Literary, Philosophical, and Popular Portrayals of Female Orality

This book examines at the gender dimensions of orality in German culture and thought around 1800. It uncovers oral resonances in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, demonstrates that pedagogical and didactic literature about women and girls is based on a suppression of female orality, contrasts medicalized models of (open) female and (closed) male bodies and reinterprets two classic literary heroines in terms of their oral conformity and excess.


“This is an important and innovative work that increases our understanding of the history of discursive–somatic experience in ways which continue to impinge upon our own epistemological context two centuries later. Benbow exacavates in a truly ‘archaeological’ fashion the longue durée of bodily metaphors that simultaneously mould intimate selfhood and collective precepts ascribing the places of men and women in society. As she lays bare the multifarious manifestations of feminine oral excess and their rhizomatic interconnection in the collective imagination around 1800, the author demonstrates the linkages between social practice, modes of thinking, sensual a-prioris and epoch- and gender-specific somatic apperceptions. This is a sharply perceptive scholarly contribution and will richly reward careful reading by those interested in the cultural history of the body.” – Prof. Russell West-Pavlov, Free University of Berlin

“. . . as Benbow suggests elsewhere in her analysis, the Enlightenment ideal of knowledge and social progress for all people was compromised by a re-patterning of gender roles in the same period which, allegedly following dictates found in nature, visited a mental division on both sexes and “edited out female desire” in the construction of a new ideal of feminine modesty. More than anything else, as Benbow argues, it was the central importance and allusiveness of orality, of the mouth, the vulva and speech itself, which was conscripted for the fashioning of this new conservatism around 1800.” – Prof. Tim Mehigan, University of Otago

“. . . carefully unpacks the complex symbolism of orality, showing how it could denote not just desire for food or voracious sexuality, but also hunger for knowledge, economic consumption and public speech. Benbow links this analysis to cultural conceptions of both female and male bodies . . .” – Prof. Rita Felski, University of Virginia

"After reading this book, one has a much better understanding of the ways in which orality and appetite figure both in historical gender discourse in Germany around 1800, and how these concerns have continued into contemporary gender theory." -- Prof. Jessica Riviere, Vanderbilt University

Table of Contents

Foreword Professor Russell West-Pavlov
1. Gender and Orality in Kantian Thought The Body of Art: Kant on Aesthetics and Perception
Sublime Masculine, Beautiful Feminine
Leaving Mother Nature
2. Open and Closed Bodies
The Philosopher’s Body
The Continent Male Body
The Female Body: A Leaky Vessel
3. Orality Contained: The Ideal Feminine in German Popular Philosophy
Modesty as Female Destiny
Hungry Bodies, Hungry Minds
Consuming Wives
4. Raising the Greedy Girl: Female Appetites in Pedagogical Discourses
Sophy’s Silence
Excited Girls
Joachim Heinrich Campe and the Hungry Husband
Betty Gleim: Transcending Female Desire
5. Modesty and Excess: Images of Orality in Goethe and Kleist
Goethe's Ottilie: ‘Dringt nicht in mich!’
Luciane: Unihibited Desire
Kleist's Penthesilea: ‘Die Hungrige’
Offending the Aesthetic
Penthesilea's ‘Mündigkeit’