Re-capturing the self: narratives of self and captivity by women political prisoners in Germany 1915-1991
Richmond, Kim Treharne
This project represents one of the few major pieces of research into women’s narratives of political incarceration and is an examination of first person accounts written against a backdrop of significant historical events in twentieth-century Germany. I explore the ways in which the writers use their published accounts as an attempt to come to terms with their incarceration (either during or after their imprisonment). Such an undertaking involves examining how the writer ‘performs’ femininity within the de-feminising context of prison, as well as how she negotiates her self-representation as a ‘good’ woman. The role of language as a means of empowerment within the disempowering environment of incarceration is central to this investigation. Rosa Luxemburg’s prison letters are the starting point for the project. Luxemburg was a key female political figure in twentieth-century Germany and her letters encapsulate prevalent notions about womanhood, prison, and political engagement that are perceptible in the subsequent texts of the thesis. Luise Rinser’s and Lore Wolf’s diaries from National Socialist prisons show, in their different ways, how the writer uses language to ‘survive’ prison and to constitute herself as a subject and woman in response to the loss of self experienced in incarceration. Margret Bechler’s and Elisabeth Graul’s retrospective accounts of GDR incarceration give insight into the elastic concept of both the political prisoner and the ‘good’ woman. They demonstrate their authors’ endeavours to achieve a sense of autonomy and reclaim the experience of prison using narrative. All of the narratives are examples of the role of language in resisting an imposed identity as ‘prisoner’, ‘criminal’ and object of the prison system.