The Life of Goethe: A Critical Biography

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is Germany's most celebrated, prolific and versatile writer. He established a major European reputation and profoundly influenced his contemporaries and literary successors, not least among them the British Romantic writers Coleridge, Scott, and Byron. Goethe's life spanned a long period of profound change in German and European history. This book, by the author of a critically acclaimed study of Goethe's Faust, sets Goethe's creative work in the context of his biography and of the literary and political movements of his time. It contains chapters on his life, his poetry, drama, prose and verse narratives, and on his scientific work. It is a study not only of his major works, but also of his less well known literary output: epigrams, aphorisms, satires, libretti, masquerades, dramatic and narrative fragments. John R. Williams gives an account of Goethe's wide range of public activities as a minister of the Duchy of Sachsen-Weimar, his relations with the leading figures of the day, his influence on contemporary culture, and his personal and literary reactions to historical events of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, from the ancien regime to the French Revolution, from the Napoleonic invasion of Germany to the defeat of Napoleon, from the Congress of Vienna to the July Revolution of 1830, from the declining years of the Holy Roman Empire to the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in Germany. Goethe's life and work are introduced and explained to the student of literature and to the interested general reader. Williams reveals his subject in all the great variety of his character, his occasionally scurrilous humour and exuberance, his characteristic ironic ambivalence, and his sometimes flawed wisdom and humanity. Catering for the specialist in German literature and for the non-German reader, The Life of Goethe offers English translations of all quotations given in the text. An extensive bibliography details a wide selection of Goethe's works in English translation.