Wednesday, November 18, 2020

What Wilhelm Meister Might Have Seen on His Travels

Matsumura Goshun, Woodcutters (detail), ca. 1790

The two images here are details of paintings I saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art the other day. The title of this post is thus misleading, as the details are from Japanese works. Yet, similarly laboring people would have been encountered by a wanderer in German lands in the 18th century: men carrying loads of straw or wood or a basketweaver. Both Anton Reiser and Jung-Stillings Lebensgeschichte describe encounters with such figures. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Matssumura Keibun, A Garden of Pictures (1814)

The Wanderjahre is of course less of a realistic work than those two novels, but such comparisons are helpful as they show the difference in Goethe's preoccupations. Goethe is always intent on describing the flowers and the foliage, and the Japanese illustrator also does that in the charming woodblock below, combining both the labor and the cherry blossoms.

Matssumura Keibun, A Garden of Pictures (1814)


Images: MMA 2015.300.2061; 2013.873

Monday, November 16, 2020

Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre

Julius von Leypold, Wanderer in the Storm

My earliest work on Goethe concern the poetic production of the young, pre-Weimar Goethe. My dissertation dealt with the subject of how Goethe, like most writers of his generation, steeped in the classics and in French literature, transformed the early literary influences, especially the traditional genre of the idyll, into something new. In other words, it was about "how Goethe became Goethe" or the Goethe we know today. In recent years, I investigated his concept of world literature and published an essay on the subject, focusing on Fritz Strich's groundbreaking writings on world literature. Now I am back to the early Goethe, in this case Goethe of the early Weimar years. I have been Tweeting his diary entries for 1777. In fact, just a little over a week ago, November 7, marked Goethe's second anniversary in Weimar.

The diary entry for yesterday's date, November 14, was very long, and I Tweeted only the part that mentioned his activities for the day: a meeting of the Council, lunch with the duke, Charlotte von Stein's new apartment. But there is in the diary a long appendix to that day, which is as follows. (Again, if necessary, cut and paste into Google Translate.)

Heiliges Schicksaal du hast mir mein Haus gebaut und ausstaffirt über mein Bitten, ich war vergnügt in meiner Armuth unter meinem halbfaulen Dache ich bat dich mirs zu lassen, aber du has mir Dach und Beschräncktheit vom Haupte gezogen wie eine Nachtmütze. Las mich nun auch frisch und zusammengenommen der Reinheit geniessen. Amen. Ja und Amen winkt der erste Sonnenblick d. 14 Nov.

Acht in der Haushaltung keinen Ritz zu eng, eine Maus geht durch.

One can hear Biblical echoes here; Goethe was well steeped in the Bible. I like the homeliness of the sentiments, especially the part about the night cap. Many of the diary entries of past months have concerned household tasks, and this seems to mark progress in settling in.  Domesticity meant a lot to Goethe, his comfort in any case, and that it was succeeding so well no doubt contributed to his satisfaction with his new life there, even if at times there was dissatisfaction, which is also often expressed in the diary entries, usually in connection with his relationship with Charlotte von Stein.

Yesterday I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and came across the painting that is pictured at the top of this post. Its title is Wanderer in the Storm. The painting is dated 1835, a few years after Goethe's death, and the painter was Julius von Leypold. I couldn't help thinking of Goethe in his early years in Weimar when I saw Leypold's painting. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Wandering forms the backdrop to a number of 18th-century German novels. This summer, in connection with my interest in exploring Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Theatralische Sendung, I have also read Anton Reiser by Karl Philipp Moritz, and Lebensgeschichte by Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling. The protagonists of these novels wandered all over the place! Anton Reiser wore the soles of his shoes out walking from Hanover to Erfurt. Jung-Stilling walked back and forth from his village to one village after another in search of employment. Goethe's protagonist, Wilhelm Meister, was not quite wandering or walking. He moved about on horseback, and wherever he went there was a meal waiting for him, usually at an inn, where he met with a true vagabonds, peripatetic actors.

After reading the Ur-Meister, I decided I had to re-read the Lehrjahre. The wandering part is not so extensive in this work, and Wilhelm spends most of his time in one place or another working on his theatrical practice. The Wanderjahre, which I never thought I would re-read in this lifetime -- but I am now doing so -- is truly about Wilhelm's wanderings, and he does so on foot for the most part. The book opens with a scene of Wilhelm and his son Felix climbing a mountain path. Indeed, because of his oath to the Tower Society, he can no longer stay in one place for more than three days, so he is always on the go. The restriction is done away with by the end of Book 2, as he seems to have settled on a profession, which will probably keep him in one place. (Only one more book to go!)

Because of the lack of realism in the Wanderjahre (the final version of which appeared in 1829), one does not have the sense of the difficulties and various trials of true wandering. Wilhelm covers a large area, including Germany, Italy, and the so-called Pedagogical Province, the last a pretty big place. The in-between stages are omitted, and Wilhelm, as if on a magic carpet, simply arrives. So, the painting above does not really give an indication of Wilhelm's wanderings, although it does suggest how much the theme resonated in Germany, especially for the Romantic poets.

Image credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art;

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Museum visit

My friend Barb and I made a trip to the Metropolitan Museum today. She is photo researcher and a colorist of historical photos and an all-around expert at computer imaging. Herewith a cool photo manipulation of us in the Cypriot galleries of the museum.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Goethe is homesick

"Young Goethe"

According to Nicholas Boyle’s bio, the first phase of Goethe’s life in Weimar lasted until the middle of 1777. His diary entries (see my Tweets) mention work on his garden house in the spring of 1777, where he put in fruit and vegetable beds, occasionally sleeping on the veranda. By then, he was well acquainted with court life, and even before 1777, he had become responsible for court entertainments. In January he was planning a production for the birthday of the duchess, the new piece being the Singspiel Lila. In the middle of 1777, however, his sister Cornelia died. As I mentioned in a post on her death, we know of his reaction only from a diary entry and several letters. Her death was a big blow to him, however, and it is at this point that begins what Boyle calls the next phase, which will last until his return from his journey to Switzerland with the duke in early 1780.

By the autumn of 1777, we can already see Goethe’s mood changing and betraying a bit of boredom with it all. From the end of August until October 9, he was staying in Eisenach with the duke, while traveling from one village to the next with Carl August on official business. There was a lot of hunting as well and  carrying on ("nach Tische mit den Bauermaidels getanzt"), but several entries indicate that he had a whale of a toothache, of which he wrote to Charlotte von Stein (“24 Stunden Geschwullst und grose Schmerzen). But he also makes note of “Gefühl des Alleinseyns.” of his homesickness for his garden house, of the poverty of court life.

So much work and play and so little time for literary production. In these weeks on the road, he took up drawing, which is mentioned in many of the diary entries. The duke allowed him to stay at Wartburg castle, which appears to have been a highlight of these weeks, and of which he made several drawings. By the end, however, he was Lebensmüde,

Yesterday’s (October 8) Tweet was an exceptionally long one, with many official functions. Among those assembled à table at the Wartburg was Baron Friedrich Melchior von Grimm, a native German (from Gotha) who lived in Paris, where he was friends with Diderot and d’Alembert, and where he published the literary newsletter Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique, which concerned the goings-on in the Enlightenment capital. It was distributed to several  rulers of German lands, including Carl August, as well as Catherine the Great of Russia. Goethe appears to have declined to meet Grimm. As he wrote in his diary: Ich fühlte so inniglich dass … ich dem Manne nichts zu sagen hatte der von Petersburg nach Paris geht.

This long diary entry ends as follows: Und wills Gott in Ruhe vor den Menschen mit denen ich doch nichts zu theilen habe. Yes, very tired of life.

The next day he was on his way “home” to Weimar and wrote to CvS on October 10 from his garden, mentioning his estrangement from everyone: “Ich bin entfremdeter von viel Welt nur nicht von Ihnen."

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Goethe Wisdom Anew

An email and a link appeared this morning in my inbox from Carl Muenzer, former president of the Goethe Society of North America. It turns out that the estimable cartoonist Brian Crane's comic strip Pickles, which features a long-married couple and their friends and neighbors, has drawn on Goethe's words of wisdom in these trying times. The cartoon below appeared recently in The Washington Post and shows the extent to which Goethe's "wisdom" travels. (Click to enlarge.)

According to The Washington Post, Pickles has topped comics polls across the nation again and again, and it appears in 900 newspapers around the world

This particular bit of Goethe wisdom is one that I have mentioned in a couple of posts, including recently, as occurring in Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. I have also posted frequently on the appearance of Goethe in various non-Goethe contexts. shoes, lifestyle magazines, not to forget Duckenfaust.

Image credit: © 2020 The Washington Post

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Goethe at Wartburg castle

In 1776 Goethe joined the “administration” in Weimar. By 1777, he was often accompanying the duke on trips in connection with that administration. According to Nicholas Boyle, the first two and a half years on the Council were “a natural, if time-consuming extension of his principal role as companion and mentor to Carl August.” Besides sessions in Weimar, they traveled to other places in the duchy. In 1777, for which I am also Tweeting from Goethe’s diary. they traveled to Martinroda, Manebach, Elgersburg, Stützerbach, all in the vicinity of Ilmenau. In Stützerbach he wrote to Charlotte von Stein of a wild night of dancing with the peasant girls (Bauernmädel) and drinking until 1 a.m. In those same days, however, he suffered an intense toothache. Yes, even the great one had toothaches. As he wrote to Charlotte from Eisenach on September 6, his swollen face compromised the good times with the “girls”: 

Alles ist wohl nur ich habe mir ein Monster von dicken Backen ganz wider allen Sinn meiner dürren Constitution geholt …  und muss nun inne sitzen und warme Kräutermilch im Mund haben, und kann nicht auff Misels ausgehen, es wird ein verfluchter Streich sein, wenn ich mit verzognem Gesicht soll die Maidels belügen.

Hans Lufft’s Bible printed 1536

He and the duke then traveled to Eisenach on September 12, where he would take part in the sessions of the Eisenach Estates, principally concerning tax matters. First, however, he was still suffering a "Geschwülst und grose Schmerzen" from the toothache, and had to remain in lodgings, while the others with whom he was traveling were out hunting. But the highlight of these days was certainly his stay at the Wartburg, the famous castle, where Martin Luther spent ten months, during which he translated the New Testament. Carl August made it possible for Goethe stay there, from September 13, and Goethe took the opportunity to sketch. On the 16th he wrote to CvS about the view from on high:

Heute früh war wider alles neu. Philip weckte mich und lies mich ans Fenster gehn! es lagen unten alle Thäler im gleichen Nebel, und es war völlig See, wo die vielen Gebürge, als Ufer, hervorsahen.

He liked Wartburg so much that he was back there at the end of September, when he wrote to his Wetzlar friend Kestner, saying that he was “living on Luther’s Patmos.” Indeed, Luther had referred to his stay in the castle as his personal “Patmos,” in reference to the exile to the isle of Patmos of the apostle John, who wrote the final book of the Bible there. A website I just came across, which appeared in 2017, “Reformation Year,” reports that Luther was very depressed during his stay in the castle and believed his end was near. Goethe, however, was in a far different mood. As he wrote to Kestner, he was “der glücklichste von allen die ich kenne.”

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Somerset Mauham on Goethe's novels

Maugham looking Olympian
I have been gearing myself up this summer to write a scholarly article on Goethe's Wilhelm Meister novels. I foresee a year before me of combing through the scholarly literature on the subject, some of which I read side my side during my daily pensum of reading the novels. I have started off with books I have on my own shelves, including Eric Blackall, of course, whose footnotes offer guidance to older studies, and in which I find many underlinings from my first reading of it back in grad school. An essay by Stuart Atkins on Goethe's "classicism" also offers hints as to the choices Goethe made in writing the Apprenticeship.

It can't be said that reading these novels is an unmitigated pleasure, as is, for instance, sinking into many a 19th-century English novel. Goethe's literary production always owed a great debt to inherited literary models. Again, it is Atkins, whose essay on Wilhelm Meister, subtitled "Novel or Romance?," offers a clue to the abundance of long 18th-century prose narratives with which Goethe would have been familiar. These included, in the case of der Roman, as one calls the genre in German, "Reiseroman, Politischer Roman, Satirischer Roman, Schäferroman," and, most famously perhaps, the "picaresque." In the case of the WM novels, we are faced, as in these earlier types of novels, by a string of episodes in which a character is seen traveling and meeting lots of "types" of people, having many adventures, and so on, but not adding up to the kinds of resolutions with which we are familiar from "canonical" 19th-century novels. In other words, no plot (which, in any case, has been condemned by postmodernists). According to Atkins, Goethe himself did not generally refer to the WM novels as Romane; it was only Elective Affinities that he continually spoke of as a "Roman."

Since Somerset Maugham was himself a novelist, his essay on Goethe's novels is illuminating on Goethe's "failure" in respect of what moderns expect in the way of a novel, while at the same time knowledgeable concerning the 18th-century background of Goethe's writing. He speaks highly of the precursor to the WM novels, Theatralische Sendung, begun by Goethe in 1779, which Maugham associates with the Spanish picaresque novels that were in vogue in Europe: Gil Blas by Le Sage, Tom Jones by Fielding, and Humphrey Clicker by Smollett being three successful ones. Maugham found it "a pity" that Goethe was unable to finish along the lines he had begun. Instead, when Goethe again took up the novel, in 1794, he diverted from the original plan, which, according to Maugham, would have "reached the conventional end of a picaresque novel," with Wilhelm as manager of a theater and a happy marriage. Instead, "Goethe's theme was not, as it had been, the art of the theatre, but the art of life. ... Art is an effect of design; life is so largely controlled by chance that its conduct can be but a perpetual improvisation." As readers of WM's Apprenticeship are aware, of course, "chance" plays a huge role in the novel. In other words, Goethe did not leave the influence of the 18th-century novels behind, all of which abound in far-fetched coincidences that redirect the action.

Of the Sendung, Maugham writes that, if finished, "it would [not] have been a great book, but it would have been a good one and have stood comparison, not unfavourably, with the best of the picaresque tales." At the same time, he gives credit to what Goethe did achieve: "If on the whole the novel which Goethe eventually sent to the press is a failure, it is of more consequence than many a novel which within its limits is completely successful."

Maugham makes a point about what happens when an author is "drawing a portrait of himself" in a novel, which he contends is the case in Werther, Clavigo, and Götz. (He doesn't mention Stella.) The male characters are "slaves of their emotions," traits, one suspects, "that were deeply rooted in Goethe himself." And so it is with Wilhelm: "Goethe had a weakness for delivering long disquisitions on any subject that happened at the time to interest him." Moreover, when the author is the hero of his novel, "the hero is acted upon, rather than acts, with the result that he remains shadowy in comparison with the other persons, objectively seen, of the story."

Image credits: Graham Sutherland; Barnes and Noble