The Devious Second Story in Kleist's Die Marquise von O...

by Armine Kotin Mortimer
The Devious Second Story in Kleist's Die Marquise von O...
Armine Kotin Mortimer
The German Quarterly
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Devious Second Story in Kleist's Die Marquise von O...

He was occupied with the forming of a pab tern out of the manifold chaos of life, and the materials with which he worked seemed to make preoccupation with pig- ments and words very trivial.

W. S. Maugham, Of Human Bondage

Recent readers of DieMarquise von O...

have shown how the story plays out the Kantian crisis of uncertainty that Kleist suffered shortly before writing the novella. The "gebrechliche Einrichtung der Welt," so tellingly evoked for the last time just a few

lines before the end, casts doubt on the pos- sibility of clean, certain conceptions and ex- plains why an angel can coexist with a devil in the person of the Russian officer, why appearance can coexist with reality, or a "reines BewuStseinn with a Webamme" (143,122). Putting these and other contra- dictions before the characters with excruci- ating intensity, the events of the novella also inform about the "defectsn in the writing itself, which refuses to disclose except indirectly. In Die Marquise von 0.. ., one finds anexcellent illustration ofwhat Ihave calledasecond story (Mortimer 1988; 1989). Unless we spell out the compelling effect the narrative has on the reader, we may offer a poor shadow of Kleist's infamous el- lipsis, for included among the defective or- ders of the narrative world, with which we must come to terms, is the impossible co- existence of mpe and love. Roland Barthes, who had originally

planned to devote the seminar that became S/Zto &Marquise von O...,has described the story as both naiveand devious:

J'ai cherchb. . .une oeuvre 'doublen qui se pnhente d'une fapn si littk!ralement nar Ative qu9elle en he- h contester le me dble m6me du dcit, comme si elle methit ler&it en& guillemets, h la manibre d'une citation . . .;une oeuvre apparem- ment najive et &dement tr&sretorse ...

(Legrain de la uoix 51,70)

Several have since shown how the story is double, and how it opposes appearance to ~ality;duplicity harshly forces the reader to accept the cognitive dissonance stemming hm the characters' inability to know. No doubt, Kleist's novella is naive in its first, "apparentn story, but devious because it has a "realn second story; the existence of the second story makes it 'literally narrativen and putsintoquestion thevery modelofthe story. I would like to exploit Barthw's opposition of 'naive' and 'devious,' not only as ethical postures of characters and readers (let us say: innocence, candor, and simplicity vs. in- tricacy, concealment, and maneuvering) but also asfactors of narrative construction that put the story into quotation marks (a nearly literal metaphor). The naive and the devious are the poles between which taae reader of the storyoscillates.Akind of wager beckons: Just how devious can the text make the reader?

On first reading, we want to know, as much as the marquise does, how she became with child. Pregnancy is an outcome that admits of only one cause, and that

The German Quarterly 67.3 (Summer 1994) 293

cause has not been told. Yet it must have occurred somewhere among the events nar- rated in the first part of the story, early during the flashback leading to the opening newspaper advertisement. So convincing is the marquise's insistence on her "mines BewuBtseinn (e.g., 122) that the reader must conclude-with the help of various indications in the story, and in spite of the midwife's ironic assertion that many young widows in the marquise's situation claim to have lived on desert islands (124)-that someone has raped her. That, of course, is the second story. Aristocratic ideology, the object of ironic distance, keeps the unwel- come rape narrative in the second-story mode as long as possible. A dastardly deed committed by a man the marquise is to many and eventually to love, it isbest left unsaid; it remains an ellipsis, the only pos- sible story to supplement a blank center which is neither masked nor covered by an- other story.l Silence or ironic euphemisms always replace the word "rape." For exam- ple, when the advertisement appears and Frau G... must consider that her banished daughter may not know, after all, how she became pregnant, she thinks:Wnd ein so ungeheurer Vorfall wlire-?" (131). Insisting on such devious procedures, the text wagers that it will succeed in forcing the aristocratic reader to embrace a happy end- ing, to accept the erstwhile wicked assail

ant as a suitable husband and father, and to wish our heroine happiness in marrying him.2Yet, however insistently the textmay solicit us to analyze the feelings, motives, and desires of the characters, the words on the page always mark the limits of our read- ings.While some have assessed how naive or devious the characters are, as if they were real human beings,and others have shown how their behavior, motivations,

and psychology resemble those of real hu- mans, one gains only so much by debating what the marquise knew.3 Rather, my pur- pose now is to show how the second-story construction, forcing the reader to be devious, wins the wager.

Opening with the shocking newspaper announcement, the narrative structure seizes upon the reader's voyeuristic atten- tion immediately. Thus baited, the reader might inventory the temporal indications scattered through the first part of the story, since not only does pregnancy result from only one cause, but it also obeys a quite stringent chronology. Yet we would be disappointed. Imprecise adjectives like 'many," "several," or "a few" frustrate the hope of establishing a sure chronology, and time seems impossibly long. Many months go by before Julietta can forget the count, believing him to be dead; her condition makes her unfit for company "game Wo- chen lang"(109); having been wounded on the day of the rape, the count fears for his life for several months, after which he still has the time to recover completely, return to the my, and, finding himself very unhappy, think repeatedly about writing to the marquise and her father, another four to six weeks goby after his first visit to the family until he returns; finally, when the doctor confirms she is pregnant, the mar- quisesemhes her memory of the past year. Unless Kleist hopelessly lacked basicmedi- cal knowledge, this stretching of time probably intends to deceive; in any case, it puts up an initial obstacle.

Until a second reading, we may not even recognize how deficient the narrative is. Just as the faiW chronology of the extended flashback has simply omitted the event of the rape, so the entire story has omitted the term, and the ellipsis itself has probably gone unnoticed. Like a place- holder, the famous dash supplies its inser- tion point. Masterfully laying low the five Russian soldiers, the count has just given his arm to the marquise and, addressing her politely in French, has led her to the wing of the palace that is not burning, where she sinksto the floor unconscious:

Hier-traf er, da bald darauf ihre er- schrockenen Frauen erschienen, Anstal- ten, einen Arzt zu rufen; versicherte, indem er sich den Hut aufsetzte, dd sie sich bald erholen wiirde; und kehrte in den Kampf &ck (106)

Rare would be the reader who, on first read- ing,knows that Graf F... has raped the Marquise von 0... in her moment of uncon- sciousness, in the space of the dash.4 The narrative discourseforces the reader to look for clues and to 'writen the second story. Such clues, includmg what Lillian Furst has ap- propriately called 'stealthy lexical indicators" (87), point to the missing subject of the central syntagm in the grammar of the story, a subject we must seek among the characters of the story if we are to find an earthly progenitor at all.

In Kleist's stylized rhetoric, always a foregrounded feature, ironic euphemisms for rape aimed at the reader, if not the char- acters, point insistently to the second story. The code of war--siege, conquest, surren- der, shots, and pistols-is omnipresent. In commenting on Graf F...'s surprise pro- posal of marriage, the family agrees his behavior isvery strange and "dafi er Damen- herzen durch Anlauf, wie Festungen, zu erobern gewohnt scheine" (114). Appear- ance opposes reality, for the second mean- ing of this double, devious, and ironic phrase (ironic because the narrative does not recognize its own reference) is of course the more literal assault on the heroine, neatly inserted in the military assault on the citadel. The dreamy narrative about the swan Thinka includes a sullying action. The all-knowing and cynical midwife re- assures the marquiseUdal3 sich der muntere Korsar, der zur Nachtzeit gelandet, schon finden wiirde" (124). It is on a happier note, but still in the arenaofmilitary action, that the commandant jests (not without irony) that he must surrender once more to the count when the marquise makes her half promise not to take any other engagement.

The count's behavior and speech hint at

his guilt. He blushes repeatedly whenever it is a question of the marquise. A broad hint is addressed to the reader when he cries out: "Julietta! Diese Kugelracht dich!" as he falls wounded in battle, but only the juxtaposition of the incidentally mentioned "ihre Namensschwester" (108) with this enigmatic cry informs us of the marquise's given name. Julietta, who is a very poor guide for the reader, misreads completely, of course. Proposing to her, the count ad- mits to one dishonorable deed in his life, which he is on the point of making good; once again, the reader may interpret, with- out the help of either the commandant or his daughter. The count demands how the marquise feels and brushes off her conven- tional reply by saying he knows she is not well. He concurs "mit einer aufflammenden Freude" in her hope that her illness will be without consequences or Tolgen" (110)- consequences we arealready in a position to guess, since only a page before the mar- quisehad confessed to a feeling like the one she had when pregnant with her second child. When she asks him if he is crazy to ask her hand in marriage so suddenly, he replies "es wiirde ein %g kommen, wo sie ihn verstehen wiirde!" (119)-and this day we presume to be the one when she is sure she is pregnant. At his first proposal, he had already asked if she understood him, as if to find out if she knew she had been raped. Finally, the story ofthe swan Thinka is a parable of desire, rape, and purity, and a window into the psychology ofthe Russian officer. One may take the swan story for an emblem of the narrative in which it is em- bedded, a symbolic reduction of the entire story. Like the novella, the swan fantasy moves between romantic ideal and worldly reality, between a 'reines BewuRtsein" and a sullying action; thus, it also moves be- tween the angelic and devilish poles. In his 1976 film of the novella, Erich Rohmer in- terrupted the count's narrative just before he mentions that he threw mud at Thinka. Instead, a long and awkward pause ensues, afterwhich he turnsto the marquise to h

ish, as Kleist's text does, by telling her he loves her extraordinarily It is not until the last scene that the count finishes the story aboutThinka,where it serves to console the countess and explain to her how she re- mained unspotted even after he had be- smirched her. Rohrner thus limits his inter- pretation of the swan, for it might also be read as a parable of the count's desire for forgiveness.All of these clues together con- stitute the index of his guilt, a code of rape, addressed by the narrative to the reader. At what point in one's first reading one as- sembles them into the second-story whole remains open for discussion.

If Barthes had treated Die Marquise von O... by the method he applied to Sar- msine,he would, no doubt, have dwelt on the enigma of the impregnation, in the way he treated the enigma of Zambinella. There is a moment of snare: 'le leurre, feinte qui doit Stre dbfinie . . . par son circuit de des- tination (Bunpersonnage 31un autre, 21luimgme, du discom au lecteur>" (S/Z 215). Here, there are snares addressed by the count to the marquise, by the marquise to herself, and by the discourseto the reader. Graf F... feigns not to have raped the marquise; she feigns not to recognize the probability that he alone had the opportu- nity to rape her in her moment of uncon- sciousness; the discourse feigns to tell the whole story but elides the key. There is also a long moment ofjamming: 'le blocage, con- stat d'insolubilitt? de l'bnigme" (ibid.). Here, the admirable narrative bravura of the author isdisplayed in allits amplitude: the stunning scenes with the doctor and the midwife; the paradox of the 'reines Bewul3t- sein, und eine Hebamme" in the dazzling confrontation between Julietta and her mother; the commandant's melodramatic banishment ofhis daughter, punctuated by a pistol shot; the sweetly melancholic, idyl- licepisode of the marquise's meditations on her god-given child in the garden of her country house; the father's forgiveness and incestuous umssing of his daughter. Duringthese many brilliant pages, the enigma remains blocked, utterly unavailable to resolution. The characters apparently have no guesses, as they speculate whether the person who will arrive at eleven o'clock will be of a noble rank or not.

For, soon enough, readers will realize that they are to remain as baffled as the marquise, if their own "reines BewuStsein" is resistingknowledge. Ideologically handi- capped like the heroine, the reader is tor- mented by the contradiction between ro- mantic ideality and worldly realism. A naive image of a romantic ideal contests sophisticated practicality (let us say, the Yads of life"). Just as the marquise sees the count, her savior or "Retter," as an angel ("Der Marquise schien er ein Engel des Himmels zu win" [105]), the reader sees him as the proverbial "knight" (Ritter) in shining armor, the very image of the roman- tic hero. The text assimilates savior to knight in the space of three lines. Like the Savior, the count returns from death-dra- matic, heroic, and resurrected-to throw himselfat his heroine's feet: 'schon, wie ein junger Gott, ein wenig bleich im Gesicht" (110). His undying passion makes him a lover well suited to rescuing the marquise hm her secluded widowhood, and a hus- band matched to her station in life. Hisrectitude and honesty have further been proved by his very honorable treatment of the commandant; his manly virtue, by his prowess in battle and the approbation of his general; and his moral character, by his refusal to disclose the perpetrators of the attack on the marquise, as well as by the fact that he behaves throughout with modesty and honor. As if this were not enough, he ismaster of a large fortune. How readily the reader is made to wish, romantically, that the marquise would take this godlike knight as her ideal husband! Yet our con- aciousness of reality (the fact that the Virgin Mary was the only woman in history to be- come pregnant without the help of an earthly man, as the midwife confms 11241) and the mounting evidence that the countisthe author of the rape, clash rnightr

ily with this heroic image we would prefer to hold, unless we accept to be, like the story, devious. For the romantic reading, which is really a misreading, is naive; the novella, with its second story, requires a certain re- alism that calls for a devious reading.

The second story is finally confinned in the last four pages of the novella, when the count presents himself to the marquise in answer to her advertisement. Yet the naive readmg, the one that would hold to the ro- mantic ideality of the story and preserve the count as the ideal lover and husband, resists admitting of his dishonorable deed. If resistance were to prevail, what second story might the second half ofthe narrative confirm?

Daydreaming may answer. Let us sup- pose that the count has not raped the mar- quise. How then might we account for his behavior after the battle? Perhaps he has fallen quite madly-though quite honor- ably-in love with her. Hence his marriage proposals, his concern for her health, his persistence. At the marquise's house in the country, we know he does not doubt that she is pregnant, but this Qebliche Erschei- nu& (129) only makes him love her mom5 Here, however, instead of a half promise, he comes away with a formal and vigorous rejection. What course does he then have to obtain her hand in marriage? Only to reply to the advertisement as ifhe were the father of the child; to step into that unknown man's shoes; to take that shame upon himself, as the price he must pay to collect on the marquise's public promise to marry; to endure stoically the harsh conditions the marriage contract proposes; and, by this behavior, to win her eventual love. The second story would then tell of love's power to over- come the prejudices of Italian (or German) aristocratic society. For a Russian noble- man who isaccustomed to besiegingwomen like fortresses, who has no parents to rue his choices, who ismaster ofhis own fortune and amply able to confirm his masculine honor through his military successes and his membership in several orders of knights, none of these prejudices can attack the integrity of his love. Nothing is more important, and the fact that the story ends on a moment of particularly warm conjugal intimacy and understanding confirms this reading, which would preserve our naive romantic ideal.

Rohmer's film lends itself particularly well to thisfantasy. The count is portrayed throughout as heroic, romantic, and kmghtly. In a shot taken from below, look- ing upward, Graf F... fust appears to the marquise dressed entirely in white, the sun glowing through a flowing white cape spread wide like angel wings, as if pausing in flight before landing among the wild Russian soldiers. His every appearance is as a perfect gentleman and a perfectly romantic lover, unswervingly respectful and undyingly passionate. My recollection is that the perhaps sufficiently devious Paris audience watching this film with me, in 1976, was tickled by its naivet4, since giggling and snickering greeted its melodra- matic repre~entation.~

Rohmer's remark- ably close reading, while allowing a much more explicit insertion of the rape (ina sig- nificant revision of the text), is also a thor- oughly romantic, angelic, and idealistic interpretation.

Yet thisreading would be "wrong" for a host of reasons, because it neglects or mis- reads the entire series of clues that index the count's culpability and remorse; because it reads, as it were, with blinders on, on the model of the heroine herself. The marquise may, in her country solitude, re- flect, as she knits, that the father of her child is a god, and perhaps even imagine him in the shape and form of the savior who wrested her from the criminal Russian hoard. Her violent rejection of the count in- dexes her aristocratic pride and prejudice; if she is convinced she cannot marry the count, at this point, it is because she per- sists in seeing him among the honorable kmghts, whereas a rapist can only be a villain. Rohmer made this quite explicit, in one ofhis few departures from Kleist's text.

As the family conjectms on the identity of the man who will appear on the third of the month, the marquise delivers herself of the following explanations: the count isthe only one not under suspicion; one cannot rescue a woman and take advantage of her at the same time; and one cannot fight a fire all night and also prowl around her bed. She finishes, with intense certainty, that it will not be the count at eleven o'clocktomorrow! With this addition, Rohmer concretized a cognitive theory that one can derive from the story: that two mutually exclusive events cannot occur in the normal order of the world. In the text of the novella, once Graf F... has come to claim his paternity, both the mother and father as well as the brother .want to know why he ismore hate- ful to the marquise than any other man, but they cannot wring an answer from her.7

The acuteness of the contradiction that divides Julietta between her romanticideal and her clear conscience (which is also a realistic consciousness of events) surfaces especially in the two most striking appear- ances of the count: during the battle and in the scene just ev~ked.~

When the second story blazes into the marquise's horrified consciousness, she furiously brands him a devil. 'Gehn Sie! gehn Sie! gehn Sie! rief sie, indem sie aufstand; aufeinen Lasterhaften war ich gefaot, aber auf keinen- --Teufel!" And she runs out, not before sprin- kling mother, father, and brother with holy water (141). Now the marquise can no longer refuse to read the second story, and it is partly because he thus wrenches her daydream from her that the count is more hateful than any other man. The angel who may have ravished her, who inexplicably fathered her godlike child, the young god who returned from death to pronounce his love-all these belong to the unreal reading she must now abandon. The last sentence of the story indexes her acceptance of her husband only by alluding to the contradic- tion that divided her: 'er wiirde ihr damals nicht wie ein Teufel emhienen sein, wenn er ihrnicht, bei seiner ersten Erscheinung, wie ein Engel vorgekommen wh" (143). Thus,she reveals her blindness or misread- ing, but, like allthe informationgiven about the second story, she does so only indirectly. The reader readily perceives the irony in her sentence, for it is when the count ap- pears to her as a devil that he is really saving her from dishonor (a child born out of wedlock), whereas he was in reality a devil when he only appeared to be an angel sav- ing her from a dreadful fate (rape). In a roundabout way, the countess communi- cates her state of mind; she appears to tell the count she was wrong to see him as a devil, excusinghererror on the excesses she easily fell into. In reality, she is saying how wrong she was to see him as an angel in his first "Erscheinung"; to be precise, she tells him at last, covertly, that she knows he raped her, and that this knowledge now no longer makes her see him as a devil.9 A hard enough decision to many a villain the marquise could make; to see the angel turned into the devil and yet to love him as an angel, that is the near impossibility- but that is the wager the story wins.

Imentioned that the marquise is a very poor guide for the reader, in spite of her will to be lucid and to discover how she became pregnant; but another character is at cer- tainmoments the very model of the second- story reader, provided we pay attention to her: it is the mother. Her agency is very strong, especially in bringing about the Tersohnung" between father and daugh- ter. The theatrical device she invents, cast- ing the 'Jiiger" Leopardo in the role of the baby's father, is both a significant point of access to the second story and a further proof of the marquise's unconscious or, per- haps, conscious failure to guide us there. With anguish, the marquise recalls that one day she was asleep on the divan and awoke to hd Leopardo near her--could he have raped her in her sleep?1° Since the mar- quise fails to make the mental leap from this scenario to what happened during her faint, the reader assesses the recollection about Leopardo as a second-story clue that bypasses the marquise, among the games Kleist plays with the reader.ll

The words and deeds of Frau G... also point to the strategies of the narrative dis- course.Ina roundabout way, which isYemininewas opposed to the "masculine" straight shooting of the father, the mother's devious behavior approaches and uncovers the sec- ond story.12 Upon the count's appearance in response to the advertisement, it is she who out: Wen erwarten wir denn-? . . . Wen sonst, .. .wen sonst, wir Sinnberaubten, alsihn-?" (140), while the mar- quise can only say: 'Ich werde wahnsinnig werden, meine Mutter!" Here, the mother calls her a fool and whispers something in her ear, and as the marquise sinks to the sofa her mother cries to her: Was fehlt dir? Was ist geschehn, worauf du nicht vorberei- tet warst?" (141). In the face of the mar- quise's resistance to the exploding second story, her mother reveals how well she had already read it. We can only guess at her whispered words, but they are the index of her successful reading and of her accep- tance of the rape. Just as she preferred to believe in an act of fate rather than her daughter's guilt, and preferred a happy and sexual marriage to a continued celibacy, so she accepts the elided event, and guides the reader to abandon the naive reading for the devious one, which accommodates the prac- tical realities ofthe world without abandon- ing the romantic ideal. It is such a move that puts the story in quotation marks. We are closer to the mother, in our reading ac- tivity, than to the marquise. Thus are united the impossible poles of the reading, in the mind of the mother and in the mind of the real reader following her guide; all else would make us 'wahnsinnig." Wen er- warten wir denn?" and Was fehlt dir? Was ist geschehn, worauf du nicht vorbereitet warst?"-these words am also addressed to the reader. Thediscourse has prepared the

reader for what happened; nothing is lacking. The mother's whispered words consti- tute a second blank center, on this electri- fying page of discovery and revelation: one reflecting the first. The moment when the second story occurred was during the bat- tle; here, it is told. The two moments figure the two centers of an ellipse. Both are text-less; indeed, the dash on the second page, in which the rape takes place, is only one of many. Dashes betoken moments of breath-taking (sometimes literally) when the narrator or the characters who are speakingstop the flow ofspeech. Very often, this respiratory punctuation occurs be- causea characteis breath is taken away by the events, when words fail him. These are acute moments of transgression and inter- diction, where the text recoils from its own monstrosity and shuts up in horror. I cited an example above: Wnd ein so ungeheurer Vorfall wiire-?" (131). At V..., the mar- quise's country home, the count wants to tell her "ein einziges, heimliches, ge- fliistertes-," an act that foreshadows the mother's whispered account of the second story; but she does not want to know (129). When the count claims the marquise in marriage, the page is riddled with these Kleistian dashes, and no fewer than three are needed to render the marquise's horror before the %ufeLn Here, the ellipsis prolif- erates in keeping with the unspeakability of the thoughts that the count's arrival forces mother and daughter to entertain, thoughts that they had refused to come to on their own, and that now enter conscious- ness without rising to speech. Indeed, thoughts stifle speech; the mother cries out: "Julietta-! und wie erstickt von Gedan- ken, ging ihr die Sprache aus" (140).Those dashes-Gedankenstriche-are thus tell- ing variations on the initial ellipsis of the story, repemussions of that elided event. The rape erupts into the events but not into speech, or into the text; the repercussions ofthe dash insure that it never reaches nar- rative consciousness. Speech fails the char-

acters so often as to remind the reader of Kleist's speech impediment and shy si- lences, of which Thomas Mann speaks (ix, x). The marquise is "sprachlosn as she is saved by the count (105), the entire family likewise, when he first returns from the grave; the mother cannot speak beyond her exclamation %in reines BewuBtsein, und eine Hebarnme!" (122); and so on. Thus do the empty centers of the ellipse proliferate into multiple ellipses, instances of silence by characters, narrator, and, perhaps, also reader. Silences puncture holes to which they mark the borders, the edges of danger- ous sinkholes crammed with eloquent meaning.

In contrast to the text's excessive si- lences, the love scene between father and daughter tells too much. Some readers simply ignore it, but Iam fully in agreement with Deborah Esch, who speaks of "the uneasiness produced by these passages" and amusingly admit. that "respectable criti- cism is understandably disconcerted" by this "unsettling featuren (147). In brief, the father-love episode resembles a 'sex" scene of such melodramatic excess, and takes so overwhelming a part in the narrative, that the reader immediately seeks comfort in interpretation. A displacement, the event stands in for the count loving the marquise. It remains the only expression of what the first story still refuses to tell, even when it could do so without scandal: sexual love, of which the only traces, the holes' edges, Lie in summary form in the 'ganze Reihe von jungen Russen" of the last page. Thus,it inscribes the pole of love, aversion of physi- cal contact that is protected from being called a rape (it is witnessed with pleasure by the mother), but which readers are free to interpret. In grotesquely magnified de- tail, it is the scene that would have hap- pened if there had been an agreed-to love act between the count and the marquise.13

DieMarquise von O... tells all, in spite of the dashes, the Leerstellen, the dying, stifled speech, the displacements: the edges of the holes indicate what fell into them.

These openings force the reader to seek the clues remaining in the text, the words that indicate that something is missing, the markers of the holes, the indices of the sec- ond story: they require readers to dirtytheir hands.

The second story can be compared to what Umberto Eco has called aUghost chap- ter," which the reader tentatively "writes" and the text implicitly validates (214). The ghost chapter Ihave written about this fa- mous novella is the one that people have always known. Yet our 'detective" reading, which struggles to find out how the mar- quise became pregnant, then who raped her, and when, where, and how, neverthe- less remains naive. Such a reading isa mat- ter ofwhat Barthes has called the "effeuille- ment des vBrit45s,'' the "falling away" of truths, or the finding out of hidden mean- ings, the progressive unveiling of the enigma-as in a striptease. Not until we are attentive to the narrative devices do we practice a reading that finds the "feuillethn of signifiance: the flaky, layered, plural meanings vehiculated by the discourse (Le plaisir du texte 20,23). (Signifiance, not sig- nimnce, is the result of the activity of sig- nifying-the signifier's meaningful effects.) The reader who enjoys the YeuiUeth" of sig- nifianoe does not expect to %nod a real truth %ehind" appearances intended to de- ceive. Yet our reading activity oscillates with pleasure between these naive and de- vious practices.14 The ideological blockage of the second story corresponds to a narra- tive design which has its ultimate justifica- tion in what Kleist called, a few lines before the end of the story, the "gebrechliche Ein- richtung der Welt" (143). It is because on all sides this fragile, imperfect, defective arrangement of the world is recognized that the count feels he is forgiven, and begins anew to woo the countess. If honorable love is masked by rape, and ambiguity, dispar- ity, and dislocation characterize sexual re- lations, the ending nevertheless appears to confirmour certain knowledge of the famil- iarproposition: 'love conquers alpIfwe are to read that message, we are fomd to for- give a "gebrechliche Einrichtung" in the narrative, too: the so-called happy ending forcesus to read the rape; we cannot get to the ending without reading the rape event into the story. Critics have pointed out that the text begs the question of where and when the sexual penetration took place, and at least one reader stresses that it asks how (Dietrick 318); but I think the most troubling question is why the count raped the marquise, a question that has hardly received the attention it merits. Martin Greenberg, in a note to his translation, boldly asserts that

Kleist is deliberately suggesting that the count's impulse in possessing the marquise while she lay unconscious was a manifestation of that same impetuous, ardent quality which makeshim soattractive when we come to know him better in the story--indeed that the rape was in its way an act of tenderness, even of virtue.


No one would, Ithink, be so irresponsibleas to equate rape with virtue, and one need not suffer hm aristocratic sensibilities to pm- test one's disgust at such a proposition Yet something like tendemem insinuates itself into the disseminated blank centers, as one of the flaky layers. The story's wager is to claim not just that love comes to the mar- quise in spite of the attack, but precisely bemuse of it. The second story insures that this pattern emerges hm the chaos of life, withthe rape asa necessary part ofthe figure in the tapestry-indeed, the key without which the design of human love cannot be


Isitpossible that rape expresses desire? Each reader decides how to judge the char- acters, at the point at which what passes for closure fades away. What is certain is that the narrative awakens and calls forth

desire in the reader: first, desire to know how the marquise conceived; then, desire for her to discover it; perhaps desire for the count to succeed in hiswooing (for instance at V...); necessarily, a desire to master the story by being able to say why the count rapes and what roles we can give to our romanticidealism and our worldly realism. What is certain is that there is no compen- satory mechanism that uses love to balance or cancel rape. Instead, the reader isdriven between the poles of the naive, romantic, apparent, godlike story and the devious, worldly, real, human story told by the dis- course.Absolute knowledge would recon- cilerealism and idealism, ultimately reject- ing the angeYdevil polarity and all others; but the text does not bring us that far. In our newly enlarged, tempered understanding of the romanticideal may we find our reward nevertheless, when the happy marriage embraces worldly realism and weds opposites. It isnot a comfortable thing to say that rape ispart of this "Einrichtung der Welt." Although readers would like an immaculate reading, one that the young girl of Kleist's epigram can read without blushing, they have to forgo it. No single- voiced or innocent reading of DieMarquise von possible, and it is up to each reader to come to terms with the loss of innocence.


lother second stories masquerade behind false fronts: for instance, in Maupassant's "Bombard."

2Kleist did not win his wager easily. Read- ers of the 1808issue of the journal Phiibus were apparently shocked and scandalized by the story, claiming a young lady could not read it without blushing. Kleist tookrevenge in anepigram: "Dieser Roman ist nicht fiir dich, meine 'Ibchter. In Ohnmacht! / Schamlose Posse! Sie hielt, weia ich, die Augen blo13 zu." Quoted in Dyer (60f.).

3Accordingto the thesis of several readers, the marquise does not know how she became

pregnant because she is repressing a guilty sexual desire. McGlathery (189, n. 15) inven- tories these readers; he also summarizes the opinions of previous critics on this and other questions of interpretation. Seeworks cited for more recent studies.

4I am skeptical of those who claim they knew immediately. Dyer, for instance, assumes that the reader has very early on guessed that it was the count who made the marquise preg- nant (66). The translators of the Penguin edi- tion, David Luke and Nigel Reeves (20f.), also insist that the reader has guessed by the time of the marriage proposal at the latest. Accord- ing to Swales (129), modern students argue that the reader knows after "only a few para- graphs" and views the characters with suspi- cion.

5Surely the "liebliche Erscheinung," one of the more important of the many "appearances" in the story, refers to that most real of objects, the pregnant belly, and not just to the marquise's Yovely self," as ~reenberg has translated it.

61nhis Fragments d'un discuurs amoureux, Roland Barthes wrote: "Au f?lm la Marquise 80,ppleure et les gens rigolent" (214).

70ssar (164f.) has supplied an ingenious and unnoticed explanation for the marquise's outright rejection. She thinks the count alone believes in her virtue, until the moment when, learning he is the father of her child, "she must also realize that his faith in her was without substance and that no one in the world is able to believe in her unquestioningly."

8The parallel is underscored by the fact that he appears "in genau demselben Kriegsrock, mit Orden und WafTen, wie er sie bei der Erobe- rungdes Forts getragen hatte"(140).

9I would not adopt de Huszar Allen's language, however: "In the process of escaping sexual brutality, she quite literally embraced %. in a less offensive form" (124).

1°Surely the linkage of this unfortunate man's name and station, Leopardo and "Jager," is to be inventoried among the jokes Kleist ad- dresses to his favorite readers. Whether leop- ard or hunter, verisimilitude argues for the role he is unwittingly made to play.

llKleist cannot resist another ironicversion of this rape-in-sleep motif. When the marquise's advertisement appears in the paper, the father's reaction is a bitingly sarcastic: W! sie istunschuldig. rief Frau von G..., mit dem alleriiul3ersten Erstaunen: unschuldig? Sie hat es im Schlaf getan, sagte der Kommandant" (131).

leompare to Smith's intelligent discussion of the "Hebammekunst" that "will allow a thought to be born out of a circuitous inter- change that does not directly state the case" (208).

13The relationship between the excessive narration of the love acts of the father and the defective narration of the rape can be considered an instance of the signifier-signified rela- tion as described by Deleuze in Logique du sens (66). A "diffkrentiant" belongs to both series, moving between the excessive signifying series and the defective signified series, constantly displaced, takingthe role of an empty case in one series and an occupant without a place in the other. What the signifying series (love) and the signified series (rape) have in common is indeed the only "differentiator" which belongs to both, as excess in one and as lackin the other: sexual intercourse. The function of the differen- tiator is to assure the gift of meaning in both series. Sex makes everything in the story sig- nify for the reader, including "mines BewulJt- sein."

14A curious section in Barthes's S/Zcalled Combien de lectures?" (22f.) claims that there is no fbt, naive reading(or that it is merely an illusion created by certain texts), because all readings are plural. But he has already said that Ya version 'premibre' d'une lecture doit pouvoir 6tre saversion dernibreS-as if our plu- ralreadings may well (re)constitute, after d,a first reading.

Works Cited

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amourewc. Paris: Seuil, 1977.

. Le grain de la vok: Entretiens 1962

1980.Paris: Seuil, 1981.

. Le plaisir du terte. Park Seuil, 1973.

5'12. Paris: Seuil, 1970. Bentzel, Curtis C. ?Knowledge in Narrative: The Significance of theSwan in Kleist's Die Mw quise von 0.. .'."German Quarterly 64(1991): 296-303.

De Huszar Allen, Marguerite. "Denial and Ac- ceptance: Narrative Patterns in Thomas Mann's Die Betrogene and Heist's Die Mar- quise von 0." [sic] GeimanicReview 64 (1989): 121-28.

Deleuze, Gilles. Logique du sens. Paris: Minuit, 1969.

Dietrick, Linda.%nmaculateConceptions: The Marquisevon O... and the SwanWSeminar 27 (1991): 316-29.

Dyer, Denys. The Stories of Kleist: A Critical Study. New Yo& Holrnes and Meier, 1977.

Eco, Umberto. The Role of the Readec Explora- tions in the Semiotics of %. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1979.

Esch, Deborah. Toward a Midwifery of Thought: Reading Kleists Die Marquise von O...[.]D lhhdAnalysis: Some Readers Reading. Ed. Mary Ann Caws. New York: MLA, 1986.144-65.

Fries, Thomas. The Impossible Object: The Feminine, the Narrative (Laclos' Liaisons clangereuses and Kleists Marquise von O...)." MLN 91 (1976): 1296326.

Furst, Lillian R. "Double-Dealing: Irony in Kleisfs Die Marquise von O...[.]" Echoes and Influences of German Romanticism: Essays in Honor of Hans Eichner. Ed. Heinz Wetzel, Michael S. Batts, and Anthony W. Riley. New YO& Lang,1987.85-95.

Greenberg, Martin. Translator's Note." The Marquise of 0[sic& and Other Stories. New Yo& Signet, 1962. xxvii-xxxvii.

Kleist, Heinrich von. "Die Marquise von O...." Samtliche Werke und Briefe. Ed. Helmut Sembdner. 2 vols. Munich: Deutscher 19

schenbuch Verlag, 1987.2: 104-43.

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Mann, Thomas. "Kleist and His Stories." The Marquise of 0-[sic] and Other Stories. lhns. Martin Greenberg. New York: Signet, 1962.k-xxvi.

McGlathery, James. Desire's Sway: The Plays and Stories of Heinrich von Kleist. Detroit: Wayne StateUP, 1983.

Mortimer, Armine Kotin. "Second Stories." Short Story Theory at a Crossroads. Ed. Susan Lohafer and Jo Ellyn Clarey. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989.276-98. . "Second Stories: The Example of 'Mr. Know-all'."Studies in Short Fiction 25 (1988): 307-14.

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