Professor Ricarda Schmidt

Research interests


Prof. Ricarda Schmidt welcomes enquiries about postgraduate supervision (for MRes and PhD degrees) in any of the following fields: Heinrich von Kleist, E.T.A. Hoffmann, dreams, gender issues, intermediality.

Heinrich von Kleist.

Kleist, Education and Violence.

The Transformation of Ethics and Aesthetics

Prof. Schmidt was the principal investigator of this AHRC-funded research project, 1/10/10-30/4/14, in collaboration with Dr Sean Allan (CI, Department of German Studies, University of Warwick) and Dr Steven Howe (ARF, Department of Modern Languages/German, College of Humanities, University of Exeter). 

Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811) is one of the most important German writers of the early nineteenth century, and his works have had a profound influence on subsequent writers both in Germany and beyond. Our project  explored one aspect of his work (education) that has been almost totally ignored, and linked it to another (the representation of violence) in a way that sheds new light on constructive and destructive functions of violence in his work.

Intuitively, the two would seem to be at opposite ends of a spectrum, with education stemming from ethical endeavours and violence marking the breakdown of ethical behaviour. However, we have demonstrated that one of the most important aspects of Kleist's work lies in the fact that he explores multiple interdependencies between education and violence, as well as complex and contradictory ethical implications in each. Whether violence is conceived of as innate, as the result of social oppression, or as ‘necessary' means to a higher moral end has vital consequences for our understanding of works of art, and, moreover, for ethical choices in our lives. Similarly, the question of what role different models of education can play in mitigating or exacerbating violence is of importance not only for our understanding of Kleist, but also for conceptualising our future.

Our project  addressed two main questions:
1. How does Kleist transform educational models as embodied in eighteenth-century pedagogical discourses, literature and drama?
2. How are conceptualisations of violence in Kleist's work related to models of education?

In seeking answers to these, we analysed:
a) pedagogical discourses which Kleist draws on, notably those of Rousseau, Basedow, Pestalozzi, Campe, Fichte, Kant, Wilhelm von Humboldt and Jean Paul
b) educational models in European prose (Richardson, Rousseau, Wieland), drama (popular bourgeois drama, Schiller's aesthetic education of man), and aesthetic education in music and painting
c) the diversity of Kleist's transformation of concepts of education aiming towards the production of gender, freedom, happiness, duty to the state, virtue
d) Kleist's exploration of violence as pre-requisite, consequence, or aim of education

In 2011, the bicentenary of Kleist's death, an international conference in Exeter, supported by the AHRC, explored ‘Constructive and Destructive Functions of Violence in the Work of Heinrich von Kleist'.

1. jointly authored monograph
2. conference in Exeter, 18-20 July 2011
3. proceedings of conference ‘Constructive and Destructive Functions of Violence in the Work of Heinrich von Kleist'
4.  production of six podcasts accessible to the general reader
5. production of one podcast targeted at educational theorists and government policy advisors
6. web page 

Other work on Kleist:

I have long been interested, both in my teaching and research, in exploring violence, gender and agency in Kleist's work in the context of discourses in Kleist's own time, and to look at Kleist's reception in other media (film, painting, music) and other periods. I published a chapter on the representation of violence in Kleist's story ‘Die Marquise von O' and in a recent film inspired by Kleist's story; a chapter on ‘"Odd bodies": Kleists Körperdarstellungen im Kreuzpunkt widersprüchlicher Diskurse', in which I explore contradictions between cause and effect in Kleist's presentation of bodily functions and try to explain them by linking them to historical discourses on the body; a chapter on the reception of Penthesilea in classical modernity. Furthermore, I published a journal article on gender in Kleist's work which is conceptualised as both performance  and essence, and I ask what implications these apparently contradictory concepts have for a notion of agency. Another chapter deals with violence as a product of different types of education and as object of diametrically opposed evaluations in Penthesilea and Herrmannsschlacht. I explore Kleist in relation to other writers before and after him, as well as in relation to other media in chapters on Kleist's Penthesilea as seen by visual artists, on Kleist and Euripides (configured as the Dark Side of Antiquity),  on autobiographical aspects of Christa Wolf's view of Kleist in Kein Ort. Nirgends.

E.T.A. Hoffmann: Romanticism, Intermediality, Periodisation

Fascinated by the narratological complexity of Hoffmann's stories and novels, I have explored, in a number of essays, how particular concepts of subjectivity and aesthetics are conveyed through the structure of Hoffmann's texts. It has often been claimed that Hoffmann's writing anticipates post-structuralist and postmodernist insights, and that Hoffmann rejected Romantic positions on subjectivity and aesthetics. My analyses challenge such widely-held views and argue that Hoffmann's position within his cultural context is a lot more nuanced than the discourse of appropriating a writer for ‘us' suggests.
An understanding of the context of a work of literature is particularly important when literature intersects with another medium like painting or music. In my book on Intermediality in E.T.A. Hoffmann I show that an analysis of Hoffmann's thematisation of music and art as well as of the contemporary discursive contexts of his intermedial references is vital when engaging in the debate of where Hoffmann is to be located in literary history.
My work on Hoffmann has awakened my interest in questions of literary periodisation/thresholds/canonisation in general. This has led to a co-edited  volume on questions of literary value and canon formation, and a study of the continuities and differences between early and late Romantic writers with regard to their conceptualisation of love.

Women Writers, Gender Issues and Feminist Perspectives on Male Writers

Ever since my PhD thesis on West German Women Writers of the 1970s, I have been interested in women writers and feminist theoretical issues. I have published on 20th-century women writers from both East and West Germany, Austria and Wilhelmine Germany. Among the topics I have explored in their writing are: the use of myth, the comical, and autobiography; concepts of nature, utopia and dystopia; the relationship between aesthetics and politics, gender and nationhood, metaphor and morality; fantastic literature, the constitution of subjectivity, representations of motherhood and of mother-daughter relationships; deams. I have also explored male writers' presentations of women, functions of gender in male writing and feminist readings of male writers.

Forthcoming Research Project

Dreams, Visions, Somnambulism and their Configurations in Enlightened and Romantic Discurses in German Literature, Art, Medicine and Philosophy 1750-1820.


Research collaborations

Prof. Schmidt was the principal investigator of an AHRC-funded research project

Kleist, Education and Violence.

The Transformation of Ethics and Aesthetics

(1/10/10-30/4/14), in collaboration with Dr Sean Allan (CI, Department of German Studies, University of Warwick) and Dr Steven Howe (ARF, Department of Modern Languages/German, College of Humanities, University of Exeter). We had an international advisory board: Prof. Hilda Brown (University of Oxford), Prof. Dr. Peter Riedl (University of Freiburg), Prof. N. Saul (University of Durham)


Cultural and Literary History of the Dream

Since 2015 I have been contributing to the ICLA (International Comparative Literature Association)  project 'Cultural and Literary History of the Dream' (chaired by Prof. Dr. Manfred Engel, Saarbruecken, and Prof. Dr. Bernard Dieterle, Muhlhouse).