Seminar: “The Rubble Women: War, Gender, and the Novel in Austria, 1945–49”

How are the years 1938–45 represented in fiction from the immediate postwar era? Was it even possible to tell a “true” war story in German, when catastrophic nationalism had tainted the very fundamentals of the language? This presentation looks to Austrian writers who retooled the Zeitroman, a socially and politically engaged genre, by destabilizing the boundaries between historical documentary, fiction, and autobiography. At a time when literary representation was little match for lived experience, largely neglected female authors—including Ilse Aichinger, Marie Frischauf-Pappenheim, and Mela Hartwig—refused silence and escapism, instead bearing witness to the ruinous bequest of World War II. In so doing, they undercut a widespread constellation of early-postwar myths: Germany’s “Zero Hour,” the possibility of reconstruction, the impossibility of expression, and the notion of Austria as Hitler’s “first victim” among them. These novels record, remember, and resist.


Alys George is Acting Assistant Professor of German Studies at Stanford University. Her book, The Naked Truth: Viennese Modernism and the Body (University of Chicago Press, 2020), was awarded the Modern Language Association’s Scaglione Prize for Studies in Germanic Languages and Literatures and the German Studies Association’s Best Book Prize in Literature and Cultural Studies. It was also shortlisted for the Laura Shannon Prize in Contemporary European Studies and the Waterloo Centre for German Studies Book Prize. George has published and taught widely on nineteenth- through twenty-first century Austrian and German literature, visual culture, and cultural history.