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Bruce Duncan - Goethe's Werther and the Critics
Publisher: Camden House | 2005-07-01 | ISBN: 1571132848 | PDF | 208 pages | 1.22 MB

When Goethe's first novel, Die Leiden des jungen Werther (The Sorrows of Young Werther) appeared in 1774, it caused a sensation that is hard to exaggerate. "Werther fever" gripped not just Germany, but Europe and North America, and even Japan and China. The many pirated versions make sales figures difficult to establish, but Werther was probably the most popular book of its century. Napoleon claimed to have read it seven times. In the intervening years, this interest has persisted, and the book has inspired - and still inspires - many hundreds of imitations and sequels in every conceivable genre. Numerous editions are still in print in many languages, and in English-speaking lands the novel is regularly read on campuses in comparative literature and "great book" courses. Literary critics, too, have maintained their interest in Werther. The book's first appearance immediately provoked a lively debate about its aesthetic and moral implications. Then, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, critics increasingly explored its narrative strategies, its relation to various literary movements, its autobiographical elements, its depiction of an individual subjectivity, its social criticism, and its role in constructing a German national consciousness. Hundreds of subsequent critics have continued these discussions and added topics that reflect such developments as semiotics and gender studies. In fact, the history of Werther's critical reception largely mirrors the history of literary criticism in the last 230 years. Goethe's Werther and the Critics traces this development, demonstrating how changing notions of both aesthetics and the role of literary criticism have influenced perceptions of this great work. Bruce Duncan is Professor of German Studies at Dartmouth College. He has written studies on Achim von Arnim, Gerstenberg, Goethe, Gottsched, Lenz, Lessing, Schiller, and Weie, as well as on topics of intellectual history, and has translated works by Achim von Arnim and Luise Gottsched. Camden House published his book Lovers, Parricides and Highwaymen: Aspects of Sturm und Drang Drama in 1999.

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