Typologies of Repetition, Reflection, and Recurrence: Interpreting the Novella in Goethe's Wahlverwandtschaften

By Gurganus, Albert E. | Goethe Yearbook, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Typologies of Repetition, Reflection, and Recurrence: Interpreting the Novella in Goethe's Wahlverwandtschaften


Gurganus, Albert E., Goethe Yearbook


Und doch bei aller Unvollständigkeit des Literarwesens flnden wir tausendfältige Wiederholung, woraus hervorgeht, wie beschränkt des Menschen Geist und Schicksal sei.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Maximen und Reflexionen

IN THE TENTH CHAPTER OF THE SECOND PART of Die Wahlverwandtschaften Goethe inserts the novella "Die wunderlichen Nachbarskinder,"1 an intriguing puzzle whose solution elucidates his moral and lends added unity to the work Thomas Mann deems "de[n] kühnsten und tiefsten Ehebruchsroma[n], den die moralische Kultur des Abendlandes hervorgebracht hat."2 The novella must be considered a puzzle, for although Goethe provides information throughout the novel that reveals the identity of the young officer of the insert, the character of the novel whose past presages the future of the other three principals, he challenges the reader to deduce the outcome of the episode and to determine why the vignette is included, why it appears where it does in the sequence of events, and how it relates to the work as a whole. Deciphering the correspondence between novella and novel affords the full understanding of both, as the one hinges on the other. Only by extrapolating the insert's untold conclusion can one know with certainty the untold fate of the novel's surviving principals and grasp the inevitability of that fate within a relentless continuum. As the novel's title suggests, the elemental symmetry of being is governed by immutable natural law. Accordingly, parallels of structure, setting, plot, character, and language between novella and novel allow the reader to fill in gaps in each. Taken together with Goethe's observations on patterns and functions of repetition, reflection, and recurrence, recorded over the course of decades, the extrapolated outcomes in Die Wahlverwandtschaften evince the author's belief in the force of causality-as compelling as meter or rhyme in verse-something other writers might term destiny, providence, or stasis. Despite the wealth of clues and hints Goethe furnishes the reader, disregard and misinterpretation of the novella have consistently confounded critics, scholars, and translators, obscuring their insight into the greater work.3

On 1 June 1809 Goethe wrote from Jena to tantalize his friend the composer Karl Friedrich Zelter with the confidence that Die Wahlverwandtschaften, nearing completion, was a particularly nuanced, cryptic work:'Tch habe viel hineingelegt, manches hinein versteckt. Moge auch Ihnen dies offenbare Geheimnis zur Freude gereichen" (HA 6:638). Over the next twenty years Goethe warned various correspondents and confidants that the novel would not be apprehended on first reading, and nearly two centuries after its release Henry and Mary Garland confirm that "hardly any work of Goethe has been interpreted so variously and with such subtlety"4 In commentary for the Hamburg edition of Goethe's collected works Benno von Wiese underscores the difficulty the novel presents even the careful reader: "Die wiederholte Lekture vertieft nur das Geheimnis" (HA 6:672). With regard to "Die wunderlichen Nachbarskinder," the crux of occasionally vituperative debate is the relation of the novella to the rest of the work, although the disputants generally agree that correct interpretation of the novella is essential to Goethe's message.

Walter Benjamin, for example, in the seminal essay "Goethes Wahlverwandtschaften" (1924/25), assails Friedrich Gundolf's study Goethe (1916) for fatally overlooking the embedded novella as an interpretive tool by focusing so narrowly on biographical elements in the novel.5 Benjamin argues at length that Goethe includes "Die wunderlichen Nachbarskinder" to clarify the complex work's lesson: "Nichts konnte den Rest von Zweideutigkeit der ihr verbleibt unscheinbarer machen, als die Einfügung einer Novelle. . ." (168).Wiese concurs with Benjamin on this point:"Wenn der Erzähler an dieser Stelle nochmals eine Erzählung in das Ganze des Romans einlegt, so gibt er uns damit einen Schlüssel an die Hand, die Bildwelt des Romans in wechselseitiger Spiegelung zur Bildwelt der neuen Novelle zu verstehen" (HA 6:720). …

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

Typologies of Repetition, Reflection, and Recurrence: Interpreting the Novella in Goethe's Wahlverwandtschaften
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.