Marieluise Fleisser Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

For Marieluise Fleisser, born on November 23, 1901, in the Lower Bavarian city of Ingolstadt, both biology and the place of her birth became her destiny. Three men would play a major and sometimes deleterious role in her life. The first has been described as a genius, the second as a screwball, and the third as a clod. What is certain is that all of them were male chauvinists of the first rank. Her native town had a venerable ecclesiastical tradition and enjoyed its reputation as the number-one military city of Bavaria before the Treaty of Versailles compelled the sorely resented evacuation of the garrison of the five thousand combat engineers located there. Fleisser would write two plays about Ingolstadt, one of which, using the military ambience, was to make her overnight the most notorious and maligned woman in the Weimar Republic, and the other of which, exploiting the provincial Catholicism of the city, was to secure a reputation as a minor classic of the German stage almost half a century after she completed it and not long before her death.

Fleisser’s father, a stolid ironmonger and jewelry maker who ran a hardware business in town, recognized her talents and set his heart on her becoming a high school teacher. She was the only one of his four daughters encouraged to enter the gymnasium, or academic high school. Unfortunately, coeducational gymnasiums were still quite rare in Germany, and Fleisser had to attend the convent school in Regensburg, some two hours away by train. For five years, from 1914 to 1919, she received a prim and proper education in the patriarchal mold, which left her ill-equipped to stand on her own two feet and compete in a man’s world. On graduation, she matriculated at the University of Munich and began studying drama and “theatrical science” under the innovative and influential Professor Arthur Kutscher. At a carnival party, she met the well-known novelist and dramatist Feuchtwanger, who gave her some solid avuncular advice on how to write: not in the shopworn expressionist manner, but in the up-and-coming style of neorealism. She destroyed everything she had written and began anew. Through Feuchtwanger, she was introduced to the plays of Brecht and eventually, in 1924, to Brecht himself.

Hurled into the world of the Munich Boheme, Fleisser experienced a profound cultural shock, the literary outcome of which was her first play, Fegefeuer in Ingolstadt. Through connections, Brecht and Feuchtwanger were able to get Fleisser’s short fiction published in newspapers. She was beginning to make a name for herself. At the same time, she fell totally under the spell of Brecht’s genius, becoming both his companion and his literary collaborator. In 1926, Brecht arranged for a matinee performance of Fegefeuer in Ingolstadt. Although the reviews were mixed, what counted was the fact that the two most influential Berlin critics, arch-rivals who rarely agreed on anything, praised Fleisser as a fledgling dramatist of tremendous potential.

Fleisser’s next play was written on assignment from Brecht. Practically dictating the plot, he dispatched her to Ingolstadt to observe at first hand the temporary return of the combat engineers to the town and to record in dramatic fashion the “human” effects of this invasion on the populace. Brecht was pleased with the epic structure, the naïvely realistic style, and the sociological bias of the new play, all of which corresponded to his own experiments in the direction of an anti-Aristotelian theater. He had been uncomfortable with the seemingly murky metaphysics of Fleisser’s first drama. With the more down-to-earth Pioniere in Ingolstadt, he had a play into which he could sink his director’s teeth. At its premiere in Dresden in 1928, a staging with which Brecht had nothing to do, the reception had been lukewarm. Brecht arranged for a Berlin opening at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, where his word was law because the sensational run of Die Dreigroschenoper (pr. 1928; The Threepenny Opera, 1949) had made it the most celebrated theater in the German capital. He wanted to ensure the play’s success and at the same time conduct a “sociological experiment” that would expose, as he saw it, the intolerance and philistinism lurking beneath the veneer of liberalism and enlightenment of the typical bourgeois theatergoer. To achieve this, the recently converted Communist playwright-director exaggerated the fairly tepid antimilitarism of the original and injected a number of sensational sexual elements.

The play no longer seemed to belong to Fleisser; she even stayed away from the final rehearsals. Brecht reveled in the ensuing national scandal, but Fleisser bore the brunt of vicious...

(The entire section is 1942 words.)