Date of Degree
Germanic Languages & Literatures
German Language and Literature
This dissertation examines works of Goethe's pre-Weimar period and his autobiography, Dichtung und Wahrheit, which reconstructs that early period as the emergence of poet and oeuvre in terms of the abandonment of the idyll. It disputes the traditional view of Goethe as the poet of experience ("Erlebnis"). It seeks instead to demonstrate that Goethe wrote in the manner of his poetic forebears–by the imitation of literary models–and that "experience" was created in his work by emptying these models of their communal content. Once liberated from traditional literary forms, the new subjective lyric voice was literally homeless and its encounters with idyllic life forms were marked by ambivalence.
The fragility of the idyll in Goethe's work mirrors the breakup of the idyll genre itself, and of genres and rules-oriented poetics in general, and it also inscribed in literature a new idiom, the main feature of which is the assertion of the rights of the self over the demands of the communal order. The resulting poetic convention (rejection of fixed standards based on eternal verities in favor of endless self-creation and rootlessness) has had far-reaching implications for the course of literature since the eighteenth century, particularly notions of originality, sincerity, creativity, and individuality.
The works examined include the Leipzig poem collections; the pastoral play Die Laune des Verliebten; the poems "Wanderers Sturmlied" and "Der Wandrer"; the novel Die Leiden des jungen Werther; and the Sesenheim idyll of Dichtung und Wahrheit.
Powers, Elizabeth, "From Idyll to Exile: The Transformed Self in the Early Works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe" (1995). CUNY Academic Works.