Germany: Myth and Apologia in Christa Wolf’s Novel Medea. Voices

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Yixu Lü


In 1995, Christa Wolf, the most eminent author of the former German Democratic Republic, published the novel Medea. Voices. It takes up themes which have been worked and re-worked in European literature since Euripides’ tragedy, and which go back into pre-literary myth. Medea has many guises: she can be seen as the monstrous mother; as the victim of Jason’s fickle nature; or as the perpetual ‘stranger’, the woman who has given up all her origins, only to be disowned.

Christa Wolf’s novel concentrates on the impossibility of dialogue—not merely between different cultures, but also between the sexes within one culture. ‘Estrangement’ has come to define the human condition. In this—by no means novel—generalization of cultural antagonism to explain what makes human society violent, there lie many unanswered questions.

The hypothesis I offer is that such fictions lead to inaccurate generalizations if we take them as more than just elaborations of tragic myth. My paper will seek to narrow this focus once more—in a critical sense—by posing the question: to what extent does this specific adaptation of the myth by Christa Wolf reflect problems within the society of reunified Germany post-1989?

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Author Biography

Yixu Lü, Institute for International Studies, University of Technology Sydney

Yixu Lü is coordinator of the Germany major in the International Studies program and subject coordinator for the German Language and Culture subjects. Her main research interest is modern German literature and history. She has conducted extensive research on German literature in the 18th and 19th century and on the rise of German nationalism in the 19th century. She has published a book entitled Fraenherrschaft im Drama des fruehen 19. Jarhunderts (Female Regimes in Dramas of the early 19th Century) and a number of essays on German writers of the 19th and 20th centuries including Heinrich von Kleist, Hans Henny Jahnn and Heinrich Heine. Her research work concentrates on the following four areas: the representation of women in 19th century German literature; the adaptations of the myth of Medea in German literature from the late 18th century to the present; the work of Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811); and German colonial writings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.