Journal Article

Same-Sex Male Love and Patriotic Sacrifice in Prussia: On the Death of Ewald von Kleist, 1759

Helmut Walser Smith

in German History

Volume 34, issue 3, pages 402-418
Published in print September 2016 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online June 2016 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/gerhis/ghw046
Same-Sex Male Love and Patriotic Sacrifice in Prussia: On the Death of Ewald von Kleist, 1759

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This essay takes the death of the soldier poet Ewald von Kleist in 1759 as the starting point to explore how the language of same-sex male love animated early Prussian patriotism. It probes the ambiguous character of the love that inhered in the amorous friendship of Kleist with the poet Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim, and suggests that their passionate letters show more than just the effusions common to the epistolary genre. It then argues that their understanding of same-sex love, which culminated in the sacrifice of life for each other, was transposed onto the patriotic poetry of the Seven Years War. The transposition was not, however, universally applauded, as Lessing’s dissent suggests. The article concludes by noting how a binary understanding of sexuality has occluded our sense for the possibilities of same-sex male love and hidden from view how this love backlit early patriotic discourse. This discourse was first carried on, moreover, in poetry. Only later was it expressed in prose, in Thomas Abbt’s On Death for the Fatherland, which drew inspiration from the earlier poetic exchange.

Keywords: patriotism; Prussia; Lessing; Ewald von Kleist

Journal Article.  10307 words. 

Subjects: European History

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