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Johann Wolfgang Goethe
Frankfurt am Main 28 Aug. 1749 - Weimar 22 March 1832 • German poet, dramatist, novelist, and scientist




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Goethe describes his happy and sheltered childhood in his autobiography, Dichtung und Wahrheit (1811-33). In 1765 he went to Leipzig to study law. There he spent his time in the usual student dissipations, which perhaps contributed to a hemorrhage that required a long convalescence at Frankfurt. His earliest lyric poems, set to music, were published in 1769. In 1770-71 he completed his law studies at Strasbourg, where the acquaintance of Herder filled him with enthusiasm for Shakespeare, for Germany’s medieval past, and for the German folk song.
Goethe’s lyric poems for Friederike Brion, daughter of the pastor of nearby Sesenheim, were written at this time as new texts for folk-song melodies. Among the lasting influences of Goethe’s youth were J. J. Rousseau and Spinoza, who
appealed to Goethe’s mystic and poetic feeling for nature in its ever-changing aspects. It was in this period that Goethe began his lifelong study of animals and plants and his research in biological morphology.
Goethe first attracted public notice with the drama Götz von Berlichingen (1773), a pure product of Sturm und Drang. Still more important was the epistolary novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774, tr. The Sorrows of Young Werther, 1957) which Goethe, on the verge of suicide, wrote after his unrequited love for Charlotte Buff. Werther gave him immediate fame and was widely translated. While the writing had helped Goethe regain stability, the novel’s effect on the public was the opposite; it encouraged morbid sensibility.

(read on...)
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ON YOUNG GOETHE'S BOOKSHELF

Cymbeline
William Shakespeare, 1609 (first published 1623)
On of Shakespeare's 'romances', in which human emotion and free expression have room to flourish. In Cymbeline, the King of Britain, enraged by his daughter's disobedience in marrying against his wishes, banishes his new son-in-law. Having fled to Rome, the exiled husband makes a foolish wager with a villain he encounters there gambling on the fidelity of his abandoned wife.

The Tempest
William Shakespeare, 1611 (first published 1623)
One of Shakespeare's 'romances': Prospero, the duke of Milan and a powerful magician, is banished from Italy and cast to sea by his usurping brother, Antonio, and Alonso, the king of Naples. As the play begins, Antonio and Alonso come under Prospero’s magic power as they sail past his island. Prospero seeks to use his magic to make these lords repent and restore him to his rightful place.

Pericles
William Shakespeare, 1607 (first published 1609)
One of Shakespeare's 'romances', about Pericles, the prince of Tyre, and his quest for love. The plot is a series of setbacks and frustrations in his life: he loses everything, but it is eventually restored to him.

The Winter's Tale
William Shakespeare, 1610 (first published 1623)
One of Shakespeare's 'romances': Leontes, the king of Sicilia, is a happy man, blessed with a noble queen, Hermione, an affectionate childhood friend, Polixenes, a promising child Prince, Mamillius and loyal courtiers. Yet he becomes unduly possessed by overwhelming jealousy as he suspects an illicit relationship between his friend and his wife.

Julie, or The New Heloise
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1761
A sentimental romance in letters.

Pia desideria
Jakob Spener, 1632
This classic work, first published in 1675, inaugurated the movement in Germany called Pietism. In it a young pastor, born and raised during the devstating Thirty Years War, voiced a plea for reform of the church which made the author and his proposals famous.

The History of Agathon
Christoph Wieland, 1766-1767
Wieland's Agathon (1766-1767; The History of Agathon, 1773), situated in ancient Greece, is considered the earliest psychological novel in German literature.

Ossian: The Epics of Fingal and Temora
James MacPherson, 1998 (originally published in 1765)
James McPherson's Works of Ossian appeared in 1765, claiming to be a translation from a Celtic original. Although it was immediately denounced as a forgery, its influence was profound. For the Romantics, the idea of a primitive, bardic utterance had particular relevance.

BOOKS BY JOHANN WOLFGANG GOETHE:

The Sorrows of Young Werther
1774
Werther, a sensitive young man, falls in love with Lotte, knowing she is to marry another. Unable to subdue his passion, Werther's infatuation torments him to the point of despair.
WHAT TO READ AFTER THE SORROWS OF YOUNG WERTHER?

CLASSIC 18TH-CENTURY EPISTOLARY NOVELS
Shamela
Henry Fielding, 1741
Hilarious parody of Pamela (1740), Samuel Richardson’s novel about a (servant)girl who successfully defends her virtue.

Dangerous Liasons
Pierre Ambroise Choderlos de Laclos, 1779
Immoral, aristocratic duo enters into combat with virtuousness.

[Sara Burgerhart]
Betje Wolff / Aagje Deken, 1782
Orphan girl weathers storms and finds a husband.

The Nun
Denis Diderot, 1760
A young nun tries, in vain, to keep her virginity.

GOETHEAN (WERTHERIAN) NOVELS
Mysteries
Knut Hamsun, 1892
19th-century Werther commits suicide out of love and hate.

Gertrude
Hermann Hesse, 1910
Love triangle between girl and two bosom friends ends in misery.

Lotte in Weimar
Thomas Mann, 1939
The model for Werther’s beloved meets up with Goethe in his latter years.

The New Sufferings of Young W.
Ulrich Plenzdorf, 1973
The life of a 17-year-old boy in the GDR.

[Faustinas Küsse]
Hanns-Josef Ortheil, 1998
Goethe and his secret Italian love.

STURM UND DRANG
Tales of Mystery and Imagination
Edgar Allan Poe, 1833-1849
Horror stories about doomed heroes in a black-romantic world.

The Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger, 1951
Struggling New York 'Werther' comes out on top.

Wuthering Heights
Emily Brontë, 1847
Impoverished waif grows up and takes revenge for a hopeless love.

The Red and the Black
Stendhal, 1830
Ruthlessly charming provincial falls on the sword of his own ambition.

[Hölderlins toren]
Kester Freriks, 1981
A young man identifies with the romantic German poet.

Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship
1795-1796
Bildungsroman about a merchant’s son, whose character is formed by love and the theater.
Elective Affinities
1809
Immoral novel about a four-way love affair between a married couple and two of their friends.
Faust
1808 / 1832
The first part, in particular, of this unpredictable, philosophical tragedy-in-rhyme - about a scientist who sells his soul to the devil - reads like a novel.
Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years: Or, the Renunciants (1821-1829)
1821-1829
Slapdash sequel to the Apprenticeship; Wilhelm finds his calling as a surgeon.
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The Ledge
editor-in-chief: Stacey Knecht, info@the-ledge.com
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Copyright: Pieter Steinz, Stacey Knecht
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