The Marquise of O———

by Heinrich von Kleist

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Marquise of O––– is a short novel written by Heinrich von Kleist about a woman who is attempting to find the father of her unborn child so that they can be married. After being betrothed to a man who is away on duty, the Marquise becomes pregnant and many assume she has committed adultery, while she alleges rape and attempts to find the man who fathered her unborn child. Her case is eventually proven and she is vindicated, showing she did not commit adultery. Let's examine some of the themes in the work.

Stigma and Redemption

As is still the case in modern times, women who are unwed and pregnant are often ostracized and cast out by society, and sometimes even those in their family. Upon learning of the Marquise's pregnancy, she is shunned by many in the town, and her father casts her out of her house. Though she professes her innocence, she is forced to live in her dead husband's estate until it is proven that she did not commit adultery. The theme of stigma is also interwoven with the idea of redemption. The Marquise is redeemed from her situation as an unwed and shunned mother when she marries the Count (the father of her child). She eventually comes to forgive the Count. Thus, he, too, is redeemed and becomes a devoted husband and father. While there is a great amount of trauma in the work, in the end, the characters are redeemed and live full lives.

Unclear Identities

This work deals heavily with the idea question of identity. This is most obviously demonstrated through the search for the identity of the father of the Marquise's child, but there are other stylistic elements and plot events that contribute to this theme as well. Many characters and locations are addressed simply by a letter—there is Count F, Colonel G, town M, Marquise of O, and so on. This stylistic choice lends a sense of mystery to the text and, on the most basic level, reinforces the lack of clarity about people's identities—a driving plot point of the novel. The Marquise's identity (in terms of her reputation) is also called into question when her parents conclude she has sought a sexual partner while unmarried. The Count's identity undergoes a similar shift when, upon realizing that he is her rapist, the Marquise reevaluates her previous opinion of him and accuses him of being the Devil.

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