Cover image for Reading Goethe : a critical introduction to the literary work
Reading Goethe : a critical introduction to the literary work
Swales, Martin.
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Publication Information:
Rochester, NY : Camden House, [2002]

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ix, 186 pages ; 24 cm.
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PT2177 .S94 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The year 1999 saw the 250th anniversary of the birth of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany's greatest writer. Appropriately, literary scholars within Germany and beyond paid tribute to this remarkable talent. But a number of commentators also noted that Goethe is often revered rather than read, known of rather than known. It is the aim of this study to provide a corrective to this state of affairs. The authors concentrate on the literary work and offer analyses that represent an impassioned, but by no means uncritical, advocacy -- one that seeks to persuade both academic critics and general readers alike that Goethe is one of the key figures of European modernity. To an extent that is virtually unique in modern literature, Goethe was active in a whole number of literary genres. He was a superb poet, unrivaled in the variety of his expressive modes, and in his ability to combine intellectual sophistication withexperiential immediacy. He also wrote short stories and novels throughout his life, ranging from the The Sorrows of Young Werther, to The Elective Affinities. He was also a highly skilled dramatist, both in the historical mode and in the classical verse-drama. Above all else, Goethe is the author of Faust: a workthat attempts -- and achieves -- more than any other modern European drama. Erica Swales is College Lecturer and Fellow of King's College, Cambridge. Martin Swales is Professor of German at University College London.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Swales and Swales use traditional methodologies to interpret the great plays, novels, and poetry of Goethe. They make helpful reference to less familiar works but reserve major emphasis for the titles for which Goethe is most renowned. With the exception of the quotations, which are entirely in German, the findings are accessible; the authors make responsible, credible attempts to view this Titanic poet as a man who has transcended the limitations of his own age to serve as an astonishing visionary in the present. Particularly praiseworthy are interpretations of novels like Die Wahlverwandtschaften and the second volume of Wilhelm Meister, the so-called Wanderjahre. Discussion of the major dramas, e.g., Iphigenia in Tauris, is balanced and illuminating. The authors' original perspective on Faust will be particularly useful for beginners. The concluding chapter, "Goethe's Discursive Writings," organizes and explains many features of Goethe's letters and scientific essays that are not usually analyzed together. Containing a well-chosen thematic bibliography and brief notes, this title is an example of excellent scholarship, sensitivity, and attention to the formal as well as interpretive aspects of Goethe's writing. Highly recommended; all levels. E. Wickersham Rosemont College