Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born into an upper-middle-class family in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on August 28, 1749. Given a largely private education that included a rigorous study of ancient and modern languages, he came into contact with the theater at a very early age. At the age of sixteen, he studied law at Leipzig but was interrupted by a debilitating illness that nearly took his life. Two years later, he went on to the University of Strasbourg, where he completed his studies. While there, he met Johann Gottfried Herder, who introduced him to the works of Homer, Shakespeare, Ossian, and to folk literature. Herder also converted Goethe to the tenets of a new artistic credo which would become known as Romanticism. All these elements loom large in Goethe’s work.
On his return to Frankfurt, Goethe engaged in law and writing. In 1773, he achieved immediate renown among his compatriots with the play Götz von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand (Götz von Berlichingen with the Iron Hand, 1799). A year later, his reputation took on international stature with The Sorrows of Young Werther, his most noted work with the exception of Faust. In 1775, Goethe attracted the attention of the young Duke of Saxe-Weimar, who invited him to the capital city, Weimar. Except for a two-year interval when Goethe visited Italy, he would remain at Weimar all of his life. It was at Weimar that Goethe fell in love with the married...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
The early life of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was shaped by cultivated middle-class and patrician surroundings. An emotionally complex relationship with his sister Cornelia had significant impact on many of his creative works, while the contrasts in temperament and worldview of his parents fostered a rapidly developing awareness of German cultural polarities: northern intellectual and moral intensity and southern artistic sensuousness and sensitivity.
From the autumn of 1765 until serious illness forced him to return home in 1768, Goethe studied law in Leipzig. Stimulated by encounters with popular rococo culture, a love affair with the daughter of an innkeeper, and university exposure to the ideas of Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, Johann Christoph Gottsched, Adam Friedrich Oeser, and Christoph Martin Wieland, he began creating poetry and light pastoral plays that were intended only to be socially entertaining. The poems of Neue Lieder (1770; New Poems, 1853) are his most important literary accomplishment of this period.
After a slow convalescence in Frankfurt, during which he studied the writings of Susanne von Klettenburg and the natural philosophers Paracelsus von Hohenheim and Emanuel Swedenborg, Goethe entered the university at Strasbourg. Under the influence of Herder, whom he met during the winter of 1770-1771, and other Sturm und Drang figures, the young poet turned away from the cosmopolitan tendencies of Leipzig and...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born August 28, 1749, in Frankfurt am Main. His father, Johann Kaspar Goethe, was a well-to-do nonpracticing lawyer holding the title of imperial councilor. His learning and multifaceted interests were passed on to the young Goethe. The father was strict, often overbearing, and Goethe was never close to him. Goethe’s mother, Katharina Elisabeth (née Textor), the daughter of the mayor, received more of his affection. In Frankfurt, Goethe first made contact with the theater through puppet plays and French troupes. He recorded these impressions vividly in his autobiography, Poetry and Truth from My Own Life. From 1765 to 1768, he attended the university in Leipzig, famous for its Enlightenment and Rococo writers, and studied law. There he also studied painting and had the first of his many famous love affairs (this one with Kätchen Schönkopf), which always resulted in beautiful poetry. His not atypical student life was interrupted by a lung hemorrhage, which compelled him to return to Frankfurt. Home again, and sickly, he came under the influence of the Pietist and mystic Susanna von Klettenberg, whose teachings can be found in “Bekenntnisse einer schönen Selle” (“Confessions of a Fair Saint”), which constitutes the sixth book of Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.
Goethe returned to the university in 1770, this time to Strasbourg, where he received his degree in 1771. While in this French-German...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry)
Three aspects of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s childhood contributed substantially to his development as a literary artist. A sheltered existence, in which he spent long hours completely alone, fostered the growth of an active imagination. A complicated attachment to his sister Cornelia colored his perceptions of male-female relationships in ways that had a profound impact on the kinds of experience from which his works were generated. Finally, contrasts between his parents in temperament and cultural attitudes gave him an early awareness of the stark polarities of life upon which the central tensions of his major literary creations are based.
While studying law in Leipzig between 1765 and 1768, Goethe began to write poems and simple plays in the prevailing Anacreontic style. Although some of these productions relate to his infatuation with Kätchen Schönkopf, an innkeeper’s daughter, they are more the product of his desire to become a part of the contemporary intellectual establishment than a direct outpouring of his own inner concerns. Among the important figures who influenced his education and thinking during this period were Christoph Martin Wieland, Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, and Adam Friedrich Oeser.
The experiences that resulted in Goethe’s breakthrough to a distinctly individual and characteristic literary approach began when he entered the University of Strasbourg in 1770. Encounters with two very different people during...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (GUR-tuh) was born in Frankfurt am Main (now in Germany) on August 28, 1749, the eldest son of Johann Kaspar and Katharina Elisabeth Goethe. He was educated at home by his lawyer father before attending the University of Leipzig to study law in 1765. Goethe acknowledges his parents’ influence in his autobiography, indicating that from his father he inherited his stature and the serious conduct of his life, and from his “dear mother” he acquired the gaiety of spirit and his love of storytelling.
As a student in Leipzig, a leading cultural center of eighteenth century Europe, Goethe developed an interest in literature and art and became acquainted with the dramatic works of contemporary Romantic poet Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock and literary critic Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Their influence and Goethe’s affection for Anna Katharina Schönkopf, daughter of a Leipzig tavern owner, are reflected in his early poetry and dramatic works, especially in the one-act comedy in verse Die Laune des Verliebten (wr. 1767, pr. 1779, pb. 1806; The Wayward Lover, 1879). Illness caused Goethe to return to Frankfurt in 1768. During his convalescence, he studied religious mysticism, astrology, and alchemy. His familiarity in these areas becomes evident in his best-known work, Faust: Eine Tragödie (pb....
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Johann Wolfgang Goethe (GUR-tuh), poet, dramatist, philosopher, scientist, and leader of the German intellectual renaissance of the late eighteenth century, was born to a wealthy Frankfurt lawyer and his wife. Goethe’s poetic gift may well have come from his lively, witty mother, whose love of storytelling was early transmitted to her son. Educated at home in an atmosphere of learning and refinement, the boy displayed an unusual facility for languages and versification.
An unwilling law student at the University of Leipzig at the age of sixteen, his adolescent disgust with all book learning eventually led to his conceiving the original idea for his masterpiece, The Tragedy of Faust, which was not to be completed for fifty years. During his time at the university Goethe was occupied less with studying than with writing (verse and two plays) and with what was to become another lifelong habit, falling in love. With his early, relatively insignificant compositions, the author established his practice of highly subjective writing. Later he learned to universalize the particular, but few of his great works are without a hard core of personal experience; as Goethe himself said, his writings exist as “fragments of a great confession.”
Recuperating at home from a serious illness during the winter of 1768 and all of 1769,...
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Biography (eNotes Publishing)
While Goethe is almost without exception listed in the company of Tolstoy, Shakespeare, and Homer as a profound figure of world literature, he is known mostly outside of Germany for his short novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) and the first part of Faust. Within his own country, Goethe is not only known as a lyrical poet, playwright, and novelist, but as a celebrated “universal man” as well: his accomplishments include everything from a theater director to a court administrator, and much in between. Like Faust, his most famous protagonist, Goethe seems to have lived intensely and fully, embracing all that life has to offer.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born on August 28, 1749, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, to an affluent middle-class family. As a child he showed an affinity for writing, and he composed an epistolary novel (a novel told through a series of letters) by the time he was eight years old. Goethe was educated at home until he was sixteen when, with his father’s encouragement, he went to Leipzig to study law; in Leipzig, however, he took more of an interest in the arts than he did law, his father’s profession. During an illness, Goethe left Leipzig, returned home, and developed an interest in alchemy, astrology, and the occult. After his convalescence, he finished his law degree in Strasbourg, but also nurtured his fascination with poetry.
By age twenty-one, Goethe was practicing law in Frankfurt and continuing his studies of literature and philosophy. He wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther in 1774, making him famous across Europe and establishing his reputation as a writer, a thinker, and Sturm und Drang Romantic. During this time, Goethe began his first drafts of Faust.
In 1775, Goethe accepted a position in the court of the young Duke Karl August of Weimar where, over the next twenty-five years, Goethe held many administrative positions, traveled, and lived in semi-retirement. He worked as director of the Weimer State Theater and pursued anatomy, geology, botany, and other scientific interests. Goethe became friends with the poet Friedrich Schiller, in whom he found a kindred spirit, and published the first part of Faust in 1808, three years after Schiller’s death.
During the next two decades, Goethe remained artistically vital and became something of a sage to the rest of Europe’s would-be literati. He met most of the influential...
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