Goethe in Context New Biography Shows the German Writer in His Cultural Environment

By Merle Rubin. Merle Rubin regularly reviews literature and contemporary fiction . | The Christian Science Monitor, June 12, 1991 | Go to article overview

Goethe in Context New Biography Shows the German Writer in His Cultural Environment


Merle Rubin. Merle Rubin regularly reviews literature and contemporary fiction ., The Christian Science Monitor


WHEN we speak of Western civilization - and we shall continue to speak of it, however unfashionable it has become in some circles of academia of late - we speak, inevitably, of Goethe, the greatest of German writers and one of the giants of world literature.

For those who can read him in German, there is no mistaking the accent of genius: The power of his thought can be felt in the power of his language. Reading him in translation, however, some of this power may be lost.

Nenn's Gluck! Herz! Liebe! --Gott!

Ich habe kenien Namen

Dafur. Gefuhl ist alles,

Name Schall und Rauch

Umnebelnd Himmelsglut.

These lines spoken by Goethe's Faust are rendered by biographer Nicholas Boyle as "call it fortune, heart, love, God! I have no name for it. Feeling is everything - names are sound and smoke, clouding heaven's fire." The translation is accurate, but no translation can quite capture the concision and force of the original.

One of the avowed aims of Boyle's massive new life of Goethe is "to make Goethe accessible ... to the general reader most especially the reader unfamiliar with German literature, which means most English-speaking readers.

Language is not the only barrier. Most of us have a difficult time putting Goethe in context. We can know that he was born Johann Wolfgang Goethe in the city of Frankfurt in 1749, that he is the author of "Faust,The Sorrows of Young Werther,Elective Affinities," "Egmont,Iphigenia in Tauris,Tasso," "Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship,Wilhelm Meister's Travels," a stunning body of poetry, plays, stories, novels, not to mention his writings on color theory, mineralogy, theology, botany, or his experience as a n administrator in Weimar.

His life is well documented - to a fault: a veritable sea of paper that further blurs the outlines of this protean, enigmatic figure.

Goethe, like the English poet Byron, was a celebrity in his own time. Unlike Byron, whose fame was enhanced by his role as a brooding outcast and romantic rebel, Goethe was esteemed as a sage.

"Goethe in Weimar sleeps, and Greece,/ Long since, saw Byron's struggle cease," begins Matthew Arnold's 1850 poem "Memorial Verses.When Goethe's death was told, we said/ Sunk, then, is Europe's sagest head./ Physician of the iron age,/ Goethe has done his pilgrimage."

Arnold's image of the wise, objective Goethe leaves out the side of him that first captured the public's heart in "The Sorrows of Young Werther" (1774), a novel that took Germany by storm, mirroring the cult of "Sentimentalism" then prevalent and spawning a new cult of "Wertherism."

The story is told from the viewpoint of its sensitive, not to say self-absorbed, young hero, who commits suicide when the woman he loves marries someone else.

It is, at once, Goethe's tribute to "Sentimentality" and his critique of its excesses.

Goethe remains a hard character to pin down: a man of his age who transcended his age; a dreamer, a pragmatist, an enthusiastic participant and an aloof observer. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Goethe in Context New Biography Shows the German Writer in His Cultural Environment
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.