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Shedding
Author: Verena Stefan
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SheddingAuthor(s) Verena Stefan, Johanna Moore and Beth WeckmuellerSource New German Critique, No. 13, Special Feminist Issue (Winter, 1978), pp. 133-152As any fledgling novelist soon learns, the odds against a first workas well as popular acclaimbecoming a bestseller worthy of critical attentionare astronomical at best. And if the book is brought out by an unknownpublishing house whose meager budget precludes any promotional fanfarewhatsoever, the likelihood of such success becomes miniscule indeed. YetVerena Stefans Hiutungen (Shedding), the book from which the followingexcerpt was taken, enjoyed just such a reception upon publication in 1975 byFRA UENOFFENSIVE, a small, West German feministpublisher. Despitethe total absence of commercial publicity and a small first printingrun, morethan 135,000 copies of this slim volume - a highly autobiographical,innovative blend of prose and poetry - had been sold by the endlinguistically1977.Such popularity, especially in conjunction with the wide criticalofattention paid Hiiutungen by the bourgeois as well as the left and feministin the book was not limited to any small,press, makes it apparent that interestideologically homogenous group.The reasons underlyingthis remarkablehave yet to be adequatelyreceptionexplained, but judging from the reviews and analyses which have appeared, atleast one important contributingfactor can be postulated. It is clear that-precisely because of Stefans intenselypersonal, experientialperspectiveone not as common in contemporaryliteraturein West Germany as itfeministis in the U. S. - her novel very often triggereda kind of gut-level reaction inreaders. In many cases the book struck a responsive chord of positive identifi-cation, in others it touched an unpleasantlyraw nerve, but in either event theresult was the sort of aha! moment which more impersonal, theoreticalworks generally fail to evoke. It is precisely in the context of this attempttointegrate the realm of the intensely personal with that of the undeniablypolitical that we must examine the books true aim and impact.Literature coming out of the left almost invariably concerns itself withsocial change, indeed, complaints and remedies abound, but unlike many ofher contemporariesto present a blueprintStefan does not so much attemptforastakeacritical look at the status quo of female and malechangerelentlesslybehavior patterns in modern society. Stefan does not sit back and dispenseNew GermanCritiquebutintrospectivelygleaned wisdom from a vantage point of superiority,her own phases of increasinginstead leads the reader throughawareness.she discussesthe phenomenonthose protectiveWhen,for example,of armor,liesandwhichwebuildaroundin orderourselveslayers ofself-deceptionupto be shieldedbutwhichresultinthetofrom vulnerability,ultimatelyinabilityhave trulyhumane relationships,she does so from the perspectiveonewhoofis still in the process of sheddingher own layers of armor (whencethe title).And when we see her finally abandoninginthepossibilityhopeof buildingsuch a humane relationshipwith a man after having spent years tryingtooneintheherwhichseeinsteadtochange (Samuelfollows),excerptturningthe possibilityanintimateitwithaistheof buildingrelationship woman, fromunchartedterrain.Theof one still in the process of exploringperspectivesuchliestheathearttheanddescriptionofexperiencesof novel, yet Stefanthat her narrativebe somethingmore than the record of oneclearly intendsaim is to lead both herselfand her reader towomans struggles,for her largeran understandingtheintricaciesis perceptivewhichofof patriarchalsocietytoresultinaction.enoughpositiveattitudetowardsa furtherStefans criticallanguageprovidesexample ofher awarenesssexualandtotheneedthearticulatesocial implicationsrolesofin everydayinteractionbehavior.Some of the subtletieshave noof role-baseddoubt been lost in translation,intheis madethereaderparticularly originalaware of the difficultiesin any attemptinherentto writeliteraturefeministwhen the only linguistictools available are those of an androcentriclanguage.use of the language,her breakingdownStefans unorthodoxfor instancetraditionalandwordsinordertotheaccentuatepatterns splittingcompoundlost meaningtheirtocontributedofparts, certainlycomponentHiutungensto innovativebut thisliterature,popular appeal among readers receptiveasmustalsobeviewedinthecontextaspect implicitcritiqueof Stefanslargeraim. Most simplythis aim reveals itselfas a desire to use literatureas a vehicleto criticaltofor the transitionfrom introspectionappraisal and, ultimately,action which will improvethe social realityallwomenandmen.forsuccess in leavingmore than aStefansgoal may be clear, but her ultimatemarkonherwillaudiencefleetingliteraryunexpectedlylargedepend onor not these people will, as Stefanwhethertakethetime andwonders,herselfto discover that leading one single life differentlyis importanteffortfor those same readers whoradically changingsociety as a whole. Hopefully,will in fact be challengedto gofound themselvesnodding in agreementto that of personal initiativeand beyond the stage of personal identificationwill take up the strugglefor institutionalchange.Johanna Moore and Beth Weckmuell
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