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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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If you enjoy what you find in this collection, I recommend also getting The Essential Goethe, which is a collected works published by Princeton. The Essential Goethe seems to focus on Goethe's work more famous in German, such as: Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, Egmont, Iphigenia is Tauris, Torquato Tasso, and many essay by Goethe. Along with those, The Essential Goethe also includes a verse translation of Faust, Part One.
The Everyman's Library edition is great to look at on your bookshelf, and has a nice, high-quality cloth binding. Hopefully Everyman's Library will continue to publish new translations of Goethe's other 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.
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.