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Title: Borrowing Werther: The Rise and Regulation of Fan Fiction in Eighteenth-Century Germany
Authors: Birkhold, Matthew Hoover
Advisors: Frey, Christiane
Contributors: German Department
Keywords: Fan fiction
German literature
History of the book
Intellectual property
Subjects: German literature
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Situated between the decline of the obsolete privilege system and the rise of copyright, literary borrowing in eighteenth-century Germany has long been characterized as unregulated. Studying fan fiction, however, reveals a different story about the creation and consumption of literature while unearthing overlooked notions of literary property and authorship. “Borrowing Werther: The Rise and Regulation of Fan Fiction in Eighteenth-Century Germany,” is the first in-depth study of the history of “fan fiction” – literary works written by readers who appropriate pre-existing characters invented by other authors. Because eighteenth-century authors themselves struggled with what to name these works –variously suggesting Fortsetzung, Anhang, and Beylage – this dissertation deliberately imports the anachronistic term; after all, like fan fiction today, these appropriations could take the form of prequels, sequels, and spinoffs. Based on close readings of literary and legal texts, “Borrowing Werther” documents the widespread practice of writing “fan fiction” and reconstructs the contemporaneous debate about the much-disputed literary phenomenon. Analyzing the changing reading, writing, and consumer habits of the late-eighteenth century, “Borrowing Werther” first scrutinizes the social, economic, and aesthetic changes that motivated the rapid rise of fan fiction after 1750. Then, utilizing an ethnographic approach borrowed from legal and literary anthropology, this dissertation identifies the set of unwritten, extralegal customary norms that governed the production of these works. This dissertation thus reinterprets the “literary commons” of the eighteenth century, arguing that what appears to have been the free circulation of characters was actually circumscribed by rules and conditions. Finally, after investigating how these customary norms influenced the rise of intellectual property rights in Germany, “Borrowing Werther” demonstrates how these rules translate into a distinctive form of literature. “Borrowing Werther” ultimately uncovers a largely overlooked literary genre and reveals a new concept of literary originality and authorship that predates Romanticism.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:German

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