Research Stream


Jordan Lavers
PhD Student at The University of Western Australia

Gender, Emotion, and Kinship in the Letters of Karoline von Günderrode

The gendered expression of emotion was constitutive for the practice of early modern European families as social units. This project focuses on the letters of the German writer Karoline von Günderrode (1780 -1806) as a case study for an analysis of gendered emotions in the history of the early modern European family.

Gender, Emotion, and Kinship in the Letters of Karoline von Günderrode

Image: Anonymous Portrait of Karoline von Günderrode, c. 1800 Courtesy of Frankfurt Historisches Museum, Public Domain.

The project is the first extensive critical analysis of the published and unpublished letters by the German writer Karoline von Günderrode. Academic interest in the work and biography of Günderrode has been dominated by historical analyses of gendered concepts of authorship and textual analyses of her poetry and prose within the context of German Romanticism. A purely textual analysis of her letter writing isolates Günderrode as a historical subject because this approach does not address her social position as an unmarried woman among the German-speaking aristocratic families.  As the first critical analysis of Günderrode’s letters in historical context, this project is positioned amongst recent historical work on early modern European women and letter writing, thereby contributing to this growing body of scholarship by analysing gender, emotion and notions of kinship.

Drawing from sociological theories of emotion, Jordan conceptualises a theory of ritual exchange of gendered emotion in letter writing. A theory of ritual exchange analyses how gendered emotions create and maintain ideas of kinship among the German-speaking aristocracy at the end of the early modern period. The project is situated within recent academic interest in re-defining kinship in European history and the position of unmarried women within their social milieu. An analysis of the letters by Karoline von Günderrode will demonstrate how the correspondence of the eldest and unmarried daughter of an impoverished aristocratic family were central to the formation of a network among other German-speaking aristocratic families, in which the flow of emotion and capital were integral to the social practice of family.