The Duties of Women (Novel) and The Duties of the Writer: the Moral Complexities Associated with Representing German Women in Nazi Germany (Critical Thesis)

Emma Venables

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis comprises a novel and a critical component. The novel explores the lives, and differing experiences, of seven German women in Nazi Germany: a Jewish woman; a lesbian; a prostitute; an SS-wife; a member of the Resistance; an Aryan mother; and Magda Goebbels, wife of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. Spanning the years 1933-1945, the novel takes place in Berlin, occupied Poland, Ravensbrück, Auschwitz, and Mauthausen. The novel employs both first-person and third-person narrative voices, as well as fictional survivor-testimony, to explore themes of motherhood, identity, trauma, war, fascism, and survival.

The critical essay discusses the novel in the context of other novels about German women during the Nazi era. Each of the novels discussed, Bernhard Schlink's The Reader, David Gillham's City of Women, and Jane Thynne's Black Roses, The Winter Garden, and War of Flowers, fails to demonstrate the complexity of the women who actually lived through this era. Most novels written about women in Nazi Germany often favour kitschy techniques, such as stereotypes and dramatic plot twists and turns, as opposed to a deeper, varied, exploration of the role of women during this period. By setting The Duties of Women among these published works, the essay explores the creative and ethical challenges involved in planning and writing an imaginative work based on the facts of an era which often defies the imagination’s capabilities.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Cowie, Douglas, Supervisor
  • Eaglestone, Robert, Advisor
Award date21 Mar 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


  • Women
  • Nazi Germany
  • Creative Writing
  • Practice-based Research
  • Ethics
  • Normalization
  • Kitsch
  • Ambiguity

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