Friday, August 12, 2022

The Wanderer continues his journey

As I mentioned in my previous post, Goethe’s autobiography is not the best place to look for the “facts” about his life or even the kinds of personal details that reveal a person’s character. His experiences are instead filtered via a larger portrait of the tendencies of the period in which he came of age and which, as he writes, offered little in the way of direction for young writers like himself. Books 12 and 13 are devoted to the three years when things started to fall into place for him and when he rather explosively appeared on the literary scene: 1772 to 1774. As I wrote in the last post, Darmstadt was the first important stage of this development. In the spring of 1772 in Darmstadt he became friends with Merck, who, like Behrisch in Leipzig, encouraged him and, equally important, brought him into contact with another literary current, Empfindsamkeit. Here is a report in a letter in the spring of 1772 to Herder from his fiancée Caroline Flachsland that gives an idea of Goethe at that time and of the mood. (Please go to Google translate and paste in.)

 Wir waren alle Tage beisammen und sind in den Wald zusammengegangen und wurden auch zusammen durch und durch beregnet. Wir liefen alle unter einen Baum und Goethe sang uns ein Liedchen, das Sie aus dem Shakespear [As You Like It] übersetzt: ‘Wohl unter grünen Laubes Dach’ [Under the greenwood tree] und wir alle sangen den letzten Vers mit: ‘Nur eins, das heißt auch Wetter’ [No enemy/But winter and rough weather].

Caroline also reported that Goethe was reading to this circle of friends scenes from what would become “Gottfried von Berlichingen.”

The next stage was Wetzlar, where he spent the summer of 1772 and was befriended by Kestner and his then-fiancé Lotte Buff. I am going to skip over this stage until the next post. Sorry for the suspense, but Goethe himself leaves Wetzlar at the end of Book 12. It is September 1772, and neither the idea for Werther nor the theme of suicide has taken root. The next stage, as recounted in Book 13, begins with Goethe taking a long trip on foot along the Lahn River from Wetzlar to near Coblenz. (The image at the top of this post does not show Wetzlar, so I have added a star to indicate its approximate location on Goethe's path.) It is in Coblenz that he meets Sophie von la Roche and a new circle of literary people, mostly Catholic. Her novel in letters, The History of Fräulein von Sternheim (Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim), appeared in 1771.

Maximiliane von la Roche with her mother and husband

Are you getting the picture? Things are falling into place. Like The Sorrows of Young Werther, it is a novel in letters. Of course, it was not the first of its kind. Goethe was familiar with the epistolary novels of Rousseau and Richardson, but here he was meeting in person the first woman in Germany to pen such a novel. Unlike Werther, the story of Sophie von Sternheim is told from several different perspectives, more like in the later Liaisions Dangereux. Indeed, Sophie doesn’t appear until fifty pages in.

Sophie von la Roche had a teenage daughter of fifteen going on sixteen, Maximiliane by name, who would be married off within a year and half to a wealthy Frankfurt businessman, Peter Brentano, a 36-year-old widower with five children. The nature of the relationship between Max and Goethe is vague; that he was attracted to her, spent a lot of time with her, is not surprising, especially after her move to Frankfurt on her marriage in January 1774. The important thing in connection with The Sorrows of Young Werther is that she had dark brown eyes, like the Lotte of the novel, but unlike the real Lotte. Before her death in 1793, at the age of 36, Max bore twelve children, among whom were Bettina von Arnim and Clemens Brentano.

Next time, the final building block of the composition of Werther, as recounted in Dichtung und Wahrheit. This is obviously more a story of the composition of the autobiography than of the specific literary merits of Goethe's first famous novel. And before signing off, a lovely photo from my lovely island retreat. I will be here until September, working away on Goethe and other literary projects.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Wanderer

 I have been on my small island in British Columbia since mid-June. It is a wonderful place to be, for the silence, the stillness of life, the halibut and the prawns, the reacquaintance with friends from previous summers here. In fact, for the first time I really feel it is a second home. I even have a Vancouver Island library card! It is also a good place to work without the interference of robocalls calls and all the distractions  of New York. Which is not to say there are not distractions here. There is many an evening spent on the deck of a friend’s house watching the wonderful cloud formations on this Pacific shore. Thursdays I join a group of folks who wander the various trails of the island. A friend lent me a bike, and I head out to a beach and sit and read of an afternoon.

It is not from such distractions that I am falling behind in posting on the blog. I spent a lot of time on Goethe’s autobiography in the last year, finishing a long article. Also, I don't have my large Goethe reference collection here, and there are intermittent internet outages, which keeps me from some research.

One thing that I have become of aware in writing about Goethe is that you absolutely cannot depend on what Goethe wrote in his autobiography about himself. He is revelatory, but not in the straightforward way that one is used to in autobiography. He alludes often to his youthful unsteadiness, using terms like Unruhe, but such personal turmoil is nothing like what one reads, e.g., in Rousseau or in the novel Anton Reiser by his contemporary C.P. Moritz. The latter in particular overwhelms you with all of the narrator's failings. Goethe is not confessional in that vein. Still, the theme of Books 12 and 13 concern this turmoil, the end result of which will be manifest in the writing of The Sorrows of Young Werther. He goes about ir very circuitously.

Wanderer in the Storm (1835) by Julius v. Leypold

Book 12 of Poetry and Truth opens with this statement concerning his return from studies in Strassburg to his family home in Frankfurt in August 1771: “The Wanderer had arrived back home at last, more healthy, in better spirits than the last time, but there was about his entire being something unstrung [Überspanntes], which didn't comport with complete mental health [geistige Gesundheit].” The reference here to the "better spirits" contrasts with the physical and mental state he was in on his return from Leipzig in 1768.  He doesn’t mention them here, but a “wanderer” is the subject of two poems from 1772: “Der Wanderer” and “Wanderers Sturmlied.” The poems had their genesis when Goethe was actually on the road a lot, traveling by foot from Frankfurt to Darmstadt, a distance of ca. 19 miles. He refers to the effect of these journeys as contributing to "Beruhigung für mein Gemüt."

The person he went to meet in Darmstadt was Johann Heinrich Merck, who would be an important influence on Goethe, another mentor in the lineage of Behrisch and of Herder. Merck was the military paymaster in the service of the court in Darmstadt, and despite that occupation he was a literary man and critic. It was at the court there that a literary circle had formed, Kreis der Empfindsamen, referring to the German cult of sentimentalism during these years, which took its name from the work Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne. Among the members of the circle were three ladies, one of whom was Caroline Flachsland, who was engaged to Herder, and whom Goethe knew in Strassburg. Goethe mentions in his autobiography how much this group nourished his work (belebt und gefördert). He read to them from Shakespeare, and they went on outings during which he recited from his work in progress: Gottfried von Berlichingen. It was this group that bestowed on him the name "der Wanderer," because of what they considered his restless nature.


He wrote and dedicated three poems to the three ladies in the spring of 1772, of which he mentions not a word in Book 12. In fact, the poems only appeared in print after Goethe's death, in 1835. The one to Caroline (whom he called "Psyche") is entitled "Felsweihegesang." The other two recipients were known as "Urania" and "Lila." Fourteen pages later, he mentions learning after her death many years later that a gentle, gracious woman had secretly harbored an affection for him. At the time he was not aware of her affection, and so was able to be all the more cheerful and charming in her company. Loeper is of the opinion that this was probably Henriette Alexandrine von Roussillon ("Urania"), who died in 1773, and it is she whom Goethe has in mind when Werther speaks of "die arme Leonore!" in the first letter of the novel. Indeed, the language of that letter is pure Empfindsamkeit.

Goethe also doesn't mention in Book 12 the two poems mentioned above in connection with this year of being a "wanderer. (Herewith an English translation of "Der Wanderer"; and here "Wanderers Sturmlied." Sorry I can't find translations for the three Darmstadt-circle poems.) The thrust of the book, however, is to lay the groundwork for the really important work that will appear in 1774, Die Leiden des jungen Werther. Toward the end of the book, recounting his introduction to the so-called Supreme Court in Wetzlar, Goethe introduces two figures who will major roles in Werther, although not by their real names. Instead, der Bräutigam and die Braut. Like der Wanderer, somewhat generic.

I hope in the next post on this subject to discuss book 13 in which he tells the story of the composition of Werther, which at the same time moderates the "subjective" or revelatory nature of the Unruhe that he felt in composing it. As a reward for waiting, below is a photo of the beautiful skies I enjoy on this small island.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Goethe anew

For those of you wondering why Goethe Girl has not been posting, it is true that she came down with the dreaded virus. But that was not the reason there have been no postings since late March. In fact, even with the virus I was able to sit at my desk every morning and work on my current current project (though I admit that food did not appeal to me and that I suffered from fatigue for several weeks when I went outdoors).

The title of the post gives some indication of what I have been working on and that has taken up so much of my time. Goethe, in the preface to his autobiography, Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth), explains his reason for writing. The first edition of his "complete works," in 12 volumes, had appeared in 1805, after which, he claims, a friend had written to him requesting that he offer some insight into those earliest works, that Goethe “rehearse those old productions and treat them anew” (“jenes Hervorgebrachte wieder als Stoff zu behandeln und zu einem Letzten zu bearbeiten”). At a distance of over half a century Goethe may not have had much recall of the specifics of those early efforts, especially before he went to Weimar in 1775. Goethe had the habit of burning letters, and excepting the letters he wrote to his sister Cornelia from Leipzig from 1765 to 1768, he had no access to the correspondence of this period when he undertook the writing of his autobiography. This period, what I called "before Goethe became Goethe," has always interested me; it was the subject of my dissertation.

The article I have been working on for almost a year concerns the way Goethe "rehearsed" his earliest literary works and reworked them anew in the autobiography. Although I don't deal with it in my own article, it has made me suspect that the visit to the shoemaker, recounted in Book 7 of DuW, and that I devoted a blog post to last September, is a total fabrication. Which is not to say that the episode as recounted is solely "Dichtung." Gustav von Loeper, back in 1874 already, wrote that “dichterische Erfindung [kann] nur ein anderer Name sein für Erinnerung” (“poetic invention can only be another name for memory”).

For my research I was very dependent on scholars like Loeper, the first generation of Goethe scholars, who did the legwork, going through archives and tracing all the references, mainly for the purpose of learning about all the influences that had turned Goethe into "Goethe." In the process, of course, they discovered a lot of discrepancies between what Goethe wrote in the autobiography and what "really" happened. I have benefited from such works during the last year, without having to go to the library. Yes, they are all online. Praise be to the Hathi Trust Digital Library.

Here are a few of the long-forgotten scholars whose work I was able to read and who provided "background" on where Goethe "came from," so to speak. They include Elizabeth Mentzel, who wrote about the "home schooling" of Goethe and his younger sister:  Wolfgang und Cornelias Lehrer: Ein Beitrag zu Goethes Entwicklungsgeschichte (Leipzig 1909). Heinrich Pallmann published a book on Goethe's childhood friend Johann Adam Horn: Johann Adam Horn: Goethes Jugendfreund (Leipzig, 1908), from which you can glean the kind of poetry Goethe himself wrote before he went to Leipzig at the age of sixteen. And all that can be discovered about Kätchen Schönkopf is to be found in Kätchen Schönkopf : eine Frauengestalt aus Goethes Jugendzeit Leipzig, 1920) by Julius Vogel. The image at the top is from Vogel's book on Goethe's Leipzig poetry, from the hand-copied production of Goethe's collection "Annette" by Ernst Wolfgang Behrisch in August 1767.

And of course I went through all the volumes of Der Junge Goethe, edited by Hannah Fischer-Lemberg. There is still wonderful stuff to be gleaned about Goethe.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The beginnings of "Iphigenie"

Over a month has passed without a posting on Goethe, which doesn't mean that Goethe Girl has been neglecting Goethe. Indeed, I am wrapping up an article on an early book of Dichtung und Wahrheit that I hope to show soon to the world. It has taken up all my energies for the past several months. I wish I could be as multifaceted as Goethe. A couple of posts back I wrote of how industriously he was stepping into his role as a councilor at the Weimar court, for instance, heading the War Commission, which in turn led to two weeks of travel, from March 2, 1779, to village after village in the duchy in connection with military recruitment. Something he wrote about this task to Charlotte von Stein on March 6 is worth mentioning: the cripples would gladly serve, while the best people are married. (Kein sonderlich Vergnügen bey der Ausnehmung, als die Krüpels gerne dienten und die schönen Leute meist Ehehafften haben wollen.)

Amazingly, it was in this very March of 1779, while he was engaged in this activity, that he began working on his drama Iphigenie. And completed it! In the same letter to Charlotte von Stein, written from the town of Apolda, he writes the following: "Hier will das Drama gar nicht fort, es is verflucht, der König von Tauris soll reden als wenn kein Strumpfwürcker in Apolda hungerte." (The play won't progress here; it is damnable that the King of Tauris should be speaking as if there were no hosier in Apolda starving.) According to his diary, he had finished three acts by March 9.

Writing from Denstedt, he noted in his diary on March 28 that the play was completed. The next day he was in Tiefurt with the sculptor Martin Klauer, to whom he read the play aloud. Goethe really like to read his productions aloud to friends. Back in Weimar in April he was already organizing a performance, which took place on April 6. Goethe played Orest, Knebel took the role of Thoas, and Prince Constantin was Arkas. Iphigenie was of course played by Corona Schröter. In his diary Goethe recorded the positive reception: "gar gute Würkung davon besonders auf reine Menschen."

The play was not truly finished. It was the first version, in prose, and it was not until Rome that it would begin to achieve its final verse form.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Faust illustrations

Arabesques. What does that word conjure up? For me, it is a ballet pose, as in the figures in the margins of the above watercolor drawing by Philipp Otto Runge (1777–1810). (Click on images to enlarge.) But it also refers, according to Wikipedia, to “a form of artistic decoration consisting of surface decorations based on rhythmic linear patterns of scrolling and interlacing foliage, tendrils or plain lines, often combined with other elements.” In is in that pictorial sense that it is used in an article by distinguished Goethe scholar David Wellbery, which concerns illustrations of Goethe’s Faust drama by the painter Peter von Cornelius (1783–1867). Since I finished rereading the “Urfaust” this past week, it struck me as a good subject for a post. 

One can imagine that a form so playful and frivolous as the arabesque would have appealed to the "young" Goethe, but Professor Wellbery's article reveals the expansion of Goethe’s aesthetic interests in new directions well into the 19th century. His article appeared in a volume that has just appeared: Arabesque without End. Across Music and the Arts, from Faust to Shaharazad (edited by Anne Leonhard and now available from Routledge). So, consider the following a first review, though in Goethe Girl’s own fashion.

Goethe, it turns out, was not unfamiliar with the aesthetic potential of the arabesque. Wellbery writes that the “meandering, nonconceptual character” of the arabesque had even captured the attention of Kant, disclosing, as it did, a “terrain of aesthetic experience where an unfiltered imagination could exercise itself as ‘play.’” Kant was thinking of wallpaper designs, mollusk shells, vegetal motifs, and the like. Goethe wrote a short piece on arabesques during his stay in Italy, in which he discussed wall decorations from Pompeii, vault paintings in the Vatican Palace by Raphael, and Raphael’s wall decoration for a private home in the park of the Villa Borghese. Goethe noted the “gaiety, frivolity, and delight in ornamental forms,” celebrating “joy, living, and love.”

In May 1811, through through the mediation of Sulpiz Boisserée, Goethe was introduced to a series of six pen-and-ink drawings in the arabesque manner by Cornelius, illustrating scenes from Faust. Goethe had of course given thought to the difficulty, “the sheer improbability of justly rendering verbal action [the Faust drama] as artistically convincing pictorial arrangement.” Schiller and Goethe’s classical “Kunstprogramm” was over. Whatever his irritations with the Romantic artists, his interest in the pictorial potential of the arabesque was piqued.

Before getting around to Cornelius’s illustrations, Wellbery discusses the above-mentioned Runge, whose work brings out the pleasing character of the arabesque. To my eyes, the sinuosity of Runge’s depictions of The Times of the Day (go here for images of the series) matches my sense of what an arabesque is: ballet again. The subjects of Runge’s engravings in the Times series are framed, setting them off in a realm of their own, outside the real world, increasing the “art” potential. In fact, Runge seems to have liked the frame, as can be seen in the wonderful watercolor of the hunt.

I was surprised to read that Goethe, before seeing Cornelius’s illustrations, “had not conceived the [Faust] play as rooted in a particular historical locale” But because of Goethe’s suggestion to Cornelius to study “the artistically created world” of such painters as Albrecht Dürer, illustrations of the drama would henceforth be set in the late medieval German world.  (I am omitting here Wellbery’s discussion of Goethe’s notion of artistic imagination and of “transfigured artistic subjectivity.”) Goethe mentioned his admiration to Cornelius of the  marginal decorations by Dürer that accompanied the so-called Prayer Book of Maximilian I of 1513. Cornelius took the hint, and the title page of the resulting Bilder zu Goethe’s Faust “simulates” Dürer’s  blending of script and picture in the prayer book. At bottom left on that page, Cornelius has set Faust in his study, while on the right can be seen Gretchen and her mother examining the contents of the box that Mephisto has secreted in Gretchen’s cupboard.

This is followed by 11 scenes from the play, including the scene of "Faust mit Gretchen, Mephistopholes mit Marthe im Garten." A  preliminary drawing — maybe Goethe saw something like the sketch above left? — shows the lithesome, decorative aspect of the arabesque, to which has been added, in the final production, the “story” elements: the garden scene that animates the alternating dialogue between the two parties.

After receiving a letter from Goethe in support of his project, Cornelius headed for Italy to seek the inspiration necessary for the final installments of the series. Italy? Really? I would like to have known more about the inspiration Cornelius found there for representing the medieval German world.

What can one make of the final image in the series? As Wellbery writes: “In its depiction of an angel descending to answer the anguished Gretchen’s prayer, the last-mentioned illustration diverges more radically from Goethe’s text than any other in the entire suite.” Wellbery doesn’t make too much of Cornelius’s religious attitudes, only mentioning the influence of the “Nazarenes,” who were a group of “religiously motivated artists.” And, yet, what a sense of drama there is in the attitudes of Faust, Mephisto, and the horse, the rendering of urgency in the gesture of Mephisto pulling at Faust’s robe, or of Faust, his body twisted in two directions, his legs ready to run away, while his right arm reaches beseechingly toward Gretchen, whose posture is one of rejection. The angel behind her is a little too much in the way of "story." Sometimes less is more.

When I started writing my dissertation on Goethe, other graduate students (not in German) would ask me whether everything hadn't already been written about Goethe. David Wellbery shows us anew that there is always something to be discovered about Goethe and especially the influence his works have exercised on the imagination of artists.

Image credit (Runge): Meisterdrucke

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Goethe gets serious

Recruitenauslesung in Buttstädter Rathaus (1779)

Indeed, it was in 1779 that Goethe, as a member of Carl August's council, really began to settle into the role of minister. As I mentioned in the last post, by the end of 1778 the demand of Prussia for soldiers led to a fraught political situation for Weimar, which led to Goethe’s appointment as chairman of the War Commission. In that appointment he replaced long-standing minister Jacob Friedrich Freiherr von Fritsch, who appears to have been one of the truly unassailable bureaucrats, which is shown by his appointment to the Secret Council in 1762, when he was only 29 years old. Effi Biedrzynski, in her book Goethes Weimar, has a nice try on von Fritsch, who naturally took it amiss when the youngster Goethe became one of the duke’s ministers and, later, when Goethe superseded him as head of the War Commission.

Goethe’s diary entries  for February 1779 are not the short, terse ones of preceding months; which I was able to Tweet. They include somewhat longer ruminations and self-assessment. For instance, the entry for Feb. 1, by which time the Prussian situation had become more serious, mentions “Conseil,” and then “Dumme Luft drinne, fataler Humor von Fr.” So, evidently Fritsch was not in a good mood. Moreover, Goethe writes that the duke talked too much at the session. They later met and Goethe advised him not to talk so much, to moderate his expression, and not to get into a heated discussion concerning matters that should not be addressed. But Goethe also adds some self-assessment, indicating a resolve to make the best of what he calls the “Militarischen Makaronis.” “Die Kr. Comm. werd ich gut versehen weil ich bey dem Geschäfft, gar keine Immagination habe, gar nichts hervorbringen will, nur das was da ist recht kenne, und ordentlich haben will.” Later in the month, sometime after Feb. 14, he writes: “Diese Zeit her hab ich meist gesucht mich in Geschäfften auf recht zu erhalten und bey allen Vorfällen fest zu seyn und ruhig.”

Hogarth, English Military Recruitment (1765)

Indeed in February and March Goethe reflects a lot on the work he has to do. Interestingly, there is no mention in the February entries of the letter that was discussed in the last post, which, according to Schöne, must have kept him up half the night composing. At the end of February, we begin to see how busy his official duties keep him. On February 26 and until the middle of March, he  traveled from one town to the next — Jena, Dornburg, Apoda, Buttstädt, Allstädt, and Ilmenau — on a recruitment tour (Auslesung der Mannschaft) for the duchy’s soldiery. As Nicholas Boyle writes, this activity took place in “a succession of draughty town halls and unoccupied castles … measuring heights and listening to excuses from the fit and newly married and pleas for admission by the sickly and unemployed.” And in between Goethe dictated the first three acts of the prose version of Iphigenie!

The drawing at the top of the post, made by Goethe during the days on the road, is traced bz Schöne to a scene by Hogarth, which Goethe is likely to have seen, and which, in much more satirical form, shows the recruitment and measurements of soldiers outside an English village inn.

Images: (Goethe-Nationalmuseum Weimar; Kunstsammlung Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttigen

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Goethe as Minister of War Commission


This post is a follow-up to the previous one, concerning Goethe’s appointment as director of the Weimar “War Commission,” in particular the letter he drafted for Carl August in connection with demands made on Weimar by Frederick the Great for permission to harvest soldiers in the duchy for his army. Goethe's diary entries for this period are very illuminating. I would have Tweeted them, but they are too long, so I will instead quote here his reaction, in his diary, to his appointment and to his duties. One is dated January 13, 1779; a second “from 14th til the 23”; and a third one January 30. The appointment and the responsibility seem to have brought him to more personal considerations, which can also be seen in the long diary entries for the following months of February and March. One sees in these entries Goethe speaking in lapidary manner, which may be the start of the “quotable Goethe.” He also seems to undertaking some self-assessment.

January 13 notes, in connection with the first session of the Commission, that he is “Fest ruhig in meinen Sinnen, und scharf.” The pressure of the tasks is not unpleasant at all, which leads to the following: “Elender ist nichts als der Behagliche Mensch ohne Arbeit, das schönste der Gaben wird ihm eckeln.” (Nothing is more sordid as a contented man without work; the best gifts will revolt him.)  He refers to the difficulty of activating and maintaining the “Earthly machine.” For an active person (einen Handelnden), past history is not a guide, nor textbooks. Likewise prayers, except one for wisdom, a gift that the gods have denied humans. And then: “Klugheit theilen sie aus, dem Stier nach seinen Hörnern und der Kazze nach ihren Klauen, sie haben all Geschöpfe bewaffnet.” (All creatures have been armed, the bull with its horns, the cat with its claws.)

The following  entry (Vom 14 bis 25) mentions that he has immersed himself in the documents and that the matter is becoming clearer: the appearance in Weimar of the Prussian courier Reinbaben and the issue discussed in the previous post, namely, the Prussian demands and the courses open to Weimar, which will then be elaborated in the February 9 letter to Carl August. Among all this is only a single lament: “Wenig auf dem Eis!”

To be continued.