinek's terms, the perception of nature and women as beautiful are still stuck to the modern-day world as if they were placenta. Leni Riefenstahl's personal choices in the time of National Socialism are the artist's legacy. Her depictions of Aryan beauty as well as her filming techniques are quite controversial. Jelinek's use of contradictory statements such as "Jeder wird ihn los. Keiner wird ihn los" and "Dieses Licht hat die falsche Farbe" call into question the speaker's and the author's message that there is not one true, right or wrong version of the depiction of reality.
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