Academic journal article German Quarterly

Love and Death in Goethe: 'One and Double'

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Love and Death in Goethe: 'One and Double'

Article excerpt

Dye, Ellis. Love and Death in Goethe: One andDouble'. Rochester: Camden House, 2004. 333 pp. $75.00 hardcover.

Love and death-one might assume that Goethe scholarship already has produced more than one book on this important topic, but Ellis Dye's monograph is in fact the first. More precisely, it examines the theme of love-death, love and death as identical; in an ideal liebestod, two lovers die at the same time and in each other's arms, most eminently represented in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. With references to Lacan, Dye explores the epistemological significance of love-death as informed by psychological issues of selfhood and individuation, the paradox of unity in duality-hence the second part of the title, alluding to Goethe's poem "Ginkgo biloba." Dye posits the theme in works central to Goethe's writings-most obvious in selected poems-surveys love-death and unity in duality in other works including the scientific writings, states the significance for Goethe's use of symbolism and paradox, and thus re-reads the Weimar Classic as an eminently Romantic writer.

In twelve chapters, most of them published previously and revised for the book format, Dye sums up and presents in very readable form his career-long scholarship on and interest in Goethe's works. In the first chapter, Dye investigates how love and death relate to one another; he admits the love-death theme to be "a peculiarly male construct" (36) and "implicitly sexist" (39). He further points out the young Goethe's use of tradition, of love and the desire for unity (even at the price of violence and death) in poems such as "Heidenröslein," "König in Thule," and "Ganymed"; he then places characters such as Adelheid in Götz and Helena in the tradition of women as both love objects and agents of death, as femmes fatales. Dye terms the poem "Selige Sehnsucht," which has a chapter of its own, the "locus dassicus of the love-death theme in Goethe" (182). Among the ballads with their supernatural elements Dye points out the seeking of love/happiness/unity beyond death, especially in "Der Fischer," "Erlkönig," "Die Braut von Korinth," and "Der Gott und die Bajadere. …

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