The Marquise of O———

by Heinrich von Kleist

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Last Updated on August 27, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 459

Heinrich von Kleist's The Marquise of O––– is a controversial work detailing the events surrounding the rape and marriage of a young widow, the Marquise, who is eventually forced to marry her rapist. The fact of her rape is never fully established in the text, but it is heavily implied, and the events surrounding the scandal create a dramatic story of shame and fear. Here are several quotes that underpin the messages in the story.

Then—the officer instructed the Marquise's frightened servants, who presently arrived, to send for a doctor . . .

Called by some scholars "the most delicately accomplished rape in our literature," the event that causes the scandal happens during the interlude of that single dash. Prior to this, the Marquise was about to be sexually assaulted by a group of Russian soldiers who had invaded the area. The Count arrived and drove the men off, saving the Marquise, but she fell faint from the fear of the event. It is immediately after this trauma that it is implied that the Count rapes her, which is particularly vile considering she had just escaped sexual assault from others, and the Count had acted as if he were a helper and savior.

In view of the circumstances which have come to light, Colonel G desires you to leave his house. He sends you herewith the papers concerning your estate and hopes that God will spare him the unhappiness of ever seeing you again.

This response, from her mother of all people, is sadly all too often the case when women are raped or are pregnant out of wedlock. The Marquise is shunned and cast away, sent to live on her own with no support to help her survive or to care for the child. Beyond that, her father says that even seeing her again would cause him great unhappiness, further displaying their shame and aggravation with the Marquise. Only when she successfully convinces them that the father was of good breeding—an incredible irony considering the events of the story and the atrocities he committed—do they forgive her and welcome her back.

Go away! Go away! Go away! I was prepared to meet a vicious man, but not—not a devil!

Upon seeing the Count again, Giuletta, the Marquise reacts with rage and despair. Her heart is broken, and she is torn apart by fear and anguish because the man in front of her is so wretched to her. It is sad that she is then forced to marry him to ensure that their "discretion" is not damaging to either one's reputation. The story ends on a positive note, saying the two grew closer and did eventually share a happy marriage, but in reality, that is far from typical.

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