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Last Updated on August 27, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 554

The Marquise of O—— is a novella by Heinrich von Kleist first published in 1808. It narrates the story of a daughter of the Commandant of a castle, the widowed Marquise of O——; she is assaulted by a group of Russian soldiers attacking the city in Northern Italy but is...

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The Marquise of O—— is a novella by Heinrich von Kleist first published in 1808. It narrates the story of a daughter of the Commandant of a castle, the widowed Marquise of O——; she is assaulted by a group of Russian soldiers attacking the city in Northern Italy but is eventually rescued by the Russian Count F——. The Count brings the woman to the part of her father's castle unaffected by the fire.

The morning after the tumultuous events, the Commandant's family cannot thank the rescuer enough, and to the Marquise herself he appears as an angel from heaven. Count F—— makes a proposal to the Marquise, but the family is daunted by such rashness on the Count’s part. That is why her parents take their time to ponder his proposal. Meanwhile, evidence that the Marquise is pregnant comes to the surface, even though she has not been with a man since her late husband's death. Apprehensive of dishonor, the family deprives her of her title and banishes her from home.

A woman of chastity, dignity and integrity, the Marquise doubts the obvious. She bids the attending doctor be gone, thinking him a slanderer. Then she turns her thoughts to mysterious incomprehensibility of the world and even to mystical associations such as immaculate conception.

The Marquise, who was about to swoon again, drew the midwife down to her and laid her violently trembling head on her breast. In a faltering voice she asked her how inflexible the laws of nature were: was it possible to conceive without one's knowing it?

Although banished, the Marquise refuses to abandon her children and leaves home with a sense of liberation.

Having learned how strong she was through this courageous effort, she was suddenly able to raise herself, as if by her own bootstraps, out of the depths into which fate had cast her. . . . Her reason, which had been strong enough not to crack under the strain of her uncanny situation, now bowed before the great, holy and inscrutable scheme of things.

The desperate Marquise's last resort is to publish in the local newspaper an appeal to the unknown father of her unborn baby. She asks him to come forward. The next issue of the newspaper contains his response. The father is ready to appear before the Commandant. At the appointed time, the same Count who seemed an angel to the Marquise comes to the Commandant's house.

This time, the Count appears as a devil to the Marquise. It becomes obvious to her that the Count dishonored her, taking advantage of her unconscious state while the castle was being stormed. Yet he reaffirms his proposal to her, offering to redress the grievance by marrying her.

Being truly in love with the Marquise, the Count treasures her image in his heart while he looks death in the face. The Count's marriage proposal is not just to save the Marquise from dishonor. It is a matter of his own relief.

. . . it was impossible for him to go on living any longer without a clear understanding about something that was absolutely necessary for his soul's peace.

After the hurried wedding, the Marquise tries to keep the Count at bay. However, time heals all wounds, and after their first child is born, "a whole line of young Russians now followed the first."

Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 986

A lady of high social standing and irreproachable reputation, the widowed Marquise of O——, announces in the newspaper in the town of M—— that, without knowing how it came to be, she is expecting a child and, out of consideration for her family, is resolved to marry the father if he will come forward to acknowledge his paternity.

After the death of her husband three years earlier, Giulietta (the marquise) and her children lived with her parents at the fortress of M——, where her father was commandant. During an attack by Russian troops, several enemy soldiers assaulted the terrified Giulietta but were driven off by one of their officers before they could do her harm. Giulietta fell unconscious at this point, and her rescuer returned her to the care of her servants. Her father was forced to surrender the garrison, but he and his family felt indebted to Giulietta’s protector, a Count F——, and thus they learned with sorrow that on the same day as his departure from M—— he had fallen in battle. Giulietta regretted not having insisted on seeing Count F—— to thank him for his gallant deed, and several months passed before she could forget him.

In the meantime, she experienced physical discomforts that she jokingly described to her mother as oddly similar to those of pregnancy. These passed, however, and were soon forgotten. Then, to the entire family’s astonishment, Count F—— reappeared, not at all dead as first reported, and now fully recovered. He showed great concern for Giulietta’s well-being and abruptly asked for her hand in marriage. Giulietta and her parents were speechless, and the commandant assured him that his daughter’s marriage in such haste would be unthinkable. At a loss to explain the sudden proposal, the family agreed that Count F—— should depart on the important mission for which he was already overdue in Naples, with the understanding that on his return in four to six weeks his request might be favorably considered. During his absence the commandant would make the necessary inquiries about Count F——’s status and character.

Within a few days, Giulietta was again indisposed and expressed concern over her condition. When a doctor was called and diagnosed her complaint as pregnancy, she reacted with disbelief and indignantly sent him away. Confiding in her mother, she denied that she had engaged in any erotic adventure and even began to question her own soundness of mind. A midwife was summoned and unhesitatingly confirmed the doctor’s findings, whereupon Giulietta’s parents banished her from the house, and she moved with her children to the isolation of their country residence.

There she recovered her pride, accepted her family’s rejection and the “great, sacred and inexplicable order of the world,” and reconciled herself to a life of seclusion and devotion to her two present children and the third soon to be born. Only the thought that this child would suffer disgrace in good society brought her to the idea of placing the newspaper announcement with which the story opens. If anyone should respond to it she could only imagine him to be of low standing and base character.

Count F—— returns from his mission in Naples, hears with consternation what has transpired, and sets off at once for Giulietta’s retreat to renew his proposal of marriage. She resists his advances and flees, however, insisting that she will not hear what he has to say. That same evening the count sees Giulietta’s advertisement appealing to the father of her child.

Meanwhile, Colonel G—— has been petulantly nursing his wounded pride and denouncing his daughter’s disgraceful conduct, and her notice in the paper only makes him angrier. The next issue brings an anonymous reply announcing the offender’s wish to visit Giulietta in her parents’ house on a particular day and at a particular hour. The commandant is furious and interprets this as a deceitful scheme of his daughter and some secret lover to ingratiate themselves with him and to extract his forgiveness and blessing on their shameful union. Giulietta’s mother, however, goes to visit her daughter and returns finally convinced that Giulietta is as ignorant of the offender’s identity as the rest of her family. She brings Giulietta triumphantly home to receive the apology of Colonel G——, who is at first skeptical, then abjectly contrite, and finally overcome with devotion to his daughter—in a scene of unmistakably erotic reconciliation.

The family decides that Giulietta shall marry the man who replied to her advertisement and is to come to the house the following day, provided that he is not of hopelessly low station. Giulietta reaffirms her readiness to marry any but a complete scoundrel. At the appointed hour it is Count F—— who appears, and she recoils saying she was prepared to meet a depraved man, but not a devil. The commandant can only persuade her to keep her word and agree to the marriage under condition that Count F—— will renounce all conjugal rights and fulfill any duties imposed on him. The marriage is thus performed, and the count immediately retires to live in separation from his family. He is not invited into his wife’s company until the day of their son’s christening but is then gradually permitted to call more often at the house, and in the course of time, he begins a second courtship of Giulietta. When a year has passed, she consents a second time to marry him, a second wedding is celebrated, and they move into the country residence at V——. Only later does the count ask his wife why she rejected him as a devil when he appeared in response to her newspaper notice. Her answer is “that he would not have seemed a devil then if at their first meeting he had not appeared to her in the likeness of an angel.”

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