Eternal love, the loss of a lover, or the loss of love are well-known topics of uncountable stories throughout history. The love topos is thus closely related to loss and can be found in numerous early modern German prose narratives but can “love” and “loss” also be read as structuring the narrative? When Thüring von Ringoltingen’s Melusine (1574) discovers the betrayal of the man she loves she has no other choice than leaving him and laments:
Ach Gott / das fuget vnd wil sich nun zu leide unnd kummer ziehen. vnser freüd die ist verkert in grosses trawren. vnser sterck unnd krafft ist verkert in anmacht. Vnser wol geuallen in ein grosses mißuallen / vnser glück in vngeuelle / vnser seld in ellende </> vnser sicherheit ist gekert in grosse sorg / vnser freÿheÿt in dienstperkeit.
Already before their marriage Melusine told Raimund never to visit her on Saturdays. Raimund knows, but curiosity mixed with envy makes him break his promise and first peek through a small hole in the door and somewhat later make public what he has seen. He loses his wife who returns to the spheres of half-human creatures, forever damned – if not saved by a man who marries her but leaves her alone while in her bath. They lose each other but not their love for each other. Melusine claims: “Lieber freündt ich pitt dich / das du got alle zeit fur mich pitest / dann ich dein auch nit vergessen wil” (122) and Raimund never forgets his one and only wife. Melusine loses her chance to a true human life but neither her faith in God, nor the love to her husband. Love ends in loss while also making the narrative take a different direction.
In Veit Warbecks story of the beautiful Magelone the lovers feel forced to leave the court in order to stay together, only to be quickly separated. Magelona’s and Peter’s love for each other is neither sanctioned by their parents, nor by the authorities. It makes them lose their high ranks in society, their home, and all their material belongings. Love puts them on trial; they have to regain every part and piece of their lives before rejoining and marrying at the end of the story. Their love story, so closely connected with loss, can be said to take a new turn every time something changes or is lost. Whatever is lost has to be reconquered. A happy ending is not allowed the two young couples in Georg Wickram’s Gabriotto und Reinhart (1551). Love results in total loss – in the loss of life – but the belief in love once again remains. The refusal to give up love and to adapt to conventional norms in the end leads to the death of all four protagonists. But their actions also have a cathartic effect on the king who realizes what his blind belief in courtly norms has resulted in. The king regrets his cruelty and regains the sympathy of the reader. Wickram lets love rule while ruling out a world of pure cruelty.
In all three stories love is as central to the plot as is loss. Love leads to loss but never seems to be lost in the early modern prose novel. The resistance among the protagonists to lose their faith in love is contrasted by temporal disbelief, in hesitance, and anger that can be directed towards the self as well as the beloved or a threatening outsider. Loss thus seems to structure the narrative of love, to make for dramatic effects, to help make illicit love legitimate, to restore a disrupted world order, and to order the narratives into different segments. The presentation will focus on the exchange of love and loss in the texts presented above. A central question in the discussion will be whether thematic and structural aspects of “love” and “loss” correlate or if they diverge and make for breaks and ruptures in the text. The paper will closely examine the interplay between love and loss and aims at explaining structural elements or patterns that seem reappear in all three texts.
2008. 10- p.