|Goethe, as illustrated by Boris Pelcer|
Kirsch brings out the old charge that The Sorrows of Young Werther started "a craze for suicide among young people emulating its hero."
Here are a couple other assertions that one might quibble with.
"Though he studied law, at his father’s insistence, and even practiced briefly, the occupation was never more than a cover for what really interested him, which was writing poetry and falling in love. It was one of these early infatuations that plunged Goethe into the despair that would become the subject of his first success, The Sorrows of Young Werther.”
Or of Goethe's death: "At the age of eighty-two, dying of a painful heart condition, Goethe’s last words were 'More light!' Probably his vision was dimming and he just wanted someone to open a window. But it is also Goethe’s last perfect metaphor: one final plea for illumination, from a writer who had spent all his life seeking it."
I did like Kirsch's assessment of Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship: "Indeed, so many scandalous things happen in the novel—from adultery and illegitimacy to arson, incest, and suicide—that it often feels more like a gothic parody than like an earnest Bildungsroman."
Kirsch also emphasizes the difficulty of rendering Goethe's poetry in a way that truly captures its beauty, which is an obstacle to an appreciation of Goethe in the U.S.
A disappointing piece, although I like the illustration of Goethe by Boris Pelcer.