Lucinde: A Redefinition of Gender

Seunghyun Chae
10 min readOct 27, 2020


“The object is masculine, the subject feminine” (Schlegel, “Theory of Femininity” 398). Schlegel, as a Romantic writer, was against the orthodox formed by the traditional Western philosophy. In doing so, he degenerates the received gender role of Enlightenment thinkers such as Kant or Rousseau. Newly defined gender role of Schlegel was revolutionary: he defined men and women not under a superior-inferior theory, but rather theorized them in the representation of androgyny brought about by the “romantic confusion” of male and female in his only completed work Lucinde. Analyzing a sociocultural advance engendered by Lucinde apart from its literary achievement would thus enrich the implication it has to the history of gender.

To understand why Schlegel’s view on gender roles is seen as revolutionary, we should first understand on what ground Schlegel formed his idea. Western philosophy had traditionally identified general traits of women such as being emotional or sensual with the traits of nature. Associated with the patriarchal social fabric, Western philosophy, which was in the position exploiting the nature, eventually came to define the subject as masculine and the object as feminine. Therefore, what is not identified with masculinity is posited as feminine and something falling behind (Roetzel 365). This formed a seemingly hierarchical relationship between men and women. The ones of masculinity were the only beings who could partake in philosophical or political discourse. Inequality in the relationship led most thinkers of the Western world to degrade women as beings men can exploit for their purposes. Kant extended his argument on this disparity. According to his theory, society naturally gets to objectify female entities as a means of male entities’ perfection. Even Rousseau, who had formed the stage of the flourishing of Romanticism, defines that the traits of femininity are only useful when they are used to the advantage of men.

Kant states that weakness is a specific trait of females that nature has bestowed upon them; due to this weakness women inevitably need the protection of men (qtd. in Kim 32). Nature has made women in the first place inferior to the males in that women need men for their survival whereas men can strive independently. Furthermore, Kant argued women are emotional by nature and thus unable to participate in scholarly works; women thus need to seek wardship of men in the formation of marriage (qtd. in Kim 34). The marriage deductively comes to imply the inequality: man is superior and woman is inferior so that this union between the two can continue. Nonetheless, Kant says that women are superior to men in that they have coquetry to deal with men’s love with them. This superiority, however, is limited under the condition in which a love relationship between the two exists (qtd. in Kim 35). Kant’s theory, on the whole, solidifies the inferior position of women by not seeing women as equal to men in whatever relationship they may be.

Rousseau also sees women as inferior to men. He asserts that “[t]he man should be strong and active; the woman should be weak and passive” (Rousseau 961). He asserts that the traits pertained to each sex are given by nature and cannot be switched; nature has given male superiority. He asks in Emile: “for to make woman our[men’s] superior in all the qualities proper to her sex, and to make her our[men’s] equal in all the rest, what is this but to transfer to the woman the superiority which nature has given to her husband?” (Rousseau 1031). This clearly captures the view Enlightenment thinkers had at the moment. Women cannot be superior, if not equal, to men, but they should stay in their inferior position. Furthermore, Rousseau talks about women’s shame as a virtue similar to Kant’s notion of coquetry and applies the virtue in the marriage. Nature has given females traits of passion and corresponding shame that can conceal these passions as “honor of their sex” (Rousseau 1041). However, when, in a marriage, the woman loses shame which is the virtue that lets the man take the controlling position, the man fails to control her because “when the natural curb is removed from their sex” there is nothing left to restrain females (Rousseau 1041). Ironically, the shame unique to women is not solely under their discretion but exists to develop the state of man: “[i]f woman is made to please and to be in subjection to man, she ought to make herself pleasing in his eyes and not provoke him to anger; her strength is in her charms, by their means she should compel him to discover and use his strength.” (Rousseau 961). Namely, by defining women as instrumental beings, Rousseau states that females’ traits similar to nature are just tools for men’s perfection.

Schlegel, in Lucinde, also determines female as those of nature — having passivity or warmth. However, Schlegel does not corroborate the stratified relationship between two different sexes which is deduced from the difference between the sexes in traditional Western philosophy. As Romanticism itself was largely against the received convention of the society, it is natural that Schlegel reversed the traditionally conceived gender relation to further his idea (Roetzel 365). Thus, femininity, which was often underestimated by the Enlightenment thinkers, became a basis for the critique of Romantic thinkers, and especially of Schlegel (Roetzel 362). His flipped version of gender role is well captured in the following quote: “only independent femininity, only tender masculinity are good and beautiful” (qtd. in Roetzel 367). We can thus conclude that Schlegel, to erase all existing philosophical systems and to erect a new system of Romanticism, had critical thoughts on the “oppositions of subject/object and masculine/feminine” (Roetzel 366). This confusion of sexual traits is well described in the formation of marriage between Julius and Lucinde in the eponymous novel Lucinde. Schlegel assesses marriage as a “romantic confusion” between two different sexes and confirms that the traits of women such as passivity and sensuality are actually the traits men should attain in this relationship of confusion. He argues that humans, not bound by the determinate gender, successfully regress to the primitive androgyny “in favor of all-embracing plentitude” in the religion of love (qtd. in Daub 165). Therefore, the marriage of Julius and Lucinde produces their child Wilhelmine, who clearly shows androgynous traits humans should harbor.

In A Character Sketch of Little Wilhelmine, Julius depicts the demeanors of Wilhelmine as shameless and ultimately exalts them. Whereas Rousseau regarded shame as a virtue of femininity that makes women more women-like and, in turn, men more men-like, Schlegel identifies shamelessness as a necessity for both men and women to ascend to the ideal state. Wilhelmine sports shamelessness without regard to her own sex or the convention: “Wilhelmine quite often takes an inexpressible pleasure in lying on her back and kicking her legs up in the air, careless of her dress and the world’s opinion” (Schlegel, Lucinde 52). Here, “her dress” refers to her sex, and “the world’s opinion” is the convention of the epoch that required women to have chastity. Moreover, Julius describes Wilhelmine not from “any one-sided theory, but rather all possible points of view” (Schlegel, Lucinde 50). This means that the shamelessness Wilhelmine shows is not particularly the trait of female gender but it is of an androgyne — “nothing more than an ideal” both men and women should aim (Schlegel, Lucinde 52). As in Wilhelmine, romantic confusion of sexes can only take place when the shamelessness functions to invalidate public opinion. However, if there is no shamelessness, the “Public Opinion” emerges as a monstrous creature (Schlegel, Lucinde 53). This monster disturbs Julius’ appreciation of a romantic surrounding filled with “fragrant aroma” and “many colors” from a “sumptuous garden” of the chaos of lovely flowers (Schlegel, Lucinde 53). Julius could only be disillusioned to know that what disturbs him was actually “nothing more than a common frog” by his courage having no “care in the world” (Schlegel, Lucinde 53). This means that one can clearly see that public opinion, namely a social convention, is merely an object one can easily incapacitate only with one’s shamelessness. Schlegel, with above-mentioned descriptions, tries to overcome the traditional duality between sexes by denying the necessity of shame as a sexual custom and confusing sexual characteristics.

Nonetheless, the one who labels the monster as “Public Opinion” is not Julius himself but newly emerged “Wit” (Schlegel, Lucinde 53). Without this personified Wit, Julius would never know that what he easily crippled was a social convention. The concept of wit is also reflected in the title of the section. The original German title for the fourth section Allegory of Impudence is Allegorie von der Frechheit. Here, the word Frechheit captures not only the concept of shamelessness but the playfulness. In connection with the shamelessness, wit, or namely playfulness, thus comes to play a central role in not only breaking social convention but conversing gender roles by arousing shamelessness. As a producer of a whole allegory with the feminine traits such as “Morality,” “Beautiful Soul,” and “Modesty” personified as quarreling girls, Wit reveals the nature of each feminine characteristic (Schlegel, Lucinde 55). With striking frankness in Wit’s fantasy, the girls who are girders of women’s shame lose their shame and blatantly behave against their own names: Modesty is full of jealousy, and Decency is showing deceptive demeanors to Public Opinion (Schlegel, Lucinde 55). Taking in that Wit gives a new understanding of the world as it “renew[s] an old spectacle for you[Julius],” the whole scene is understood as a neutralization of gender-stereotypical terms that had traditionally been posited only onto females (Schlegel, Lucinde 53). Among these youths, Impudence arises as a noble one. “I noticed that these women[the quarreling girls] … were really only young and well behaved but otherwise unremarkable … one could even discern certain vulgar features and signs of depravity,” Julius remarks (Schlegel, Lucinde 56). On the other hand, Julius typically points out the traits of Impudence and admits to himself with astonishment that “her figure was tall and noble” (Schlegel, Lucinde 56). After Julius’ encounter with Impudence, Impudence plays a similar role to that of Wit: she berates Beautiful Soul that she is “at best Daintiness, and sometimes Coquetry as well” (Schlegel, Lucinde 56). Impudence, which had traditionally been assessed as a vulgar feature, emerges out of these traditional gender roles and in turn nullifies them. Indeed, Wit is the sole producer of this whole scene in which the traditional traits of women are sketched as obscene. Wit, thus, continuously interprets what Julius is facing; in other words, Julius understands unremarkableness of traditional gender attributes and the nobility of impudence by Wit. Only with Wit one can penetrate into the fallacies of the convention of traditional Western society and find out that the value once buried as that of insolent is the true value one should pursue.

Impudence, who is successfully manifested as a noble being by Wit, leaves Julius saying that he will “soon see the inner part of [him]self” and that she is “a real person and real Wit” (Schlegel, Lucinde 56). Wit also vanishes following Impudence; wit, in the beginning, arouses shamelessness, and sooner or later the concept of wit is incorporated to the concept of shamelessness to exist as the concept of impudence as in Impudence’s remark. Thus, only with wit and shamelessness both functioning in a merged form of impudence, one can view the world in a totally different sense as Julius addresses: “A new sense seemed to have opened up in me: I discovered in myself a pure mass of gentle light” (Schlegel, Lucinde 57). Julius, who is a male figure, at the end attains impudence in himself after facing these shameless intermingling of conventional feminine traits prompted by Wit’s allegorical fantasy. This no exception in Wilhelmine: she has “a great deal of buffoon in her” and takes an “inexpressible pleasure” along with androgynous shamelessness in nullifying the conventions (Schlegel, Lucinde 51; Schlegel, Lucinde 52). The whole witty allegory of the interlacing of sexual traits can thereby be understood as a mockery of Western orthodox that these traditions can be easily debased with one’s impudent fantasy.

In the latter part of the Allegory of Impudence, Julius explicitly flips the genders and talks about how a marriage continuously perfects human beings. Any young man who, in a valid marriage, successfully possess the harmonious warmth gets to love not “only like a man, but at the same time like a woman” (Schlegel, Lucinde 59). Here, Schlegel’s definition of “valid marriage” has an apparent difference with the traditional Western philosophy. He does not draw a line between men and women but confuses the traits that once they assimilate impudence in marriage the traits of both sexes can exist indiscriminately in either sex. Moreover, whereas Rousseau and Kant defined that women are only deemed useful when there are men to exploit the traits of women in the marriage, Schlegel delineates women as independent entities that women know everything even in “her naïve ignorance” and ultimately invalidates the inequality (Lucinde 60). Through the religion of love, both men and women become impudent androgyny of equal standing by the power of Romantic confusion of love as Julius at the end of the section realizes the value of “the world and its eternal forms in the perpetual variation of new marriages and divorces” with impudence imputed to him (Schlegel, Lucinde 58). To clarify, Schlegel’s metaphysics of perpetual variation states that only in the “new marriages and divorces” one gets to forge one’s own fantasy of wit and confuse sexual roles to wipe out the traditional Western philosophy (Lucinde 58). Lucinde is, thus, read as a total upside-down of a traditional view on gender.

Various sections other than the discussed ones from Lucinde also simultaneously prove that Schlegel at that time maintained somewhat progressive thoughts regarding sex and gender. By examining the theories of two representative thinkers of Enlightenment and how Schlegel twists gender roles in two specific sections, Lucinde should be understood not only as a remarkable literary piece but also as revolutionary progress in philosophy that engendered betterment in women rights for the time.

Works Cited

Daub, Adrian. “Chapter 4. Marriage Between Chaos and Product: Friedrich and Dorothea Schlegel.” Uncivil Unions, by Adrian Daub, University of Chicago Press, 2012, pp. 148–176.

Kim, Sung Hyun. “낭만주의와 페미니즘: 독일 낭만주의 ‘다시 읽기’ [Romanticism and Feminism: ‘Re-reading’ of German Romanticism].” Yonsei University, 2004.

Roetzel, Lisa C. “Introductory Essay: Feminizing Philosophy.” Theory as Practice: a Critical Anthology of Early German Romantic Writings, by Jochen Schulte-Sasse, University of Minnesota Press, 1997, pp. 361–379.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “Sophy, or Woman.” Emile, translated by Barbara Foxley, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Printer Not Identified, 2016, pp. 958–1234.

Schlegel, Friedrich von. “Lucinde, A Novel.” Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, translated by Peter Firchow, by Friedrich von Schlegel, University of Minnesota Press, 1971, pp. 42–130.

Schlegel, Friedrich. “3. Friedrich Schlegel: Theory of Femininity.” Theory as Practice: a Critical Anthology of Early German Romantic Writings, by Jochen Schulte-Sasse, University of Minnesota Press, 1997, pp. 397–400.