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goetheexpengl.html 29.11.2016


The Sufferings of Young Goethe - Character and Work

 by Helmar Kloss

Goethe-Exposé in English

     Goethe-Exposé engl. COPYRIGHT Helmar Kloss 2016 The title “Die Leiden des jungen Goethe” (“The sufferings of young Goethe”), corresponds to that of the first romance of Goethe “Die Leiden des jungen Werther” (“The sufferings of young Werther”), first published in 1774. The author’s purpose was to find out how far the romance is based on problems young Goethe had suffered before writing it, of what kind these problems have been and where they had come from.

     The study is restricted to the period before 1775, the year Goethe went to Weimar.

     But the author is not primarily interested in the personality of Goethe and some of the works created before he went to Weimar. He aims at using one of the best documented lifes – perhaps even the best documented – for a kind of case study for psychological purposes. The example of Goethe serves to find out circumstances and mechanisms by which human per­sonalities are formed.

     This formation results from processes which are still ignored except in cases of more or less great catastrophes for which usual explanations are not satisfactory. So, the intention of the author is to portray Goethe's personality and not to supply a biographical or a literary study, although as a sort of by product he offers some inter­esting results of that kind.

     Human personalities are formed in the family they are born into. Most im­por­tant are the first four or five years of life. The persons forming this family, their character and be­haviour are of utmost importance. Therefore, in part 1 of the study the characters of Goethe's father and mo­ther are portrayed. The following description of Goethe's childhood and youth includes an analysis of the character of his sister Cornelia, born when Wolfgang had 15 month of age, and what is known about his bro­ther Jakob, who has died at the age of six when Wolfgang was nine years old, trying to find out what in­fluence these siblings have had on the development of Goethe's cha­rac­ter.

     Part 2 begins with a survey of the romance about the unhappy love and the seemingly tra­gic fate of young Werther. The character of the protagonist is analyzed as if it were a real per­son. Thereafter, all girls and ladies are scrutinized with which young Goethe has had relations be­fore he wrote his ro­mance to find out when and where he has made the experiences that form the basis of the ro­man­ce and which of the young ladies has been the one that served as model for Werther's object of adoration, the girl called "Lotte". Next topic is the scrutiny of Goethe's description of his motives, the circumstances under which the idea had formed to write the ro­mance and the pub­lic resonance it got. From the infor­mations gathered until then most im­por­tant traits of Goe­the's charac­ter are elaborated and contrasted with Wer­ther's character to get at an unproven but highly probable hy­pothesis about the real facts that had made young Goe­the suffer.

     The third and last part tries to test the correctness of the proposed explanation by scrutini­zing some other literary works written before Goethe's departure to Weimar. Then, knowing Goethe's character, the relations to mother, father and sister are revisited.

     Finally, the results concerning the three disciplines the author is interested in - study of literature, psychology and socio­logy - are summed up. To cite from the latter: "Not least of all, I have been interested to raise the question how to induce homo sapiens to face the problems that result from his disposition - especially the problem I named after Cain - and to look for solutions instead of continuing to live in dull and foolish uncon­scious­ness, lim­ping blind through history, - Freud and his colla­borators and followers notwithstan­ding. Because analogous to the participation of elder wo­men in practising cir­cum­ci­sion of the cli­­toris of young girls in some african tribes everywhere aggressions and suf­fe­rings are passed from one generation to the next in a process I have cal­led "trauma-tradition". The mechanisms I have elaborated thanks to the informations I have got about young Goethe and called "syndrome of consequences from loss" (Verlustfolgen­syn­drom) are only some examples among many we should find out and try to neutralize, so that humanity may make moral progres­ses too and allow the majority of men to live content and in peace."

     The annex of the book is made of a list of all letters forming the "Werther"-romance, a ta­ble of relevant events in the era concerned, a lot of notes and translations, bibliography and a detailed index. To allow readers to read up on the quotations from "Dichtung und Wahrheit", the book has been put into the internet with the paging of the edition used by the author; look at Texte/Dichtung und Wahrheit