Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: A Tragedy; Parts One and Two, Fully Revised. Trans. Martin Greenberg. Introduction by W. Daniel Wilson. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2014. 467 pp.
The new, fully revised translation of Faust by Martin Greenberg offers both parts of Goethe's drama in a single volume, which represents a bold publishing decision on the part of Yale University Press. Many translations of Faust, surely one of the most readily available works of German literature in English, have not bothered with the second part at all or have presented each part separately: Greenberg's original edition also appeared as separate-volume translations of Part I (1992) and Part II (1998), at price points of $19.00 and $19.50 respectively. The new, single-volume format thus provides an instructor of undergraduate literature courses the opportunity to place the whole of Faust into the hands of her students for only a few dollars more than what each of the previous edition's parts cost, thereby perhaps tempting them to read more than the customary “Great Books” course requirement of Part I.
One of the superior features of this new edition is the excellent “Introduction” by W. Daniel Wilson: it is a model of concision and eloquence. Within the space of only eight pages (plus notes), Wilson adequately summarizes Goethe's life history, places Faust into a thematic and structural context, and briefly describes the work's importance to the generations of readers since the early nineteenth century. Most significantly, he acknowledges that Faust presents moral issues that may disturb the reader, especially that “Goethe seems to let Faust off the hook” (xiii) by redeeming him, despite the monstrously evil acts he commits. Thus, Wilson anticipates some of the most difficult and off-putting issues that a reader new to Faust is about to encounter, acknowledging them without offering excuses or rationalizations. Wilson's contribution accomplishes precisely what an introduction should do by giving the reader everything she needs to enter into the work with a sufficient, but not overwhelming, context for appreciating it.
In his “Translator's Note,” Greenberg, quoting Wordsworth, states that his main purpose in this revision (as in the earlier edition of this translation) is “to provide an English Faust in ‘a language really used by men’” (xix); to update Wordsworth one is tempted to add “and by women.”