Literature and the Fear of a Suicide Epidemic after Fanny von Ickstatt’s Fatal Fall in 1785

Lena Heilmann


On January 14, 1785, witnesses watched in horror as seventeen-year-old Fanny von Ickstatt tumbled off the Frauenkirche in Munich and fell to her gruesome death. Ickstatt’s sudden and highly visible suicide perplexed the public, captivated the attention of newspaper presses, and led to a short-lived media sensation, all of which exacerbated pre-existing fearful attitudes concerning suicide’s increased presence in texts. News of Ickstatt’s death dovetailed with a cultural anxiety about how printed descriptions of suicide might glamorize the act and contribute to a suicide epidemic. Narratives and reports of Ickstatt’s suicide offered a new moment in eighteenth-century Germany as authors, philosophers, and historians now re-considered the purported “suicide epidemic” along gendered lines. This article traces competing discourses pertaining to Ickstatt’s suicide in order to offer a broader understanding of the multi-faceted conversations regarding suicide and gender roles in eighteenth-century Germany.

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