The idea that Felix Mendelssohn prevented his sister, Fanny Hensel, from publishing her compositions is central to biographical representations of her, including Franççoise Tillard's Fanny Mendelssohn (1992) and Gloria Kamen's Hidden Music (1996). This story can be traced to nineteenth-century publications by male members of the Mendelssohn family and their desire to portray both siblings according to socially acceptable gender roles. Such origins challenge the assumption that the story of Fanny Hensel's "suppression" represents a modern feminist reinterpretation of her life. Instead, current treatment of Hensel relies on common biographical models for male composers; in her lack of a public career, she fits the Romantic stereotype of the neglected, suffering genius.
The retelling of the "suppression" of Fanny Hensel represents a "story" in itself - a rescue plot in which modern women rediscover Hensel and somehow "save" her from historical neglect. This feminist recovery relies on the assumption that Hensel was forgotten, overlooking the numerous publications between 1830 and 1920 in which she appears. Centering Hensel's biography on her brother's influence rather than on her eventual publication of her music oversimplifies the larger historical situation for women composers, replacing the manifold issues surrounding gender and class with a single male villain. The difficulties encountered in telling the story of Hensel's life reveal a need for a feminist biography that balances an understanding of larger cultural constraints with recognition of individual female agency.
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