Unn, the settler. Unn, the land-taker.

This week I received two brand new additions to my Auðr/Unnr book collection via post: Sophie Rogge-Börner’s Von nordischen Frauen, Königen und Bauern (‘Of Nordic Women, Kings and Peasants’) and Gisela Wenz-Hartmann’s Lebensbilder germanischer Frauen (‘Portraits of Germanic Women’). 

These books have a lot in common with one another. As was the case with the novel from the previous post, Urmutter Unn, these two works are not only influenced by a growing feeling of Nationalism in Germany, but are also inspired by and heavily indebted to Johann Jakob Bachofen’s infamous work on prehistoric matriarchy from 1861, Das Mutterrecht (‘Mother Right’). By the 1930s, there began a wave of literary interest in myths of Germanic warrior women and Germanic women in power, whose authors were often members of the Nationalist party and who produced a lot of literature between the two World Wars. Much like Lydia Kath’s Die Frau im altnordischen Volksleben (‘Woman in Old Norse folklife’), both works are concerned with women in Old Norse culture and literature. Not one female character in the Old Nore literature would be more befitting the role of matriarch as defined by Bachofen than Unnr/Auðr djúp(a)uðga. A point that Lydia Kath, Sophie Rogge-Börner and Gisela Wenz-Hartmann all agree on. 

In 1935 Sophie Rogge-Börner’s Von nordischen Frauen, Königen und Bauern was published in Berlin by the Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft. One of the Nordic women that Sophie Rogge-Börner (1878-1955) writes about is Unnr under the heading “Frau Unn, die Siedlerin” (‘Lady Unn, the settler’). Some years later, in 1941, Rogge-Börner wrote a fictional novel based on Laxdæla saga entitled Die Olafsippe. Ein Nordlandroman (’The clan of Olaf. A Nordland novel’).

The cover design as well as the frontispiece were both drawn by Helmut Skarbina (1888-1945). The frontispiece depicts Unnr as her ship washes up on the shores of Iceland where her high-seat pillars have come ashore. It complements the narrative which portrays Unnr first and foremost as a settler.

As the oval library stamp on the title page reveals the book was once part of the collection of the Schüler-Lesebibliothek Neues Gymnasium Regensburg  (The school itself was established in 1880). The book was discarded from the library on May 1st, 1944. This date is rather telling as it is close to the end of the Second World War. There are various other provenance marks throughout the book which look like the book’s former shelfmarks or call numbers (e.g. “4B Nr. 19”, “4C N° 89”, “N86” and N31|5”). In some cases, these shelfmarks might be from another institution or private owner. On top of the fly-leaf a handwritten name is scarcely readable: “[…] Colditz”. Colditz could denote a place name in Germany or could also be a family name.

In 1937, Gisela Wenz-Hartmann’s Lebensbilder germanischer Frauen is a slim booklet published as the tenth installment of Die Welt der Germanen series.

Like Rogge-Bönner before her, Wenz-Hartmann depicts Unnr as a Landnehmerin (‘land-taker’) exploiting the myth of the powerful Germanic woman.

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Ex-libris of Bernard Stasiewksi.

Facing the title page is an ex-libris of Bernhard Stasiewksi. Bernhard Stasiewski (1905-1995) was a Catholic priest and historian. specializing in church history and Eat-European history. His ex-libris or book plate consists of his name and an illustration which in this case shows two buildings. The one on the left depicts a tower of the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn in Germany, where Stasiewski held the position of university lecturer from 1961 onwards. The one on the right could well be the monastery of Sankt Augustin which is situated close to Bonn.

Both Sophie Rogge-Börner and Gisela Wenz-Hartmann demonstrate strong feminist tendencies in the works they produced. While their works were initially used to propagate an ideal Germanic womanhood in and by the Nazi state, soon this same Nazi state would turn against these women and even ban their works. From an ideology based on praising and idealizing the Old Norse women, the National Socialists censured the empowered female authors that wrote about these Old Norse heroines.

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