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Selected Works (Everyman's Library) Hardcover – May 30, 2000
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“Goethe’s greatness is singular: it is difficult to think of any parallel to his achievement . . . At every stage of a long and inwardly turbulent life he rediscovered, or reinvented, himself through his writing, and yet he never significantly repeated himself. For each of the ages of man, which he experienced in his own person, he found a new poetry.”
—from the Introduction by Nicholas Boyle
About the Author
Before he was thirty, Goethe had proven himself a master of the novel, the drama, and lyric poetry. But even more impressive than his versatility was his unwillingness ever to settle into a single style or approach; whenever he used a literary form, he made of it something new.
Born in 1749 to a well-to-do family in Frankfurt, he was sent to Strasbourg to earn a law degree. There, he met the poet-philosopher Herder, discovered Shakespeare, and began to write poetry. His play Götz von Berlichingen (1773) made him famous throughout Germany. He was invited to the court of the duke of Sachsen-Weimar, where he quickly became a cabinet minister. In 1774 his novel of Romantic melancholy, The Sorrows of a Young Werther, electrified all of Europe. Soon as he was at work on the first version of his Faust, which would finally appear as a fragment in 1790.
In the 1780s Goethe visited England and immersed himself in classical poetry. The next decade saw the appearance of Wihelm Meister's Apprenticeship, his novel of a young artist education, and a wealth of poetry and criticism. He returned to the Faust material around the turn of the century and completed Part 1 in 1808.
The later years of his life were devoted to a bewildering array of pursuits: research in botany and in a theory of colors, a novel (Elective Affinities), the evocative poems of the West-Easters Divan, and his great autobiography, Poetry and Truth. In his eighties he prepared a forty-volume edition of his works; the forty-first volume, published after his death in 1832, was the send part of Faust.
Goethe's wide-ranging mind could never be confined to one form or one philosophy. When asked for the theme of his masterwork, Faust, he could only say. “From heaven through all the world to hell”; his subject was nothing smaller.
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Top Customer Reviews
I find Goethe to be a fascinating figure and as an excellent writer, he was able to articulate the dynamism and the changing societal forces of the times he lived through - having been born into the era of wigs and knee breeches, he died in the 1830s wearing pants in a Europe revolutionized by Napoleon. Anyone seeking to understand the differences between the 18th Century and the 19th, or even the 20th and the 21st Centuries could gain some valuable insight from reading Goethe's works.
an appreciation of Goethe, there will be little to quibble about in this volume of
the German master's most significant writings. Werther, Elective Affinities, Italian
Journey, Faust, and selected poems and letters, pretty much covers all the bases.
Of course Goethe was not only a major figure in world literature (Bloom cites him as
one of it's greatest creative geniuses), but an important philosopher, theologist,
scientist, and art historian. His Italian Journey highlights many of these diverse
talents in an engrossing reminiscence and reflection of a journey he took as a younger
man. This work alone, inspired many young artists and writers to travel to Italy in
search of culture and inspiration. Faust (I and II) are remarkable achievements, but
my personal favorite is Elective Affinities, a novel that explores the complex and
volatile relationship between the mind and the heart. Goethe's poetry didn't strike
a chord with me, but his letters were interesting, and helped form a more complete
picture of the man's ideas, beliefs, and intentions.
Books like this should be judged by the way they are edited -- the stature over the past 200 years of the author and of his works contained in the book are beyond dispute anymore. You can always say all the superlative words about, say, Shakespeare or James Joyce, but it will only show that you are just catching up with what the rest of the world knows already. Same here.
Usually, books like this, specially those published by supposedly respectable publishers, would be a bit more well organized. A well known critic would introduce the book at the level of an average reader, would tell you how the works that comprise the collection were selected, would tell you the merits and demerits of the available translations and why a particular translation was chosen for the collection, etc.
It would have maps and chronologies and a bit more background information so you will appreciate better the historical and geographical and cultural context of the author's works.
Aside from the chronology and a terribly irrelevant and unreadable and useless and boring exercise in conceited academic hoo-hah, otherwise known as the book's Introduction, you get none of those goodies and you must just fend for yourself while wading in 1,248 pages of 200 year-old literature.
The specialists -- those who are engaged in the cottage industry that surrounds a major writer -- will probably like this book, if indeed this book collects all of Goethe's books that matter in the English translation.
However for the dilettante like you and me who just knows that Goethe is supposed to be a good writer and specially those who are looking for a good English translation of any of his major work, this book is no help at all. You just don't know whether the translations are the best ones available in English.
Almost all the paraphernalia in the book are useless, and you will be like reading an unknown 200 year-old 1,248-page book of an unknown writer.
(P.S. but I did enjoy reading the Sorrows of Young Werther and the poems, for all they are worth.)