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Violent Women in the German Cultural Imagination

Module Code: GE220 Module

Module Credits: 15

Module introduction and aims

From Medea to Kriemhild, Charlotte Corday to Irma Grese, violent women haunt the cultural imaginary as figures of horror and fascination. This module will use the exceptional figure of the female perpetrator as a frame for considering shifting ideas about women and society in modern German culture. We will begin by discussing canonical representations of violent women using short-texts and visual art, considering why the female perpetrator is such a prominent artistic motif and how her representation relates to anxieties about the gender hierarchy and social order. We will particularly investigate how traditional images of female perpetrators shape how society understands violence today. As we read contemporary works such as Elfriede Jelinek’s Krankheit oder moderne Frauen (1984) and Christa Wolf’s Medea. Stimmen (1996), we will explore how feminist writers have revised and challenged stereotypical images of female perpetrators.

This module will give students the opportunity to engage in more depth with post-1945 literature and contemporary women’s writing. By the end of the semester, you should be able to:

  • provide an overview of the representation of female violence in contemporary German literature;
  • relate literary representations to broader debates about gender in East Germany, West Germany, and Austria;
  • demonstrate a critical understanding of the relationship between women’s writing and feminist politics.
  • analyse the formal and thematic properties of literary works.


Students should acquire a copy of these literary texts and ensure that they watch the following films:

Weeks 2 and 3: Jutta Heinrich, Das Geschlecht der Gedanken (orig. Munich: Frauenoffensive, 1977; Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 2015)

Week 4: Die bleierne Zeit (dir. Margarethe von Trotta, 1981; 106 minutes)

Weeks 5 and 7: Christa Wolf, Medea. Stimmen (orig. Berlin: Luchterhand, 1996; Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2008)

Weeks 8 and 9: Elfriede Jelinek, Das schweigende Mädchen / Ulrike Maria Stuart: Zwei Theaterstücke (Reinbek : Rowohlt, 2015)

Week 10: Die Kriegerin (dir. David Wnendt, 2011; 103 minutes) [Sometimes listed as Combat Girls]


The module is assessed by either:

  • one 4,000-4,500 word coursework essay; or
  • one 2-hour examination in the summer term.