The Marquise of O
The story begins with a one-sentence paragraph, in which the widowed Marquise von O. places an announcement in the newspapers in a prominent north Italian town, saying that she is pregnant and wishes the father of her child to make himself known to her so that she can marry him.
We learn that Marquise is the daughter of Colonel G., who was in charge of the citadel of the town M. Some time earlier, when the Napoleonic Wars came to Italy, the citadel was overrun by Russian forces, and the Marquise found herself about to be raped by a gang of Russian soldiers. However, she is saved by the Russian commander, Count F., who appears to her like an angel. After he brings her to safety, she falls unconscious. The Count then finishes storming the citadel, attaining the surrender of the last pockets of resistance and garrisoning the fort with his own troops. He leaves before the Marquise can thank him. The Marquise and her parents receive news shortly thereafter that Count F. has been killed in the nearby fighting. His last words are reported as "Giulietta, this bullet avenges you!" ("Julietta! Diese Kugel rächt dich!" in the original German). The Marquise is intrigued that someone the Count knows so well should have the same name that she does, Giulietta.
The reports of Count F.'s death prove false, however. At the conclusion of the war, the Count appears at the house of Colonel G. and asks to marry the Marquise. He is quite insistent that they should be married immediately, though he seems to understand that it is an unreasonable request, since they hardly know one another. The family suggests that the Count can stay at their house in order for him to get to know the Marquise. The Count cannot accept this offer, though, because he has a pressing military duty in another town. Therefore, the family agrees that the Count should leave to perform his military duty, and that the Marquise will entertain no other prospective husband in his absence. While he is away, the Marquise finds herself pregnant. Although the symptoms of her pregnancy are clear, she and her mother are reluctant to believe it. They both accept the reality only after it is confirmed by a doctor and a midwife.
The Colonel kicks the Marquise out of his house and forbids her ever to come back, despite her mother's protests. She moves to her deceased husband's estate in V. Meanwhile, the Count returns to M., hears the news of the Marquise's pregnancy, seems unsurprised and tells the Marquise's brother that he is convinced of her innocence. The Marquise's brother speaks ill of his sister and questions the Count's sanity, given the latter's consistent interest in marrying the Marquise. The Count decides to visit her in V. and after being turned away by the porter, sneaks in through the garden and again begs the Marquise to marry him. She runs into the house and locks the door.
It is at this point that the Marquise publishes her announcement in the newspaper, asking the father of the unborn child to step forward and reveal his true identity since she is resolved to marry the person who put her in this unique situation. The next day, the newspaper prints another announcement, saying that the father will present himself at the Colonel's house on the 3rd at eleven o’clock. The Colonel is furious, believing that this is a ploy by his daughter to delude them into believing she is innocent. The Colonel's wife, however, goes to visit the Marquise to find out for herself. She tells the Marquise that the father has already revealed himself to her: it is the groom, Leopardo, a servant of the household. When the Marquise seems to accept this for the truth, her mother reveals the trick and says that she now believes the Marquise's innocence. She brings the Marquise back to M. and tells the Colonel to apologise. She leaves the Colonel and the Marquise alone, and when she returns the Marquise is sitting in her father's lap while he is kissing her ardently on the lips "like a lover!" ("wie ein Verliebter!"); the Colonel’s wife is pleased. They eagerly await the arrival of the mysterious father and agree that unless he is too far below her status, that the Marquise should marry him immediately. At the appointed hour, Leopardo walks in... to announce Count F.
The Colonel’s wife is satisfied, because she knows that the Count is well-off and of good character from her earlier investigations, but the Marquise herself is visibly upset and says that she was willing to marry a "monster" ("Lasterhaften") but not the Devil. Her parents believe that she is crazy and agree that she should marry the Count, as per her earlier agreement. She eventually agrees, unhappily, and the Colonel and the Count draw up a contract which says that the Count is entitled to none of the rights of marriage yet bound by all of its duties. They are married the following day. Their son is born and the Count makes the boy a gift of 20,000 rubles and makes the Marquise (now the Countess) his sole heir. Eventually, the Countess comes to be happy with him and they celebrate a second marriage, a much happier one.
Analysis, discussion of the rape
The rape is not explicitly indicated in the book, and scholars do not all agree on how important the rape is, or whether it even happened at all, one of them arguing that it is in fact the Marquise who seeks sexual gratification from the Count. It happens, if it happens, in a dash: Then—the officer, a dash which one scholar calls "the most delicately accomplished rape in our literature".
The Italian film Il seme della discordia is a modern adaptation of the novella.
- McAllister, Grant Profant (2005). Kleist's Female Leading Characters and the Subversion of Idealist Discourse. Peter Lang. p. 183. ISBN 9780820474861.
- Vitanza, Victor J. (2011-09-27). Sexual Violence in Western Thought and Writing: Chaste Rape. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 209–11. ISBN 9780230349513.