EESE 5/2001

Internet Teaching - Guest Editor: Thomas Kühn (Berlin)


The Loreley Project: Scenarios of Seduction in a Network of Electronic Texts

Hannelore Scholz (Berlin)

1.     The Loreley: On the demonization of women around 1800

The Loreley is a rock on the Rhine River (an "echo rock") and at the same time the name of a woman. Since her invention, this figure has not lost any of her fascination. She was the figurehead of Romanticism and, as a motif, has become a cliché more than any other poetic figure in German literature. She was the incarnation of libidinous obsessions, dreams, wishes, and delusions. She was well suited to be a figure of identification and a reflection of an unwilling temptress, a warm-hearted maiden, a scheming sorceress, a melancholic murderess, a man-eating angel.

She promised the magic of love but also the curse, the revenge - these two introducing the moralistic aspect. Heine's "Loreley" poem, set to music by Friedrich Silcher, soon gained the status of a national anthem.

It seems to be this female character's ambivalence, which continues to provoke such strong reception. The aesthetic figure "Loreley" integrates longing, salvation, sentimentality but also secrets, mystery, mythology - no less sadness, devotion, and a longing for death. Whether all-male choirs sang this song or whether it was sung over a glass of wine, deep emotions ensued - lyrics and music had a mystical power.

After Brentano's "Zu Bacharach am Rheine wohnt eine Zauberin" (1800), Heinrich Heine's treatment was the first highpoint in the long history of the Loreley's re-working. The Loreley ensures Romanticism - even up to the film Gentlemen prefer Blondes where Marilyn Monroe is called Lorelei Lee. Apart from Mt. Fuji the Loreley is probably the most climbed rock by the Japanese.

In the course of a project we have followed this history of fascination. It was Clemens Brentano who, with his invention of a female character, turned the "Lurley" rock on the Rhine River into probably the best known German legend, which had not come into existence before 1800.

The voices, echoes, and prophecies chronicled of the rock were said to derive from rock, forest, and tree ghosts. From the 13th century on, the hoard of the Nibelungs was assumed to be found here. Only when Brentano invented a woman instead of gnomic elemental spirits, who was a sorceress and beguiled the hearts of men plunging them and herself into misery, was this poem wrongly integrated into the Rhine legends. The unfortunate maiden, the abandoned lover in "Bacharach am Rheine" turned into a demon who was both beautiful and smart.

Love as a blessing and a curse forms the topic of these poems which could only gain this deep and long-lasting fascination after women had been demonised.

The Loreley versions of the various authors have been influenced by a multitude of factors, and they demonstrate a number of poetic styles. Social developments and changes strongly determined the reception of this topic in the 19th century. Following the French Revolution and the ensuing debate over the role of folk tales, the Loreley versions represent Romantic ideas which were also a "new mythology" as propagated by Herder and following him, Friedrich Schlegel, Achim von Arnim, and Clemens Brentano.

The poetic idealisation of nature and female characters is linked to a rejection of revolutionary thought. In the case of some authors, strong social criticism of the development of German patriotism led to a changing picture of women and different constructs of femininity (the debate over the character of gender) which manifest themselves in the demonization or idealisation of the Loreley. The varying scenarios of seduction reveal the change of expectations towards the role of the female figure Loreley and can, at the same time, be integrated in the discourse about love, marriage, and friendship around 1800.

2.     The projects objectives

The aim of the project was to encode a body of Romantic poems connected with the Loreley in SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language), using the standard established by the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). The project then aimed to produce an electronic publication in addition to a meta information system on CD-ROM and the Internet. The poems which have been published electronically so far are therefore available in two different versions, differing in both content and technically: HTML, which is currently the most popular format for a system-independent representation of text on the Internet, and SGML / TEI. The HTML version merely provides the original text. In addition to this the project aimed at marking motifs and their lineage, i.e. to directly integrate one or more interpretations into the poem, which is presented in the SGML versions (see also "Konzeption").

The opportunities offered by this anthology are multitude. In contrast to the linear reading of a book, the use of hypertext allows the user to choose his or her own way around the material. The link bar on the left-hand side leads to the poems, debates, analyses, essays, further material, illustrations, music, other links, and the bibliography.

The anthology allows the user a detailed understanding of the literary diversity of poems on the Loreley. The illustrations very clearly explain the cultural content of the Romantic age. The music provides a fitting accompaniment to the poems and allows interdisciplinary comparisons of the characteristic features of the epoch.

3.     Digital learning and teaching

By means of modern communication and information technology the project "Loreley: Vernetzte Verführungsszenarien als elektronischer Text" aims to develop, test, and realise new approaches to university research and tuition. It offers the opportunity to impart both new teaching and learning contents:

The project on the Internet: