Shortly after Goethe’s death, one of his contemporaries complained that he found “nothing more repugnant, and at the same time more ludicrous, than the relentlessness with which everyone has a go at Goethe, demanding that he should have been someone different from the person he was – that he should not have been Goethe”. Such negativity (which forms the reverse of the other historical strategy, to co-opt Goethe for chauvinistic, nationalist purposes) persists in what one might call Goethe’s “image problem”. The attitude to him of Germany’s cultural institutions can sometimes seem less than enthusiastic. Nor is it just his countrymen who display this lack of sympathy: in the English-speaking world, neither Shakespeare nor Cervantes, neither Racine nor Dante, it seems, can arouse such hostile passions as does the figure of Goethe. Why should this be the case? In Love, Life, Goethe: How to be happy in an imperfect world, John Armstrong suggests that the source of this image problem does not lie in Goethe – on the contrary, it lies in us.
more from the TLS here.