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The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, or: How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead was a novel by Heinrich Böll, published in its original German (as Die Verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum, oder: Wie Gewalt Entstehen und Wohin Sie Führen Kann) in 1974.

In the novel and subsequent...

(The entire section contains 1665 words.)

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The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, or: How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead was a novel by Heinrich Böll, published in its original German (as Die Verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum, oder: Wie Gewalt Entstehen und Wohin Sie Führen Kann) in 1974.

In the novel and subsequent (1975) film version, Katharina Blum is a young housekeeper who falls in love with a young man.

That young man, Ludwig Götten, is wanted by the police on suspicion of being a bank robber.

Police investigators and tabloid journalists hound Blum about the case. The most intrusive journalist is named Tötges, played by Dieter Laser in the film, and the climax of both the novel and the film is a violent confrontation between him and Blum.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 955

Katharina Blum

Katharina Blum (ka-tah-REE-nah blewm), a twenty-seven-year-old certified housekeeper who has been in charge of the Blorna household for four years. Katharina is a very private and proper person and an almost compulsive worker bent on improving herself. When she meets a fugitive, Ludwig Götten, at a party, she immediately falls in love with him. After he spends the night with her in her condominium apartment, Katharina tells him how to avoid the police by crawling through the heating ducts, which, along with the whole complex, had been designed by her employer, Trude Blorna. She subsequently expresses no regret over her murder of the sensationalist reporter Werner Tötges and looks forward to life with Götten at the end of their eight-year prison terms.

Erwin Beizmenne

Erwin Beizmenne (EHR-veen BITS-mehn-neh), the chief crime commissioner. After Götten’s escape, Beizmenne, through a series of insensitive interrogations, attempts to establish a connection between Katharina and Götten’s crimes.

Werner Tötges

Werner Tötges (VEHR-nehr TEHT-gehs), a reporter for the sensationalist News. Tötges, disgracefully attacking Katharina’s character and honor, accuses her of involvement in Götten’s crimes. Katharina, distraught by the viciousness and lack of integrity of this man who has destroyed her privacy and reputation, invites him to her once-beloved apartment, purportedly for an interview, and shoots him.

Ludwig Götten

Ludwig Götten (LEWT-vihg GEH-tehn), a twenty-six-year-old army deserter who absconds with army funds. Götten, who is accused of being a radical bank robber and murderer, is under police surveillance when he meets Katharina. He is later wounded when apprehended by the police. He affirms Katharina’s innocence.

Hubert Blorna

Hubert Blorna (BLOHR-nah), a forty-two-year-old corporate attorney. Katharina works for Blorna and his wife, Trude. Blorna and his wife depend on Katharina to bring order to their household and lives. Blorna, who is in love with Katharina, agrees to serve as a lawyer not only for her but for Götten as well. He is distraught over the course of events and, in his despondency, neglects his appearance and physical hygiene. The scandal has undermined his association with Lüding and Sträubleder Investments and has left him and his wife in serious financial difficulties.

Trude Blorna

Trude Blorna (TREW-deh), an architect and the wife of Hubert Blorna. Trude Blorna is an outspoken person whose student radicalism is capitalized on by Werner Tötges, who refers to her as “Trude the Red.” The architectural firm with which she is associated attempts to dismiss her because of the Blum scandal, and she is blacklisted by firms that believe that her reputed radicalism and association with Katharina will alienate potential customers.

Alois Sträubleder

Alois Sträubleder (AH-loh-ees STROYB-leh-dehr), an influential businessman who is Hubert Blorna’s friend and client. Sträubleder, a married man with four children, had made a pass at Trude Blorna and is infatuated with Katharina. Although Katharina did not respond to his interest, he had driven her home from a party at the Blornas’ home and forced his way into her apartment. He is the mysterious “gentlemen visitor” remembered by neighbors. Sträubleder, in futile expectation, had given Katharina a key to his country place and a valuable ring. He desperately sought Blorna’s assistance to avoid any implication in Katharina’s police troubles.

Else Woltersheim

Else Woltersheim (EHL-zeh VOHL-tehrs-him), Katharina’s godmother, friend, and confidant. A former home economics instructor who now runs a catering business, the forty-four-year-old woman had encouraged Katharina to better herself. She attempts to provide moral support to Katharina during her ordeal.

Konrad Beiters

Konrad Beiters (BI-tehrz), a textile agent and intimate friend of Else Woltersheim. Beiters is a congenial fifty-six-year-old former Nazi. He stands by Katharina and Else when Katharina is accused of consorting with and assisting a violent criminal. It is with Beiters’ gun, which Katharina had taken without his knowledge, that Tötges is shot.

Walter Moeding

Walter Moeding (MEH-dihng), a crime commissioner, Beizmenne’s assistant. Moeding is a friendly policeman who takes pity on Katharina and treats her kindly. Katharina goes to his apartment to confess her murder of Tötges.

Adolf Schönner

Adolf Schönner (AY-dolf SHEH-nehr), a press photographer for the News. Schönner is found murdered in a wooded area on Ash Wednesday. His murder is at first falsely ascribed to Katharina.

Hertha Scheumel

Hertha Scheumel (SHOY-mehl), a salesgirl and distant cousin of Katharina. She is a seventeen-year-old blond who dresses in flashy clothes. She picks up Götten at Café Polkt and takes him to a party at Else Woltersheim’s apartment.


Karl, an undercover police agent who had been shadowing Götten. Karl, disguised as a carnival reveler in a sheikh’s costume, made a point of dancing with Hertha’s friend, Claudia Sterm, and invited himself to accompany them and Götten to Woltersheim’s party. He informed the police on the outside when Götten and Katharina left the party together.

Wilhelm Brettloh

Wilhelm Brettloh (BREHT-loh), Katharina’s former husband. After six months, Katharina left Brettloh, a conservative and sycophantic textile worker, toward whom she had developed a tremendous aversion. Brettloh is not surprised that Katharina’s irreligious and ambitious nature has led her to consort with a criminal.

Mr. Fehnern

Mr. Fehnern (FAY-nehrn), a certified accountant for whom Katharina worked after her divorce. Before he was sent to prison for embezzlement and forgery, Fehnern made it possible for her to complete an adult education course to become a certified housekeeper.

Mrs. Blum

Mrs. Blum, Katharina’s elderly mother, confined in a rest home. She is recovering from cancer surgery when her death is precipitated by an importune, and subsequently distorted, interview by Tötges.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 502

In order to elicit the sympathies of his readers, Heinrich Böll presents Katharina Blum, his protagonist, as an innocent victim of press and police collaboration. She is the “nun,” linked through her name and superficial similarities to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, but she is a saint in a post-Christian world marked by secularism and materialism. The exemplar of her capitalistic society, she is the independent career woman whose industry, thrift, and independence are rewarded by the condominium that is the symbol of her economic success. She gains sympathy as a victim, but she also forfeits sympathy because she is an uncritical participant in the society that destroys her. Despite her incarceration, for example, she has plans for investing her accumulating capital in a restaurant; she seems to have learned little about the society that persecuted her because of her loyalty, independence, and political vulnerability (neither the “Christian”’ businessman Straubleder nor the former Nazi Konrad Beiters is attacked).

Although she seems—until she kills Totges—passive in the face of the relentless persecution, her passivity is, Böll suggests, caused by her faith in justice and in the system. Appropriately enough, her only “resistance” is semantic, for she shares the narrator’s emphasis on linguistic precision and what he calls “reportorial obligations.” Katharina insists that “gracious” rather than “nice” be used to describe the Blornas’ conduct, and she distinguishes between “advances” and “becoming amorous” when speaking of her ex-husband. Like the News reporter, the police do not share her linguistic sensitivity and are cavalier about the relationship between language and meaning.

To her persecutors, Katharina is a potential object of exploitation: Straubleder wants to exploit her sexually, Beizmenne wants to use her politically, and Totges wants to exploit her both journalistically and sexually. Their actions are brutal, violent, and insensitive; Straubleder repays her loyalty to him by stating that she stole the key, Beizmenne attacks her honor by referring to her relationship with Ludwig in graphically obscene terms, and Totges (his name derives from the German toten, meaning “to kill”) destroys her reputation before attempting to seduce her. In fact, he causes his own death through his deceitful manipulation of language; so successful is he in distorting Katharina’s image that he mistakes Katharina for his media creature and acts accordingly. Like Straubleder, he is an opportunistic capitalist intent on exploitation.

Katharina’s allies are simply no match for her adversaries. Ludwig is actually a thief, not a romantic terrorist allied with a revolutionary movement. The Blornas, who seem to belong to the capitalistic class allied to press and police, find that their position is quite tenuous, given their leftist orientation. Since they initially pose no real threat to the system, their “radical” views are accommodated, but when their intervention on Katharina’s behalf threatens Straubleder, they find that they are, like Katharina, expendable. They are social liberals who cannot confront their incompatibility with the system intellectually. (Böll may also be suggesting that they are not really incompatible with that system.)


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 81

Conrad, Robert C. Heinrich Böll, 1981.

Heinrich Böll: On His Death, 1985. Translated by Patricia Crampton.

Magretta, William R., and Joan Magretta. “Story and Discourse: Schlondorff and von Trotta’s The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975),” in Modern European Filmmakers and the Art of Adaptation, 1981.

Williams, Rhys W. “Heinrich Böll and the Katharina Blum Debate,” in Critical Quarterly. XXI (1979), pp. 49-58.

Zipes, Jack. “The Political Dimensions of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum,” in New German Critique. XII (1977), pp. 75-84.

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