Self-Sacrifice between Constraint and Redemption: Gertrud von Le Fort’s The Song at the Scaffold

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It would be easy to dismiss the theme of this book, Die Letzte am Schafott,
as no more than an expression of a Catholic triumphant attitude. During the
French revolution, possessions of convents were confiscated and whoever
resisted was sentenced to death and executed under the guillotine. The French
Revolution would be no more than a demonstration of the barbarous attitude
of the idolatry of Reason over against the devotion to true faith. The story, however,
goes far deeper than that. This becomes clear when we focus on two of
the main characters: Two young girls, strongly differing in temperament and
background; and two spiritual leaders in the convent diametrically opposed
to one another. We will note that the story contains a sharp criticism of traditional
Catholic ideas about self-sacrifice and martyrdom. Simultaneously, the
story offers a passionate picture of true martyrdom, which can only be reached
by acknowledging existential fear and a deep love of life.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSacrifice in modernity: community, ritual, identity
Subtitle of host publicationFrom Nationalism and Nonviolence to Health Care and Harry Potter
EditorsJoachim Duyndam, Anne-Marie Korte, Marcel Poorthuis
Place of PublicationLeiden
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9789004332065
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016

Publication series

NameStudies in Theology and Religion
ISSN (Print)1566-208X


  • Sacrifice
  • autonomy
  • modernity


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