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Love and Death in Goethe

Love and Death in Goethe: `One and Double'

Ellis Dye
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Love and Death in Goethe
    Book Description:

    Goethe, in association with his younger Romantic compatriots the Schlegels, Novalis, Fichte, and Schelling, struggled with the subject-object dichotomy, and tried to bridge the gap between self and other, consciousness and nature. His theory and practice prefigured the Romantics' determination to display and interrogate the linguistic and cultural structures informing their own thinking and modes of representation--what Goethe calls one's "Vorstellungsart." His work exploits, subverts, and supplants inherited conventions and signs, demonstrating with virtuosic irony that literature is a system of texts, pre-texts, and pre-established but dynamic conceptual models. 'Love and Death in Goethe:"One and Double"' explores Goethe's use, in a wide range of his poetry and prose, of the theme of 'Liebestod' (love and death) and related embodiments of the paradox of unity in duality. Ellis Dye also examines Goethe's use of other themes related to love and death--the 'femme fatale', the 'vagina dentata, Frau Welt', the Lorelei, venereal disease, the 'Lustmord' --and considers issues of selfhood and individuation as well as the possibility that the love-death theme contains an implicit gender bias toward the existential fact of personal separateness. Poems, plays, and novels are dealt with, nevertheless, as works of art, not only as illustrations of an idea or as points of intersection in a system of rhetorical conventions, and are examined for intellectual cohesiveness, elegance, and integrity of design as well as special meanings and effects. ' Love and Death in Goethe:"One and Double" ' explores the meaning of the central theme of Romantic poetry in the works of the most important Romantic poet of all. Students of literary culture, both the lay reader and the Goethe specialist, will be enlightened by its approach and find pleasure and instruction in its revelations. Robert Ellis Dye is professor of German at Macalester College.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-654-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    In Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Prometheus, an early dramatic fragment (1773), Pandora rushes into the arms of her father, Prometheus, and breathlessly reports that she has witnessed what must have been sexual intercourse between her friend Mira and Mira’s lover Arabar in an open meadow. Pandora is overwhelmed by what she has seen — Mira’s initiation into womanhood — and by the nameless, vicarious passion ignited in herself. “Er küßte sie tausendmal,” she reports. “Und hing an ihrem Munde, / Um seinen Geist ihr einzuhauchen.” Alarmed by Pandora’s outcry, Arabar had fled and left Mira to exhaust her still live desire in Pandora’s...

  6. 1: Issues: Some Implications of the Link between Love and Death
    (pp. 16-40)

    Lieben und Untergehn: das reimt sich seit Ewigkeiten,” says Nietzsche. “Wille zur Liebe: das ist, willig auch sein zum Tode.”¹ “L’amour, la mort, sont sans doute les événements majeurs qui affectent la condition humaine.”² The antipodes “l’amour et la mort,” near homonyms in French, are linked in titles like that of Gautier’s “La Morte Amoureuse,” for which Goethe’s “Die Braut von Korinth” was probably a source.³ Philipp Otto Runge’s desire for fusion with Pauline Bassenge was a “Sehnsucht und . . . Wille” which are “nur das Innere und Äußere, . . . das ist das Ich und das Du,...

  7. 2: Incorporating Tradition
    (pp. 41-61)

    Goethe readily acknowledged his indebtedness to tradition. “Goethe ist kein Prophet,” writes Friedrich Sengle, “sondern ein gewaltiger Erbe der Tradition.”¹ In “Bedeutende Fördernis durch ein einziges geistreiches Wort,” Goethe says he took into the repository of his memory the themes for several of his most famous ballads and let them incubate there for forty or fifty years, until they ripened toward a new representation. “Ich will hievon nur die Braut von Korinth, den Gott und die Bajadere, den Grafen und die Zwerge, den Sänger und die Kinder, und zuletzt noch den baldigst mitzuteilenden Paria nennen” (FA 1,24:596). Elsewhere he employs...

  8. 3: Frau Welt. Venereal Disease. Femmes Fatales.
    (pp. 62-78)

    Woman, in the Liebestod tradition, is both a love object and an agent of death. Charlotte, for example, is both a madonna and femme fatale to Werther, a paragon of lust-defying purity but as seductive as the magnetic mountain in Werther’s grandmother’s tale, a mountain that pulls the hardware out of passing ships and sends them to a watery grave (16. and 26. Julius 1771). The narratives that evolved around Friederike Brion, too, rely on stereotypes of woman as virgin and woman as whore.¹ The Princess von Este in Torquato Tasso appears first as Tasso’s muse, and then, in his...

  9. 4: Die Leiden des jungen Werthers
    (pp. 79-96)

    Two of the works that Goethe wrote in 1774 end with a Liebestod. Clavigo, an enduringly popular play, does not actually celebrate the blending of the lovers in a death-transcending union: Its horizon is more social than existential and revolves around Clavigo’s difficulty in choosing between love and ambition, between ascendancy in society and government on the one hand and marriage to the declassé Marie Beaumarchais on the other. The dilemma is resolved by the thrust of a dagger from Marie’s brother, the mortally wounded Clavigo falling on the coffin of the woman he has wronged. He grasps her cold...

  10. 5: Stella: Ein Schauspiel für Liebende
    (pp. 97-113)

    Stella has been called a “Pendant zu Werther . . .; die Figuren der Dreiecksgeschichte sind vertauscht” (MA 1,1:757), for while in Werther it was one woman between two men, in Stella it is one man between two women. Werther ends in the death of the protagonist, Stella does so only in a late, second version, no longer subtitled “Ein Schauspiel für Liebende,” but simply “Ein Trauerspiel.” Both works pose the question of the uniqueness of personalities and raise the possibility of one lover replacing or standing in for another. In Stella, substitution is thematized, as part of a demonstration...

  11. 6: Intrusions of the Supernatural
    (pp. 114-162)

    With the felicitous oxymoron “Natural Supernaturalism” Meyer H. Abrams captures a coincidence of opposites constitutive of Romanticism.¹ Not only do nature and the natural have pride of place on Romanticism’s scale of values, but its fascination with the supernatural is itself natural. As Goethe enjoyed pointing out, every manifestation of culture is natural. Dress, manners, habits of mind and behavior, traditions, rituals, language and its rules, and the generic and thematic conventions of literature, religion, and philosophy are all natural.

    The love-death theme is especially at home — it is not a “guest” — in Goethe’s ballads. These ballads transgress many boundaries...

  12. 7: Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre: Identity and Difference
    (pp. 163-181)

    We are exploring a narrational figure in which lovers attempt to overcome their existential opposition and blend together as one identity. There are many shades of identification, however, all of which imply, in one way or another, the submergence of duality in unity. Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre is a tour de force of identification, including multiple psychological identifications, mistaken identities, and the eventual union of sexual partners who are ideally matched but held apart by the exigencies of narrative and plot.

    Among the questions the novel takes up is whether an actor can, or should, try to identify with the character...

  13. 8: Poetic Ambiguity: “Selige Sehnsucht”
    (pp. 182-199)

    The poem “Selige Sehnsucht ” from the West-östlicher Divan is the locus classicus of the love-death theme in Goethe.

    Sagt es niemand, nur den Weisen,

    Weil die Menge gleich verhöhnet,

    Das Lebend’ge will ich preisen,

    Das nach Flammentod sich sehnet.

    In der Liebesnächte Kühlung,

    Die dich zeugte, wo du zeugtest,

    Ueberfällt dich fremde Fühlung,

    Wenn die stille Kerze leuchtet.

    Nicht mehr bleibest du umfangen

    In der Finsterniß Beschattung

    Und dich reißet neu Verlangen

    Auf zu höherer Begattung.

    Keine Ferne macht dich schwierig,

    Kommst geflogen und gebannt

    Und zuletzt, des Lichts begierig,

    Bist du, Schmetterling, verbrannt.

    Und so lang du das...

  14. 9: Die Wahlverwandtschaften: Romantic Metafiction
    (pp. 200-224)

    In her prize-winning essay “Hierogamy versus Wedlock,” Evelyn Hinz discusses the generic classification of prose fictions in terms of the kind of marriage plot they employ.¹ Hinz refines Northrop Frye’s scheme of classification, in which Pride and Prejudice counts as a novel but Wuthering Heights is a romance, and offers the term “mythic narrative” for lengthy prose works organized by a marriage plot and portraying the “hierogamous” union of disparate partners whose love mirrors a cosmic conjunction like “the union of earth and sky.”² According to Hinz, marriage in a mythic narrative implicates the non-social as well as the social...

  15. 10: Love and Death in Faust
    (pp. 225-249)

    Goethe’s Faust expresses Romanticism’s agony over the fact of individuation and the individual’s distance from its origin and destiny. Its action is propelled by a man’s desire to escape from selfhood into love. Faust does not end in a Liebestod, like Romeo and Juliet or Aida. Yet what is at stake is the continuation of Faust’s self-identity in time versus his dissolution, his Entgrenzung, in a timeless moment of bliss. The escape from selfhood into union with another, whether a lover, the world, or God, would be a Liebestod, and there are many echoes of the love-death theme in Faust,...

  16. 11: Truth. Paradox. Irony.
    (pp. 250-268)

    Wiederholte Spiegelungen! The paradox of the love-death tradition is mirrored in Goethe’s conception of truth and in the Romantic irony with which he shows that any representation of reality that is free from irony only masks it further. His passion for the truth, however, is an enduring flame, as is evident in the energy he expended on scientific experimentation and in his polemics against Newton.

    Goethe’s position on the truth, on the accessibility of ultimate things to human cognition, and on the faculties with which we access and communicate “truth” rewards careful study. Johann Christian Kestner wrote of the twenty-three-year-old...

  17. 12: Virtuosity
    (pp. 269-282)

    Seid Ihr wohl gar ein Virtuos?” is the question put to Mephistopheles by Frosch in Auerbach’s Keller (2201), in an effort to embarrass the uncanny intruder. “O nein! says Mephistopheles with a quick rhyme on Frosch’s word, “die Kraft ist schwach, allein die Lust ist groß” (2195–2204). Goethe’s (and Mephisto’s) power over language is anything but “schwach.” Linguistic dexterity may seem to presuppose no ideology or epistemology. Fun is fun. Still irony, paradox, and virtuosity are all dyadic (not triadic, for instance), and suggest a reliance on binary choices, even if God transcends all opposition between contraries. Irony and...

  18. Works Cited
    (pp. 283-312)
  19. Index: Persons and Subjects
    (pp. 313-333)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 334-334)