The Taschenbuch Collection

Women & the Taschenbuch

Accounting for this precipitous rise in literacy was the burgeoning upper-middle class, and especially the literate class of women within it, who could newly receive education. According to new, enlightened sensibilities, women begun to be educated alongside their brothers, a privilege that was reserved for noble women alone in the previous century. Many volumes within the Taschenbuch collection are tailored to this growing female audience: indeed, some take female names (like FortunaAurora, or Cornelia), others take the names of flowers (Feldblumen or Alpenrosen), and still others address their female audience more directly (Damen-Kalender [Ladies’ Calender], Frauentaschenbuch [Women’s Pocketbook], or Der Freund des Schönen Geschlechts [Companion of the Fair Sex]. Even if the hint of patriarchal condescension persists (it remains the masculine “Der Freund” and not the feminine equivalent ‘Die Freundin”), for the first time in history there was a robust female audience for literary material, and there were ample literary productions that sought to cater to and please this new audience.

Unsurprisingly, despite courting this female audience, women were still largely on the outside of the literary world that produced these volumes. Despite the fact that the vast majority of authors and editors featured in these volumes were men, there were notable exceptions. One of the serials in the University’s possession, Cornelia: Taschenbuch für deutsche Frauen featured, perhaps, the most women authors, but had, over the course of its 58 year run, only one female editor, Amalia Schoppe, for a mere two years at that. Another publication Taschenbuch für Damen had a female editor, Therese Huber, though she was only one editor of three, for some twelve volumes (mostly between 1801 and 1811). The Taschenbücher, indeed, provided a more accessible landscape for women to take part in literature publicly, but this right was hard won and, even in the volumes produced as late as the 1860s, relatively uncommon.

Der Freund des Schönen Geschlechts. Ein angenehm und nützlicher Taschenkalender für das Jahr 1820.

A particularly illustrative example of a women’s Taschenbuch is Frauenzimmer Almanach zum Nutzen und Vergnügen. This publication highlights the simultaneous qualities of utility (Nutzen) and pleasure (Vergnügen): these books were both didactic objects meant to educate women as well as to entertain them. This particular series exemplified the spirit of the literary miscellany. They contained poetry by the likes of Friedrich Schiller alongside calendar material, stories, fold-out sowing guides, and essays on an astonishing breadth of subjects. These essays were about the domestic sphere, history, geography, exotic animals, and ethnographies of non-European peoples. Many of the engravings, often colored, featured alongside these essays are particularly instructive, like those of hippos and camels (colored beautifully, if surreally, with dark browns and blues). The ethnographic essays also featured engravings, though, many of which highlight problematic representations of the world outside of the ‘enlightened’ West: there were native Brazilians “at war,” Burmese women in traditional dress, West Africans at work, and a nude pacific Islander nursing her baby. Beyond what are, perhaps, problematic depictions, the inclusion of these essays and engravings suggest that part of a woman’s education in the German-speaking world had come to be worldliness, such that she might know about so wide a breadth of topics as these volumes included. The Taschenbücher, broadly, serve as a wonderful lens into the changing scope of the German woman’s world at this time.

Frauenzimmer Almanach zum Nutzen und Vergnügen: A sampling, some referenced above, of engravings from this literary miscellany featured between 1780 and 1810

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