We Women Have no Fatherland
‘To the good men I offer the hand of friendship,
to the foes of our sex I offer resistance and annihilation!’
In the late 19th century, German women barred from their own country’s universities found an enlightened haven in Zurich. It is here that we meet law student Lilie Halmschlag, whose impassioned diary entries form much of We Women Have no Fatherland. Originally published in 1899, Ilse Frapan’s novel was a radical departure from the author’s previous work, a bold dispatch from a new realm of female self-determination. The far-sighted text draws us deep into the emotional world of its protagonist as she records her ecstatic visions and dreams. In one passage, Shakespeare’s Portia returns to court to defend a prostitute, in another we find a pageant of women heading for the ballot box – thirty years before they gained this right in Germany. Rejected by her father and her fatherland, brought low by poverty and solitude, Lilie arrives at the striking conclusion captured in the title. She abandons her studies and joins the proletariat, but never relinquishes her righteous rage: ‘I have gone underground, but I have not gone under’. Now available in English for the first time, this landmark work closely reflects the author’s own life, lending it an authentic intensity undimmed by time.
Following an early career in teaching, ILSE FRAPAN (1849-1908) turned to fiction in her thirties and experienced modest initial success with stories set in her native Hamburg. In 1892 she moved to Zurich to attend university, and here her life and work took a far more radical turn. Her most outspoken works addressed the new breed of female students as well as other outcasts, and she actively campaigned for women’s and children’s welfare. Relatively late in life Frapan embarked on an affair with an Armenian man twenty years her junior, and took up the cause of his country’s sovereignty. But her most profound relationship was with artist Emma Mandelbaum, her partner of many years. Their fates were entwined until the end; discovering Frapan had incurable cancer, the women chose a suicide pact rather than life apart. Ilse Frapan’s works include Hamburg Novellas, Bittersweet, The Betrayed, Work and Erich Hetebrink.