Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Analysis
by Johann Goethe

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Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s genius extended beyond the short story to embrace all the major genres: the novel, drama, and lyric poetry, as well as nonfiction. Much of his work is autobiographical yet goes well beyond the personal in its focus on the individual’s place in society and the struggle of the artist to express his humanity in the face of opposing forces, both external and internal. His novels Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795-1796; Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, 1825), Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809; Elective Affinities, 1849), and Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre: Oder, Die Entsagenden (1821, 1829; Wilhelm Meister’s Travels, 1827) are the prototypcial Bildungsroman; his diverse lyrics and ballads are among the best in Western literature; and his nonfiction works—even extending to scientific treatises—chronicle some of the most important socio-literary thought of his day, especially his correspondence with Friedrich Schiller. Perhaps his crowning achievement, the Faust plays summarize the artistic and philosophical preoccupations not only of Goethe’s Romantic age but also, in many senses, of the twentieth century as well.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Before World War II, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was read by virtually the entire German populace. Even in the English world, where he has been neglected, largely because of the difficulty in translating the nuances of so sensitive an artisan, it has been commonplace to assign him a position in the literary pantheon of Homer, Dante, and William Shakespeare. Moreover, Goethe has had paramount influence on German literature, influencing writers such as Friedrich Hölderlin, Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, and Franz Kafka. In the English world, his influence is seen on Thomas Carlyle, Charles Dickens, Samuel Butler, and James Joyce; in the French world, on Romain Rolland and André Gide. Nothing escaped his observation; everything he wrote bears the stamp of monumental genius, whether one speaks of his short stories, novels, poems, or plays. Among modern readers, Goethe has been undergoing reappraisal, if not decline, particularly among younger Germans. This opposition, perhaps more social and political than aesthetic, is especially true for Marxists, who have historically resisted writing of nonpolitical orientation. In a day when human survival is at stake, Goethe can seem distant to the contemporary generation. Often his idiom is not so much difficult as it is ethereal; his message, in its optimism, more Victorian than modern. He consorted with aristocrats, despised the French Revolution, admired Napoleon. At times, he is viewed as moralistic, if not arrogant. On the other hand, he has often suffered from excess admiration. Ultimately his value may rest with the profundity of his psychological insights, his sense of the human quest with its pain, his mastery of lyric form. His work needs to be judged for itself, independent of biases. Certainly he has much to offer, given the Renaissance scope of his interests and achievements. His collected works comprise 143 volumes; his writings on science, fourteen volumes alone. If Faust were his only work, it would be sufficient to assure him a high place in literary annals with its affirmation of the human spirit and its confidence that humanity can transcend its errors.

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe made substantial contributions to German letters in almost every genre. He is generally recognized as one of the world’s greatest lyric poets. Especially important in a vast array of powerful and diverse poems styled in many meters and forms are his Römische Elegien (1793; Roman Elegies, 1876), the exuberant love lyrics of Westöstlicher Divan (1819; West-Eastern Divan, 1877), and the magnificent ballads that he created during his association with Friedrich Schiller. With Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774; The Sorrows of Young Werther , 1779), Goethe achieved international fame as a novelist. His most...

(The entire section is 7,942 words.)