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Goethe's <I>Elective Affinities</I> and the Critics


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From the time of its publication to today, Goethe's famous novel The Elective Affinities (Die Wahlverwandtschaften, 1809), has aroused a storm of critical confusion. Critics in every age have vehemently disagreed about its content (whether it defends the institution of marriage, radically supports its dissolution, or even whether it is about marriage at all), its style (whether it is romantic, realistic, modern, or postmodern) and its tone (whether it is tragic, anti-romantic, or ironic). The present study begins by focusing upon the reaction of Goethe's contemporaries, and then discusses Goethe's own efforts -- in light of the initial negative critical reaction -- to shape the novel's reception. It continues by viewing the novel through the lens of 19th-century Hegelianism, positivism, and biographical studies, and by exploring the relationship between the novel's 19th-century reception and the growth of psychoanalytic theory and German nationalism. Moving on to the 20th century, the book considers the re-evaluation of Goethe's scientific works, the impact of World War II on the novel's interpreters, and the growing influence of literary theory. Here particular emphasis is placed upon Walter Benjamin's seminal essay on the novel and upon the criticism that the essay has inspired.

Astrida Orle Tantillo is assistant professor of German at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


Tantillo manages to combine her chronological approach with accurate thematic abstracts, and her work will be a genuinely useful point of orientation for anyone wishing to gain an overview of this still complex, still fascinating novel.... JOURNAL OF EUROPEAN STUDIES

This well-researched and very readable study ... gives a comprehensive overview of the critical voices and interpretations that have accompanied one of Goethe's most controversial works since its publication in 1809 to the present day. GOETHE YEARBOOK


First Published: 01 Dec 2001
13 Digit ISBN: 9781571132123
Pages: 265
Size: 9 x 6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: Camden House
BIC Class: DSB

Details updated on 05 Oct 2015


  • 1  Introduction
  • 2  1809-1832: The Morality of Art
  • 3  1832-1918: From Theory to Fact to Myth
  • 4  Walter Benjamin and New Critical Approaches
  • 5  1925-2000: From Mann to the Millennium
  • 6  Conclusion