Johann Goethe Additional Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

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 the winter of 1770-1771 sharply changed his life. Johann Gottfried Herder introduced him to the concepts and ideals of the Sturm und Drang movement, providing him with new models in Homer and Shakespeare and moving him in the direction of less artificial modes of expression. Of equal consequence for the immediate evolution of his lyrics was an idyllic love affair with Friederike Brion that ended in a parting, the emotional implications of which marked his writings long afterward.


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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

0111201548-Goethe.jpg Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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. 1808, pr. 1829; The Tragedy of Faust, 1823).

Goethe received his law degree in 1771 from the University of Strasbourg and returned to Frankfurt to practice law with his father for four years. In Strasbourg, Goethe made the acquaintance of the German philosopher and literary critic Johann Gottfried Herder, a leader in the German Romantic movement known as Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress). Herder introduced Goethe to the works of William Shakespeare, and consequently, Goethe patterned his first dramatic tragedy on Shakespeare’s dramatic style. He received his first literary acclaim with Götz von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand (pb. 1773, pr. 1774; Goetz of Berlichingen, with the Iron Hand, 1799), the fictionalized story of a German knight whose exploits stimulated a national German revolt against the authority of the emperor and the church early in the sixteenth century.

In 1774, Goethe’s reputation as an author of international fame was established with the sensational success of Die Leiden des jungen...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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...

(The entire section is 1369 words.)


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 people of his day, including Napoleon Bonaparte and Beethoven, and wrote his autobiography and the second part of Faust, published just months before his death in 1832.