Academic journal article German Quarterly

A Companion to the Works of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Academic journal article German Quarterly

A Companion to the Works of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Article excerpt

Fischer, Barbara, and Thomas C. Fox, eds. A Companion to the Works of Gotthold Ephraim Less/Kg. Rochester: Camden House, 2005. 432 pp. $99.00 hardcover.

The Companion is the first English-language introduction to Lessing and his work, rather than to individual works, as the title appears to promise. The Companion's image of Lessing is that of a neglected innovator in the fields of criticism and theater, and of a pioneer in the professions of critic and dramaturge. The seventeen contributors address Lessing's biography, his aesthetics and criticism, philosophy and theology, drama, and drama theory. The volume meticulously outlines Lessing reception in four essays on Lessing in the "Third Reich," on East and West German theater, and on Leasing scholarship through the 19th and part of the 20th century. Additional contributions briefly describe scholarly organizations dedicated to Lessing. The volume contains an introduction, an index, and a bibliography. In keeping with the publisher's policy, quotes have not been translated into English. Many contributors have cogently summarized the gist of their quotes, thus preserving the volume's usefulness to a wider readership. Because of the volume's thematic approach, individual works by Lessing are rarely discussed comprehensively, albeit some works, such as Nathan der Weise, are discussed by a number of contributors from their respective thematic perspectives. A focus on individual works might have yielded a broader picture of ongoing scholarly discussions. The Companion is no substitute for Monika Fick's Lessing-Handbuch (2000) with its near encyclopedic features, but it is a useful and needed introduction to Lessing for an English-speaking readership, occasionally hampered in this role through the publisher's non-translation policy.

The contributions, while generally offering introductions, are of a high quality, and sometimes broach new territory, but only a few can be mentioned here. Pizer discusses Lessing's fable theory and manages to synthesize the fable's literary surplus of signification with this genre's role in the Enlightenment project of Anschaulichkeit. Thereby he brings into agreement two apparently contradictory aspects of Lessing's fable and fable theory. …

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