The Construction of Female Identity in Anna Seghers’s ‚Der Ausflug der toten Mädchen‘

Anthony Grenville

Der Ausflug der toten Mädchen, written in exile in Mexico in 1943/44, is a key text in the work of Anna Seghers, born Netty Reiling into a Jewish family in Mainz in 1900. From the perspective of exile, Seghers evokes the innocence of her schooldays before the First World War, focussing on a school excursion on the Rhine in 1912. She reflects back on the personal, political and historical factors that combine to shape the lives and identities of three schoolgirl friends over three decades: herself, forced to flee to the alien environment of Mexico, Leni, who marries a Communist activist and dies in a Nazi concentration camp, and Marianne, whose life is blighted by the loss of her fiancé in World War I and who later marries a Nazi functionary.

The women’s lives are largely dictated by the identities that they adopt or have imposed on them. These identities are constructed partly by themselves, partly by historical and political events, initiated and conducted almost entirely by men. The characters and personal features of the women and the moral and political values that they espouse interact with the impersonal historical events with which they are confronted, making the story an object lesson in the process of identity creation, in which the personal and the political intermesh. The women construct their own identities, but they do so under conditions not of their choosing, in a male-dominated world of war and racial and political persecution.