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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: February 2013

The Novel in Weimar Classicism: Symbolic Form and Symbolic Pregnance


Awareness of stylistic technique is necessary to aesthetic appreciation; but formal analysis is not sufficient for criticism. In the case of the novel, which, as Henry James (1843–1916) insisted, is an “ado about something,” the “formalistic fallacy” is peculiarly inappropriate. Unless we appreciate the status of the material deployed — unless we have some idea of what is being related to what — we are in no position to grasp the meaning of the resultant structure. It is, therefore, part of the scholarly business of literary history to provide an adequate sense of the significance of a writer's subject matter, by placing it in historical perspective. In the flood of novels published in German in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, joining the ranks of translations of English, French, and Spanish novels, this subject matter is astonishingly homogeneous. Whether we consider the epistolary novel, modeled on the work of Samuel Richardson (1689–1761) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, or the Bildungsroman, or the novel of entertainment, of adventure, of travel, we are presented with the same set of themes, with only marginal variations. Otherwise helpful periodizations of literary history tend to obscure the fact that works as superficially different as Christoph Martin Wieland's Die Geschichte des Agathon (The Story of Agathon, 1766) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werther (Sorrows of Young Werther, 1774) made their appearance within only a decade of each other.