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Michael Hagner

Private Tutor - Sexuality, Criminality and the Media around 1900

(German title: Der Hauslehrer)
ca. 250 pages
Clothbound
2010
Michael Hagner
Foto: Michael Hagner

Professor Michael Hagner is a physician and science historian who holds the Chair for Science Studies at the ETH Zürich. In 2008 he was awarded the Sigmund Freud Prize for Academic Prose by the German Academy for Language and Literature.

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October 1903. Bayreuth is the scene of a sensational trial. Andreas Dippold, a 23-year-old law student and private tutor to two brothers, is accused of beating his pupils so violently that one of them died of his injuries. Dippold insists that he was right to discipline his charges, to correct their wicked habit of masturbation.

The boys’ well-to-do parents (the father is director of the Deutsche Bank) use all their influence to portray the accused as a sexually depraved criminal, a danger to society. The court has its own views and sentences Dippold to eight years’ imprisonment. Court observers and the general public are outraged by the apparently lenient sentence. The trial and its outcome spark a lively debate in the German press, with well-known writers and journalists joining the fray.

Michael Hagner tells the story of the tutor, the boys and their parents leading up to the trial, drawing on contemporary sources and the court proceedings. He then analyses the legal, medical and media practices of the time, which construed the complex events as a model »case« only partly based on the facts. The scandal was hotly debated in pedagogy, criminology, psychiatry and the sexual sciences, and eventually the term »dippoldism« entered the textbooks as a classic example of educatory sadism.

In a style that confidently bridges the gap between storytelling and academic writing, Hagner paints a disturbing picture of the rigidity of child-rearing at the time; of educated Germans’ attitudes to pedagogy and education, sexuality and punishment, normality and perversion; and not least of the human sciences, which played a more obfuscating than enlightening role in the whole affair. A shocking and uncomfortable story. A history lesson that still resonates today.

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