Pushing the "Scented Envelope": Elisa von der Recke at the Cultural Crossroads Carrie L. Cox Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages, BYU Master of Arts This thesis serves as an introduction to the 5-volume electronic edition of the collected works of the influential German-language author Elisa von der Recke to be published by the Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages at Brigham Young University. The compilation presents a modern edition of Recke's published writings and letters in German, with an extensive critical apparatus in English, including introductions to the edition, author and individual sections, biographical information, a complete bibliography of primary and secondary works, a photo/portrait gallery, and critical annotations. During her life as an author, traveler, social luminary, and salonnière, Elisa von der Recke (1754-1833) stood at the crossroads of European history and culture. Born into a German-speaking noble family in the Duchy of Courland (now Lithuania), Recke was positioned between the conflicting intellectual discourses of religion and rational Enlightenment; between intellect and sentiment; between the noble class, to which she belonged, and the bourgeoisie, which she preferred; between traditional views of a woman's role, and her own ceaseless intellectual striving. This essay examines the way Recke creatively asserted herself as an individual in spite of the limitations of her time in three main areas. First, I discuss the way that Elisa writes her memoir in an expertly layered style, utilizing her author's voice alternately as both character and narrator. Second, I examine discusses her unconventional education and why it allowed for exceptional opportunities for a woman at her time, and thirdly, I consider Elisa's lifelong search for affection that led her to uniquely constructive avenues atypical of someone so deprived of consistent affection as Elisa had been in her childhood and marriage. Because of Recke's central position in the culture of her time, her writings provide a wealth of insight relevant to gender roles, political, religious and philosophical history, as well as travel and culture. What was unique about Elisa von der Recke, was her quiet refusal to remain within the borders set for her by society, her social status and her gender. Where many women might never have questioned the role they were assigned and its restrictions, and others never found a way to escape them, against all odds, Elisa burst politely through the "scented envelope" that contained her, and literally created herself, her education, her role in society, and her reputation, becoming in the process a truly remarkable woman.



College and Department

Humanities; Germanic and Slavic Languages



Date Submitted


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German, Elisa von der Recke, women's literature, epistolary novel, Sophie project