The Young Hunger Artists: the Portrayal of Eating Disorders by Contemporary Austrian Women Writers

Petra Bagley


This paper explores how the abuse of food by young women is an expression of the need for attention as well as a form of self-punishment in psychological and physiological terms.  In Anna Mitgutsch’s novel “Die Züchtigung” (“Punishment”, 1985) the daughter attempts to hinder the development of her femininity in order to abate her mother’s increasing hatred of her.  At the same time she binges to prove to the rest of society that her mother has been feeding her well and is therefore a ‘good’ mother.  In this ambivalent mother-daughter relationship Mitgutsch illustrates how the daughter agonises over her mother’s self-sacrifice, whilst eating/not eating in an almost sacrificial manner.  Later she diets to please her lover and in the process becomes anorexic.  This obsessive behaviour is the focus of Helene Flöss’ “Dürre Jahre” (“The Lean Years”, 1998).  Here the desire to have the figure of a model begins at the age of 15 and ends after 7 years of calorie counting in a psychiatric ward for psychosomatics, where the protagonist weighs just 34 kilos.  Both Mitgutsch’s and Flöss’ novels feature young women who suffer at the hands of family and social pressures, so much so that they are prepared to starve and are starved of love.



Austria; women’s writing;eating disorders; Anna Mitgutsch; Helene Flöss

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