From the Reading Room: Amaranthes & the Frauenzimmer

Contributed to Early Modern at the Beinecke by Bryn Savage, a doctoral student in the Yale University Department of Germanic Languages & Literature.  Bryn was a pre-prospectus research fellow at the Beinecke Library in the summer of 2008, working on the development of literary criticism in Germany in the late eighteenth century.

From the Reading Room: This series of postings highlights the research of graduate students, research fellows, and other scholars working in the Beinecke’s early modern collections.

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Here we see the title page of the Nutzbares, galantes und curioeses Frauenzimmer-Lexicon or Useful, galant and curious Ladies’ Encyclopedia, first published in 1715. Using the pen name “Amaranthes,” Gottlieb Siegmund Corvinus (1677-1747), a lawyer, notary and poet in Leipzig, attempts to describe and explain all aspects of what he perceives to be the feminine world, from famous women and typical women’s professions, to the minutiae of housekeeping and fashion. Any everyday item that could be used by the eighteenth-century woman, such as a box to hold her writing materials [Schreibe-Kaestlein] or coffee beans [Caffee Bohnen], any recipe she might use or any place that she might visit in her daily life appears here in the 1,000 pages of the Ladies’ Encyclopedia. Corvinus creates no categorical chapters, but rather organizes all topics “in an orderly alphabetical fashion,” as he writes on the title page.

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The reader is reminded of the strange yet sublime experience of leafing through Walter Benjamin’s 800-page Arcades Project [Passagen-Werk], which follows a similarly meandering path through the Paris of the late nineteenth century.[1] The juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated topics, which vary wildly in conventionally perceived importance, is as jarring and as fascinating in the Ladies’ Encyclopedia as in Benjamin’s convolutes. An entry on cadence is sandwiched between a recipe for salted cod baked in pastry dough [Cabeliau in einer Pastete] and a biography of the Roman queen Tanaquil [also known as Caecilia Caja].

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Leafing further in the Ladies’ Encyclopedia, one discovers the biography of a learned sixteenth-century duchess named Renata between entries on the radish family [Rettig] and a legal term for the forgiveness of adultery [Remittiren].

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Part practical how-to, part fantastic entertainment, part serious history, the Ladies’ Encyclopedia offers a unique glimpse into the areas of knowledge considered appropriate to women. The contours of women’s knowledge become most obvious when one considers which topics have been left out. As Katherine Goodman notes, geography was not taught to women at the time and thus cities and landmasses are not included in the Ladies’ Encyclopedia (Goodman 18). At the same time, curious household items in use in foreign lands do find a home in Corvinus’ entries.

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Here we have an entry on hammocks [Hang-Matten], which, we are invited to learn, are a sort of woven bed “hung in the air between two trees or posts” and “very common in America and other warm places, where one desires to sleep undisturbed by vermin and other poisonous animals” (739). Certain things, which few women would travel far enough from Germany to see, were considered suitable food for the imagination, while more practical information, such as the location of the Americas, remained out of bounds.

In addition to information about the status of women, the Ladies’ Encyclopedia also offers a unique look into the mechanics of the everyday at the time. In few other sources can one find such detailed descriptions of life in early eighteenth-century Germany, such as common wedding customs and butter-making.

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It is likely that the consistent detail of Corvinus’s entries on even the most mundane of topics must have seemed curious, even mad, when it was published. Today, however, this detail makes the Ladies’ Encyclopedia one of the most important sources of information on the subject.

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Amaranthes, Nutzbares, galantes und curiöses Frauenzimmer-Lexicon. Worinnen nicht nur Der Frauenzimmer geistlich- und weltliche Orden, Aemter, Würden, Ehren-Stellen, Professionen und Gewerbe, Privilegia und Rechtliche Wohlthaten, Hochzeiten und Trauer-Solennitäten, Gerade und Erb-Stücken, Nahmen und Thaten der Göttinnen, Heroinen, gelehrter Weibes-Bilder, Künstlerinnen, Prophetinnen, Affter-Prophetinnen, Märtyrinnen, Poetinnen, Ketzerinnen, Quackerinnen, Schwärmerinnen … ; Sondern auch Ein vollkommenes und auf die allerneueste Art verfertigtes Koch- Torten- und Gebackens-Buch, Samt denen darzu gehörigen Rissen, Taffel-Auffsätzen und Küchen-Zettuln, Ordentlich nach dem Alphabet … abgefaßt … dem weiblichen Geschlechte insgesamt zu sonderbaren Nutzen, Nachricht und Ergötzlichkeit auff Begehren ausgestellet… Leipzig: Bey Joh. Friedrich Gleditsch und Sohn, 1715.

This recent addition to the Beinecke Collection of German Literature was once part of the well known ducal library of the Oettingen-Wallerstein family [Fürstlich Oettingen-Wallerstein’sche Bibliothek] in the Schwabian castle [Schloss] Seyfriedberg. Beinecke call number: Zg17 C811 715n

Further Reading:

Helga Brandes: Das “Frauenzimmer-Lexicon” von Amaranthes [d. i. Gottlieb Siegmund Corvinus (1677 – 1746)], in: Das achtzehnte Jahrhundert 22 (1998), Heft 1, S. 22-30.

Brokmann-Nooren, Christiane Weibliche Bildung im 18. Jahrhundert : »gelehrtes Frauenzimmer« und »gefällige Gattin«. – Oldenburg : Bibliotheks- und Informationssystem der Univ., 1994 [Diss. U. Oldenburg 1992]. http://docserver.bis.uni-oldenburg.de/__publikationen/bisverlag/browei94/kap3.pdf

Katherine Goodman: Amazons and apprentices: women and the German Parnassus in the early Enlightenment. Boydell & Brewer, 1999.

Manfred Lemmer: Nachwort zur Neuausgabe des Frauenzimmer-Lexicons. Insel, Leipzig 1980, S. 8-9


[1] Walter Benjamin, 1892-1940. Benjamin had still been at work on the Arcades Project at the time of his suicide while fleeing the Nazis on the Franco-Spanish border. The convolutes, or chapters, of the Arcades Project were not published until 1982.

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