04. Focus on German Studies, Volume 22 (2015), Gender and Violence in a Fairy-tale World: Romanticism in Kerstin Hensel’s Lärchenau

Sheedy, Melissa
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Kerstin Hensel’s 2008 novel Lärchenau tells the story of Adele Konarske, a housewife who envisions herself a lost princess. Lärchenau, a quiet village in Brandenburg, becomes the stage for Adele’s imagined fairy-tale world. On its surface, the town is a sleepy community tucked away from life in the big city. On the inside, however, the village harbors a shocking trend of violence and abuse, which materializes (among other ways) on violently inscribed, grotesque bodies. Brutality and hostility occur in the relationships between siblings, parents and children, and between husband and wife. With her novel, Hensel constructs a fantasy world for her characters in which princesses, kings and wizards coexist, but this world is also troubled by a strong pattern of violence that recalls the Romantic movement of the 19th century. Through focalized female perspectives, Hensel’s narrative deconstructs the fairy-tale formula and envisions a version of Romanticism that combines themes of violence and the fantastic along with the fairy-tale elements of the novel, and offers the aspects of the body and gender to the story, which she uses to rediscover and reimagine the literary movement. In this paper, I explore the relationship between violence, gender and this newly reimagined version of Romanticism as it appears in a contemporary novel. I examine the novel’s distinctly fairytale-like structure and trace the princess Adele’s path through the story, one that diverges significantly from the course followed by the archetypal fairy-tale princess, who leaves the forest behind once she has found her prince. By depicting Hensel’s deconstruction of the basic fairy-tale formula, I demonstrate the other ways in which her novel perverts and destabilizes gender conventions, roles and expectations, and in so doing pulls its own fairy tale to pieces.