Places Discussed

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...

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Boyle, Nicholas. Goethe, the Poet and the Age. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1991. An exceptionally detailed study of Goethe’s development as an artist. Discusses Goethe’s novels and includes an extended analysis of the culture and times in which he lived and worked.

Dieckmann, Liselotte. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. New York: Twayne, 1974. A lucid overview of Goethe’s novels, plays, and poetry. An excellent introductory source. Contains interesting chapters on biography and autobiography and chapters focused on the novels, including Wilhelm Meister’s Travels.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Goethe: Or, The Writer.” In Representative Men: Seven Lectures. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1876. A vivid, extremely keen assessment of Goethe’s role as one of the legendary writers of his century. Of continuing relevance to later times. Discusses Goethe in the context of American and European writers. Also discusses the merits of Wilhelm Meister’s Travels.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Goethe’s Literary Essays. Arranged by J. E. Spingarn. 1921. Reprint. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1964. Several essays place Wilhelm Meister’s Travels in the context of Goethe’s theories on the art of world literature. Contains Goethe’s own thoughts on the development of fiction and art.

Lange, Victor, ed. Goethe: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. A representative selection of essays. Important essays on Goethe’s craft of fiction shed light of the construction of Wilhelm Meister’s Travels for the beginning reader. Includes a selected bibliography.