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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: August 2014

9 - Inventing America: German Racism and Colonial Dreams in Sophie Wörishöffer's Im Goldlande Kalifornien (1891)


In the late nineteenth century, novels by the author “S. Wörishöffer” were best-sellers among young readers, rivaling the works of Karl May in popularity. Although their educational value might be debatable, Wörishöffer's adventure tales, which were set all over the world, seemed to offer the combination of excitement and exoticism that was attractive to young readers. In spite of the books' popularity, however, their readers knew virtually nothing about their author. This was no coincidence; the novelist's identity was a well-kept secret. It was not a globetrotter writing about his own experiences who was hiding behind the pen name “S. Wörishöffer.” Instead, the author lived in Altona near Hamburg and never ventured farther from home than to the East Frisian Islands. In addition, the author was not a man, as the subject matter of the stories might suggest, but a woman—Sophie Wörishöffer. In order to maintain the credibility of her works, Wörishöffer's publisher Velhagen & Klasing consciously hid such details from the public (Klasing, 658).

Nevertheless, Wörishöffer produced at least a dozen exotic adventure novels for the “reifere Knabenwelt” (readership of teenage boys), as many of them were subtitled. Their settings and the travels of their protagonists are not limited to America, but encompass the globe. For example, in her first adventure novel alone, Robert des Schiffsjungen Fahrten und Abenteuer auf der deutschen Handels- und Kriegsflotte (Robert the Cabin Boy's Journeys and Adventures with the German Merchant and Armed Fleet, 1877), Robert travels from Germany to Cuba, the United States, the Arctic Circle, South America, and via North America back to Germany, from whence he then ventures out again.