Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Big women mean big Empires"

The following juicy passage is from a book by Edward Edgeworth called The Human German, which was published in England in 1915. Its intent was, seemingly, to humanize British and American perceptions of the German people during the First World War, although with mixed results according to contemporary critics. This passage, from the chapter called "The Human Woman" (woo!), is describing the change in the Teutonic beauty ideal from stout to willowy, with some hints at the coming flapper culture. Please humor my occasional interjection, in brackets.
. . . some women here are worth making graven images of. The North-German is derided as Hausfrau--derided with justice, for domesticity is the cancer of Love [!]. But the Hausfrau is the dominant, not universal, type. Money, travel, Paris fashions, sport have made another type. You may see it in Tauentzienstrasse at five; and on the front page of Lustige Blätter. It is feeble in girlhood; neutral in early youth; high at a later age, best when far advanced in the nine-and-twenties. It is well-dressed, full-bosomed, straight; without grace or ideality; with something trim, acid, and keck [saucy], which pleases men who are tired of domestic adoration; and think that food without sugar would be change after food without sauce.

Till lately these women were unreasonably stout. That was the race-notion of beauty; and the race-notion, say anthropologists, is an exaggeration of the race-type. Men loved fat women; and began their love-letters, "My Thick One" (Meine Dicke!); and women knew it, and advertised themselves in the Frankfurter Zeitung as "A sympathetic, healthy, rotund phenomenon"--"Eine sympatische, gesunde, rundliche Erscheinung"; and in the street foreigners were struck by the general stoutness, or would have been struck had not provident town-planners made the sidewalks wide [hiii-yo!]. Decently fleshed Britons were pitied as consumptive . . . newspapers brimmed over with luxuriant bust advertisements, promising fatness for a crown. The drawings of one advertisement were copied from England, with sense reversed. The slim, but sufficiently rounded lady who in England appeared as regenerated "After" here appeared as miserable "Before"; and the bulbous monstrosity which in England appeared as the terrible "Before" here came out as the regenerated "After." That stage has gone. With Europe’s general thinning, and the orgy of undress, Woman here deliquesces into diaphanous tenuity; and soon she will resemble German beef, which never bears on its brink the smallest ridge of fat.

As usual--for human Germany, like human England, is nervous--the new orgy of thinness caused a fright. Herr Grösser printed the pamphlet Is Our Physique Worse? to show that town-bred females are two inches less round the chest than they were in '85. "Big women," he says, "mean big Empires. The ancient Germanic mothers had vast hips and capacious busts; the older drawings and statues of Germania show the type. Where today are the Germanias? Once Europe used to laugh at our figures and fear our battalions; now our figures, dwindled to British unsubstantiality [sic], are treated with respect; but are our battalions?"
So much more to say here (how prescient is "general thinning and the orgy of undress"?), but I have three things to note (very busy gigglin) at the moment:
  • Did the Frankfurter Zeitung have personal ads in 1915?
  • Where, oh fucking where, can I get a copy of Is Our Physique Worse? Must have.
  • Herr Grösser sounds like a huge perv.
Love,
Liz
- a sympathetic, healthy, rotund phenomenon

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