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4 - Werther: The Pathology of an Aesthetic Idea

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2013

Angus Nicholls
Affiliation:
Queen Mary, University of London
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Summary

In an essay on Die Leiden des jungen Werther, Thomas Mann gives the following description of the novel's author:

Goethe … der Dichter, das Genie, der treuherzige und aufrichtige, aber auch wieder treulose und in irdischem Sinne unzuverlässige Vagabund des Gefühls … der junge Dämon, der im “Faust” von sich sagt: “Bin ich der Flüchtling nicht? Der Unbehauste? Der Unmensch ohne Zweck und Ruh?” — Ein liebenswürdiger Unmensch: schön, hochbegabt, geladen mit Geist und Leben, feurig, gefühlvoll, ausgelassen und schwermütig, kurz — närrisch in einem lieben Sinn.

Mann's portrayal of Goethe, and the passage from part two of Faust with which he supplements it, both correspond with the official Goethe-endorsed mythology that surrounds Werther. In this scenario, Goethe is seen as the fiery young Stürmer und Dränger; a figure compared to a “Wassersturz” that has stormed “von Fels zu Felsen … / Begierig wütend nach dem Abgrund zu” (FA 1,7/1:144). It is no coincidence that we find in the passage from Faust quoted by Mann a similar image of rushing water to that which appears in “Mahomets Gesang,” as the biographical mythology surrounding the composition of Werther corresponds with the model of subjectivity outlined in Goethe's early poem. Hence we are presented with a biographical narrative in which Goethe, inspired with Romantic longing and endowed with an excess of natural creativity, feverishly wrote Werther in order to exorcize himself of his overweening, transgressive, and dangerously anti-social subjectivity.

Type
Chapter
Information
Goethe's Concept of the Daemonic
After the Ancients
, pp. 142 - 166
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2006

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