Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Pedagogic Province

Pedagogic Province (peh-duh-GAH-jihk). At almost precisely the halfway point of the novel, Wilhelm enters the Pedagogic Province, a region subdivided into sections according to the nature of the educational activity that is pursued in each. As with many of the locales in the novel, Goethe gives the Province only a schematic description that allows him to explore a range of philosophical ideas. In the case of the Pedagogic Province, Goethe’s objective is in part to parody the ideas of two leading German educators whose writings reflected the contemporaneous theories of the French savant Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Wilhelm’s purpose in visiting the Pedagogic Province is to see his son, Felix, who is a pupil in a rigorous and somewhat implausible program that combines a hard-working farming life with the study of the fine arts and foreign languages. Passing first through the district for instrumental music—a pastoral settlement made up of cottages that are isolated in order to separate the practicing musicians—Wilhelm comes to the district of the visual arts. At first he perceives it as a solidly built town, but then he recognizes that it is an expansive and stately city.

Soon the scene changes to nighttime in an adjacent mountainous district, where a miner’s festival is in progress amid tiny flames flickering in clefts and valleys. This passage is one of several in the novel that momentarily evoke a sense of the sublime, a category of aesthetic experience popularly associated with awesome, uncanny, or even frightening aspects of nature in the late eighteenth century. Such unexpected changes of tone, scale, and...

(The entire section is 687 words.)