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Goethe: The Poet and the Age: Volume I: The Poetry of Desire (1749-1790) (Goethe - The Poet & the Age) Paperback – December 3, 1992

4.3 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In this first volume of a biography of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Boyle (Cambridge Univ.) attempts to place the genius in his age, both as an enlightened observer of the politics, science, and art of his day, and as the superb poet who brought German literature into a national consciousness of its own place. This lengthy study is directed to the educated reader unfamiliar with German language or literature, as well as to the student of Goethe. Quoted passages are given in the German original and in translation. Chapter sections are alternatively biographical or literary criticism. The exhaustive detail (with numerous footnotes) is at times overwhelming. This will become the definitive English work on Goethe for the 20th century, as George Henry Lewe's outstanding biography ( Life of Goethe , 1855) was for the 19th century. Recommended for all academic libraries.
- Ingrid Schierling, Univ. of Colorado, Colorado Springs
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


`THE first volume of Nicholas Boyle's Goethe: The Poet and the Age promises well for the second and the complete work will doubtless rank among the few important English books on Goethe to appear since 1949,...This is an enjoyable , erudite book for which the scholars and students whom he addresses will be grateful. It contains a full index and notes and thirty-seven well-chosen illustrations. Translations are given of all German passages cited. We look forward to volume II.' K.G. Knight, Notes and Queries

`Vivid, lucid and pleasurable...reads like a fine novel, yet is also quietly encyclopedic.' Times Higher Educational Supplement

`biography at its best' Doris Lessing, Independent

`The enthralling and meticulous first volume of Nicholas Boyle's Goethe: The Poet and the Age (Oxford #25) makes up for decades of British indifference.' Michael Ratcliffe, Observer

`a biography of profound scholarship and classically elegant prose, measured yet never booming or boring' Rupert Christansen, Observer

`Index and notes are of an impeccable care and learning.' Hardy Amies, Daily Telegraph

'This landmark work takes us exactly half way through Goethe's life. The completion of Boyle's mighty synthesis is eagerly awaited.' Taxon 41 (May 1991)

'magisterial life of Goethe' John Batchelor, British Book News, September 1993

'The first question that can reasonably be put about a work of these dimensions ... is whether its length is justified by the scope of its subject and its usefulness to students and scholars. That this is undoubtedly so is ... a tribute to the meticulous and scholarly way in which Boyle has gathered and arranged his material ... in this volume Boyle has not only laid a sound foundation for the understanding of Goethe's prodigious output in the second half of his life; he has provided an immensely informative overview of the intellectual and cultural context of Goethe's early career and a readable and authoritative account of his personal and literary development up to and including the Italian Journey.' Forum for Modern Language Studies, Volume XXIX No. 3, July 1993

'This is the first volume of what will surely be the most comprehensive and authorititative biography of Goethe in English. Boyle's record of the first forty years of Goethe's life is minutely detailed, but also establishes a firmly structured profile of his work and his creative personality in a dense but lucid account of the poet's personal and public relations. Boyle's sober account of the life and works is not without moments of humour, even hilarity. Boyle also provides an exhaustive account in breadth and depth of the Age in which and, more often than not, against which Goethe's genius asserted itself.' John R. Williams, University of St. Andrews, New German Studies, Volume 17, Number 2, 1992/93

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Product Details

  • Series: Goethe - The Poet & the Age (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (December 3, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192829815
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192829818
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1.4 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #290,126 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
There are two points of interest here, one being the life of Goethe, the second being the job that Boyle has done in presenting it. As to Boyle's work, I would be hard pressed to reconstruct the details of my own life with anything approaching the thoroughness provided here by Boyle. This is virtually a day to day account from birth to age 40, multidimensionally presented as Boyle meticulously places Goethe in the total context of his environment and provides us with the background to judge the development of the young Goethe as both artist and man. The faults of this biography, some of them existing by sheer volume and weight of content, are many and obvious. But, the imperfections are also in my view irrelevant to the tremendous accomplishment of the work as a whole. First, be informed that Boyle is a first rate intellect who is almost as able as his subject to a clarity of expression and penetrating insight that one finds only in the best minds. Boyle is possessed of the intellectual talent to provide a synthesis of man, history, environment, religious and philosophical ideas as well as standard universal human values and emotions, which makes this biography unique in its all encompassing presentation of its subject. It is apparent from the beginning that Boyle is attempting to provide to the reader the development in all phases as Goethe passes through age 40, which is when this book ends. Secondly, Boyle provides thorough scholarship and obvious effort. It seems that Boyle has read every published word written by Goethe and much that has been written about him, and in addition to the mere reading has studied and logically glued together and digested the life in all its dimensions. While many biographies purport the same, the extent taken here appears to me to be unmatched.Read more ›
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This is the first of three volumes (the third is still being written); it should go without saying that it is a scholarly biography, but based on some reviews, apparently it does need to be said. At some level, it is a reference book, but one can also enjoy it by reading selected sections. I am not a literature scholar by any means, and at first, this book intimidated me. The first chapter was excellent, but then I got bogged down in the next chapter due to deep discussion of literary theory and religious arguments. But I slogged on, and then was mesmerized by the half dozen pages describing the relationship between Goethe and Charlotte von Stein. Now I realize that one can enjoy this book by reading quickly those portions that are not so interesting and then read leisurely those portions that excite you. This 3-volume biography is clearly not for those who only enjoy drive-through fast-food restaurants, but for those who enjoy long drawn out multi-course banquets. One last thought: there are so many good things to say about this book, that to list any one thing is inadequate, but the fact that Nicholas Boyle includes the translation to every entry in German is wonderful. For those who say the book doesn't give a good picture of what Goethe was really like, or what his home life was like, after reading the section concerning 1775 - 1786, I come away feeling I know Goethe pretty well: his expertise in government made me think of Kissinger; his poetry, of course, rivals Shakespeare; his passion for women makes me think of any number of Romantics; and, his interest in science makes me think of Darwin. Maybe by the time I finish all three volumes I will realize I am completely wrong, but it's a good starting point.
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Boyle's Goethe supasses just about anything available--including what one can find in German (i. e. Conrady). Granted, it is not easy going. Boyle offers extensive contextualisation of his subject and thereby provides something of an introduction to such figures as Herder for the uninitiated. If you want the latest word on Goethe, this is it.
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This is a magnificent biography. Nicholas Boyle, the Schröder Professor of German at Cambridge University, brilliantly portrays Goethe's first forty years, setting him in his social, political and cultural contexts.

Boyle is also superbly perceptive about Goethe's work and about his relationship to the intellectual and aesthetic currents in late 18th-century German and European culture. For example, he notes, "For absolute individualism belongs only in a theatre of inner conflict, not in a theatre of external conflict between worldly forces, and so is in the end the hand-maid of state absolutism."

Boyle also observes that Goethe had no religion: "There is no room for the fancies of reincarnation." Goethe simply acknowledges our mortality: "we are together like this only once."
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