The Volksgeist in Kleist’s Volksblatt: “Das Bettelweib von Locarno” and the Berliner Abendblätter

Karin Schutjer


This article interprets Kleist’s short ghost story, “Das Bettelweib von Locarno” as part of the author’s broader struggle to grasp the spirit of his audience, the German Volksgeist, which he conceptualizes within the philosophical framework of Kant’s epistemology and the political exigencies of the Napoleonic era. Specifically, I read the ghost story in the context of its publication venue, Kleist’s short-lived daily newspaper, Die Berliner Abendblätter. The story capitalizes on a crime story reported in the paper—an arson band terrorizing Berlin—and furthermore creates a heterogenous and uneven weave of information that recalls the texture of the newspaper and its incorporation of disparate sources. I argue that the Bettelweib narrative is constructed as a Herausgeberfiktion that aims, like the paper, towards an inclusive, multiperspectival take on its subject. The Volksgeist, if accessible at all, appears in the unfolding conversation enabled by this emerging media, the daily newspaper.(KS)