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Thurdsday Quotables – Gilgi, One of Us

GILGI, ONE OF US (Irmgard Keun) The story of a young woman trying to establish her independence in a society being overtaken by fascism, Gilgi was not only a brave story, but revolutionary in its depiction of women’s issues, at the same time that it was, simply, an absorbing and stirring tale of a dauntless spirit.

She’s holding it firmly in her hands, her little life, the girl Gilgi.  She calls herself Gilgi, her name is Gisela.  The two i‘s are better suited to slim legs and narrow hips like a child’s, to tiny fashionable hats which contrive mysteriously to stay perched on the very top of her head. When she’s twenty-five, she’ll call herself Gisela. But she’s not at that point quite yet.

Six-thirty on a winter morning. The girl Gilgi has got out of bed. Stands in her cold room, stretches, holds it, opens her eyes to drive the sleep out. Stands at the wide-open window and does her exercises. Touches her toes: up—down, up—down. The fingertips brush the floor while the legs remain straight. That’s the right way to do it. Up—down, up—down.

The girl Gilgi bends and straightens for the last time. Slips her pyjamas off, throws a towel around her shoulders and runs to the bathroom. Runs into a voice in the dark hallway which hasn’t woken up yet. “Really, Jilgi, in your bare feet on the icy lin-o-le-um! You’ll catch your death.”

Thursday Quotables Meme

This story was first published in Germany in 1931 and in 1933 it was burned by the Nazis in their book burnings. It isn’t hard to see why.

Gilgi is a modern woman. She studies and she works and she dreams one day to have her own house and her own shop. Her independence is very important to her and she knows that – even in the crazy world she lives in – she may attain it if she works very hard.
But then she meets the love of her life, and she discovers that love makes people vulnerable and destroys their ability to be independent. This is the story of how she found it out and what she did about it.

Gilgi is a wonderfully complex character. Happy and easy on the outside, on the inside she’s though and down-to-earth. It seems contradicting. Instead it makes perfect sense. Her grasp of life is surprisingly honest, and it’s from her honesty – I believe – that she gains her strength. She knows she lives precariously. Her relationship with Martin may end at any moment. Money is always short. They are two very different people and they both value their independence. When she finds herself with child, Gilgi knows she must find a solution by herself, she can’t count on Martin.
She has this formidable attitude toward life: fine, this is the problem. Let’s look at it in all its aspects and take the more sensible decision, no matter how hard, painful or scary it may sound.

Still, there is a core of romanticism inside Gilgi. She longs to be useful and  has a strong feeling that people should help each other. She goes to a great length to do so. Yet, she would never think to herself as generous or selfless.

Written by a New Woman, this is the best portrayal of the New Woman I’ve ever read. A woman who’s not afraid to be a woman. Who knows to be different from a man and takes that as a quality. Who’s not afraid to take up her own fights, because she knows she’s the only person she can count on.
I’m not surprised at all the Nazi couldn’t allow this story to live.

GILGI, EINE VON UNS (Irmgard Keun) Gilgi, ein Mädchen im Köln der 1920er Jahre, kündigt ihre Stelle als Sekretärin und zieht von Zuhause aus, weil sie das bevormundete Dasein bei den Eltern satt hat. Doch auch das »weiche, zerflossene, bedenkenlose« Leben mit dem Schriftsteller Martin ist keine Alternative und aus ihrem Leben, sagt Gilgi, »soll nicht so?n Strindberg-Drama werden«. Und da nimmt sie es wieder in die eigenen Hände und macht sich wirklich auf den Weg in die Selbständigkeit. Das Buch, mit dem die 26-jährige Irmgard Keun 1931 über Nacht berühmt wurde.

Sie hält es fest in der Hand, ihr kleines Leben, das Mädchen Gilgi. Gilgi nennt sie sich, Gisela heißt sie. Zu schlanken Beinen und kinderschmalen Hüften, zu winzigen Modekäppchen, die auf dem äußersten Ende des Kopfes geheimnisvollen Halt finden, passt ein Name mit zwei i. Wenn sie fünfundzwanzig ist wird sie sich Gisela nennen. Vorläufig ist es noch nicht so weit.

Halbsieben Uhr morgens. Das Mädchen Gilgi is aufgestanden. Steht im winterkalten Zimmer, reckt sich, dehnt sich, reibt sich den Schlaf aus den blanken Augen. Turnt von dem weitgeöffneten Fenster. Rumpfbeugen: auf – nieder, auf – nieder. Die Fingerspitzen berühren den Boden, die Knie bleiben gestreckt. So ist es richtig. Auf – nieder, auf – nieder.

Das Mädchen Gilgi macht die letzte Kniebeuge. Streift den Pyjama ab, wirft sich ein Frottiertuch um die Schultern und rennt zum Badenzimmer. Begegnet auf dem dunklen Flur eine morgendlich unordentlichen Stimme: »Aber Jilgi, mit nackten Füßen aufem eisijen Linoljum! Wirst dir noch ‚en Tod holen.»

In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme, which was originally created by Lisa Wolf on her book blog Bookshelf Fantasies

GILGI, ONE OF US by Irmgard Keun is the story of a tough New Woman in 1920s Germany, a woman that looks life hard in the face and act with her own head and heart


  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted August 1, 2019 at 18:05

    She certainly sounds like a strong, independent, interesting character, Sarah. And that’s enough to keep the reader absorbed. It’s interesting, too, to get a look at the views of the times about modern, independent women. I’m glad you enjoyed this.

    • Post Author
      Posted August 3, 2019 at 12:26

      It’s a surprisingly involving story. One that shows how women really were on the cutting edge of their times and the gret potential that went with it.
      I didn’t expect to enjoy this tory sot much. It’s brilliant.

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