Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Edward and Charlotte’s home

Edward and Charlotte’s home. Extensive country estate in Germany—a home worthy of an aristocratic couple who have withdrawn from fashionable court life to share a cultivated though not reclusive retirement. Their large manor house with two wings is surrounded by domestic gardens and a nearby landscape of villages, fields, lakes, and hills. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe almost seems inclined to conceal the fact that the locale of his story is German, choosing instead to evoke a generic European landscape comparable to a landscape portrayed by noted seventeenth and eighteenth century painters.

By avoiding details of a specific locale, Goethe focuses attention on the psychological content of his narrative that permits him to suggest that his story’s tragic events are underlain by social and philosophical issues that are continental in scope. His story’s narrow topographical range also gives its setting—and the novel itself—a sense of being a laboratory of social relationships, a circumstance that agrees with the novel’s title, which is borrowed from contemporary scientific speculation about the physical interaction of chemical substances.

Gardening and the alteration and management of the estate are essential themes in the novel from its opening; the fateful events that are to overwhelm Edward and Charlotte, along with their companions Ottilie and the unnamed “Captain,” are set in motion in the first chapter by Edward’s insistent question of Charlotte, “Are my gardening and your landscaping to be for hermits only?”

Moss hut

Moss hut. Small, rustic outbuilding that Charlotte is building at the beginning of...

(The entire section is 705 words.)