Dismantling the Bourgeois Family: J.M.R. Lenz’s “Soldatenfamilie”

Wilfried Wilms


Lenz’s play Die Soldaten (1776) ends with a distinct critique of the sensibility of the bourgeois family, a sensibility idiosyncratic of the 18th-century Enlightenment. Lenz, like Lessing, reacts to the paradox and interplay of an unassailable private realm that is supposed to lie outside the public, but that can only exist within it. His treatise Über die Soldatenehen bespeaks Lenz’s concern with society’s stability beyond the stage. The radically new idea in Lenz’s reform plan is to create a type of family that is no longer exclusively private and / or sentimental, but that is non-bourgeois in nature: the “Soldatenfamilie.” In service of the state and society, this family replaces the Enlightenment ideal of the politically mature (but antagonistic) ‘Bürgerfamilie.’ Lenz’s avantgardist model of the new family willingly forsakes its bourgeois sense of privacy.

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