Goethe’s Bright Circle

Jay Parini in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Screenhunter_06_may_12_1136Goethe became a jack-of-all-trades in Weimar, advising the duke on matters large and small, hunting on horseback with him, drinking with him in country inns. He served as a member of the inner council, sat on the war commission, and was chief inspector of roads, among other duties. He helped direct the duke’s financial affairs, and managed to pursue his own scientific research in areas including anatomy and physics. Oh, yes: He also wrote hundreds of poems — some the best ever written in any language — and numerous plays and novels, too. His verse play Faust was a lifelong project, which the critic Harold Bloom has called “a scandalous pleasure for the exuberant reader, but it is also a trap, a Mephistophelean abyss in which you will never touch bottom.” It’s a work that demands and repays countless rereading. One never quite gets to the end of Faust, nor does one wish to do so.

In the midst of all that, Goethe had magnificent friendships and rewarding love affairs. As Armstrong rightly notes, “The most fruitful — and the most intense — relationship Goethe ever had with a male friend was with the poet and dramatist Friedrich Schiller.” It was an exquisite friendship, marked by shared ideals between the two poet-playwrights, interesting conflicts, and deep respect on both sides. Goethe had a talent for friendship, and that gift helped to widen the bright circle around him.

More here.