Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship Analysis

Johann Goethe

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Lothario’s estate

Lothario’s estate. Home of the nobleman Baron Lothario. Set in the German countryside, the estate is Wilhelm’s initial point of contact with the social circle that will transform his life. Although the estate is that of a wealthy aristocratic family, the main structure is an irregular building in which symmetry and architectural style have been sacrificed to domestic comfort.

As a keen student of the visual arts and of architecture, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was readily able to describe any sort of architecture, and thus his evocation of the baron’s estate is precisely aimed at having the reader put aside notions of ostentation on the part of those characters who come from the aristocracy. Instead, the estate is to be taken as an index of the ethical and intellectual stature of its owners, who are not aristocrats in a traditional mold. In place of French-inspired formal gardens are domestic gardens that run right up to the buildings. Wilhelm’s observations that there is a cheerful village nearby and that all the gardens and fields seem to be in very good condition reflect Goethe’s interest in a range of domestic and agricultural issues during the time he served in an important administrative capacity within the court at his adopted home of Weimar, Germany.

The rustic exterior appearance of Lothario’s castle and its tranquil setting initially conceal from Wilhelm that it is the seat of a secret society constituted from his immediate circle. Wilhelm observes that a whole side of the castle, including its ancient tower, remains inaccessible to him, but he is soon conducted through dark passageways into a converted chapel that serves as a home for the society. There he is inducted into the group in a ceremony that recalls the stagecraft of the novel’s earlier episodes in the theater, except that instead of being illuminated by lamps, this stage is bathed in morning sunlight coming through a stained glass...

(The entire section is 810 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Brown, Jane K. Goethe’s Cyclical Narratives: “Die Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten” and “Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre.” Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975. Examines Goethe’s use of episodic technique and cyclical narrative. Also presents a methodology that allows the reader to appreciate the contradictions and parody in Goethe’s work.

Fairley, Barker. A Study of Goethe. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1947. A noted Goethe scholar explores the life of the writer. Includes a discussion of the effect of German theater on Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.

Leppmann, Wolfgang. The German Image of Goethe. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1961. Explores Goethe’s changing reputation within his own country, noting a gradual decline in popularity.

Maugham, W. Somerset. “The Three Novels of a Poet.” In Points of View. London: Heinemann, 1958. Maugham argues that Goethe was a better poet than novelist. Maugham, who brings a creative as well as a critical faculty to bear on Goethe’s work, examines poetic technique, including imagery and meter.

Pascal, Roy. “The Bildungsroman: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.” In The German Novel: Studies. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1956. Considers the formal and stylistic features of Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. Briefly discusses Goethe’s career as a theater director in Weimar and its influence on his novels.

Reiss, Hans. Goethe’s Novels. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1969. Critical discussion of The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), Wilhem Meister’s Apprenticeship, and Elective Affinities (1809). Examines Goethe’s natural philosophy, the sociological aspects of his writings, and his influence on German theater.