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Reading Goethe

Reading Goethe: A Critical Introduction to the Literary Work

Martin Swales
Erika Swales
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 196
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  • Book Info
    Reading Goethe
    Book Description:

    The year 1999 saw the 250th anniversary of the birth of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany's greatest writer. Appropriately, literary scholars within Germany and beyond paid tribute to this remarkable talent. But a number of commentators also noted that Goethe is often revered rather than read, known of rather than known. It is the aim of this study to provide a corrective to this state of affairs. The authors concentrate on the literary work and offer analyses that represent an impassioned, but by no means uncritical, advocacy -- one that seeks to persuade both academic critics and general readers alike that Goethe is one of the key figures of European modernity. To an extent that is virtually unique in modern literature, Goethe was active in a whole number of literary genres. He was a superb poet, unrivaled in the variety of his expressive modes, and in his ability to combine intellectual sophistication withexperiential immediacy. He also wrote short stories and novels throughout his life, ranging from the The Sorrows of Young Werther, to The Elective Affinities. He was also a highly skilled dramatist, both in the historical mode and in the classical verse-drama. Above all else, Goethe is the author of Faust: a workthat attempts -- and achieves -- more than any other modern European drama. Erica Swales is College Lecturer and Fellow of King's College, Cambridge. Martin Swales is Professor of German at University College London.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-702-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-ix)
    E.S. and M.S.
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  5. 1: Introduction
    (pp. 1-21)

    Before we come to detailed consideration of Goethe’s literary works, we wish to explore three aspects which combine to constitute what one might call the “Goethe phenomenon.” They are: his life, his thought, and, for want of a better word, his image. All great writers tend to generate in the minds of their readers a sense both of the historical person who wrote the literary works and of the mentality, the creative persona from which these works emanated. Moreover, the thinking of great writers tends to play a role in the cultural (and even, on occasion, socio-political) traditions of their...

  6. 2: Poetry
    (pp. 22-63)

    In order to have some measure of structure, this chapter will address Goethe’s poetry under various thematic headings: nature, divinity, love, reflectivity. However, we must stress at the outset that these thematic categories are anything but watertight divisions: more often than not, the nature poetry, for example, is inseparable from the love poetry and the love poetry is implicated in the philosophical poetry. This interrelation lies at the very heart of Goethe’s poetic oeuvre and makes him perhaps the greatest lyric poet of modern Europe. For him, feeling and mood modulate into thought and concept, and vice versa. For this...

  7. 3: Narrative Fiction
    (pp. 64-94)

    Goethe wrote prose fiction throughout his life; and, as we shall see, he explored the full range of narrative possibilities. In this context, we need to remember that, for much of the eighteenth century, prose fiction in general, and the novel in particular, had to fight hard to achieve respectability. Once the battle was won, the spoils of victory were prodigious: the novel became, and it continues to be, the dominant expression of modern bourgeois culture. And to this process Goethe was a key contributor.

    Admittedly, the German novel is not exactly a force to be reckoned with in the...

  8. 4: Drama
    (pp. 95-134)

    Compared with his great contemporaries Schiller and Kleist, Goethe does not strike one as a born dramatist. That is to say: he does not resolutely seek to define worldly experience in terms of endlessly proliferating moments of conflict. Indeed, many commentators have suggested that his was a primarily lyrical talent, one that found its finest expressivity in eavesdropping on the flux of mood and thought that constitutes the inwardness of the individual self.¹ In this sense, there is something monologic about his voice. Yet the range and variety of his achievement in the dramatic mode is impressive. In a revealing...

  9. 5: Faust
    (pp. 135-159)

    Commentators on Goethe’s dramatic work have often noted that he tends to focus on the workings of one particular sensibility and to explore whether that sensibility can be true to itself, can keep some kind of faith with the deepest promptings of his or her being. Although there may be an element of truth to this, plays such asGötz, Egmont, Iphigenie,andTassoare dramas, not monologues. As the preceding chapter has suggested, the self has its antagonists, characters that are truly distinct, not mere extensions of the central subject. In other words: there is a world outside that...

  10. 6: Goethe’s Discursive Writings
    (pp. 160-178)

    The variety and extent of Goethe’s expository writing is prodigious. Indeed, one is hard pressed to think of any other writer of modern Europe who has left such a voluminous corpus of treatises, essays, letters, memoirs, journalism, diaries, maxims, jottings, and so on. Given the fact that Goethe was clearly at ease writing in the discursive mode, it is intriguing to register both what he wrote and what he chose not to write. One extraordinary omission stands out: as we have already noted, he did not produce anything remotely resembling a systematic philosophy of life, a circumstantial inventory of his...

  11. 7: Conclusion
    (pp. 179-182)

    This book is entitledReading Goethe,and it is our hope that, whatever it may not have achieved, it will have served to encourage the reading of Goethe’s works, not as an adulatory act, but as an exercise in critical reflection. Surveying that oeuvre and our attempts to assist in the reading of it, we inevitably find ourselves looking for some summary definition of why Goethe still has urgent claims to make on us today. Three reflections suggest themselves.

    One has to do with his ability to address and express what one might describe as a central philosophical concern in...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 183-186)
  13. Works Consulted and Works for Further Reading
    (pp. 187-198)
  14. Index
    (pp. 199-202)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 203-203)