Die verwechselten Töchter [literally: The Exchanged Daughters] is an epistolary novel by Maria Anna Sager (also written as Maria Anna Sagar).
Finished on: 26.4.2019
[You can read it here in German.]
In a rather poor neighborhood, two girls are born at almost exactly the same time, and both are called Klara. Their mothers are fast friends, and the two girls grow up inseparable and often indistinguishable. When the mother of the older Klara is called away by circumstances to acquire a more affluent position, both Klaras remain with the mother of the younger Klara. When the older Klara’s mother calls for her daughter a few years later, the younger Klara’s mother hopes to find a better life for her daughter and sends the younger Klara in the older Klara’s stead – a decision that causes troubles for all of them.
Die verwechselten Töchter is an almost forgotten classic of Austrian literature, one of the first (epistolary) novels by a woman to be published at all in German. And it is still a very good read that I can absolutely recommend.
The book doesn’t really stick to genre conventions as we know them nowadays. Maybe that’s a question of its age or a rebellious streak on Sager’s part. Be that as it may, it means that the novel starts in a rather comedic fashion – exchanged girls! Confusion! – and ends very sadly and harshly. I really didn’t expect that ending after the light-hearted start.
Especially since Sager has a hand for funny phrases and there’s a nice sense of humor in the entire book. Generally, it’s really well-written. Despite the fact that it is not available in modernized orthography or grammar, it’s easy to read and entertaining.
It is also a rather moralistic novel, obviously wanting to communicate what it means to be a good woman. And yet, with Frau von G., the younger Klara’s mother, the book allows itself and her a lot of complexity. She is good to the older Klara, but not really. The older Klara is very defensive of her, despite her betrayal, and one of the biggest problems for Klara is how to resolve the situation without embarassing Frau von G. (something I, personally, wouldn’t have bothered with so much).
Sager and this novel were quite a discovery for me – and I can only recommend that you give it a go if you’re interested in older German-language literature.
Summarizing: Worth remembering.