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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship by
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Originally published in 1796
This Edition "Burt's Home Library" published 189?
Read on Amazon Kindle

  I'm in my knock-down/drag-out phase with the titles remaining on the 1700s portion of the 2006 edition of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die.  I'm essentially down to a couple of Jean-Jacques Rousseau titles, and three early English novels that run about 1000+ plus, each.(1)

 I don't what I will do celebrate this accomplishment. But I'd like to point out that it will have taken me about four and a half years to complete this task.  I don't want any recognition, please- how embarrassing to be known for some tiny part of one's life.

 Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship made it to the "bottom 10" category because it is towards the end of the century and is a text in German translation.  The Germans are hardly represented in the 1700s portion of the 2006 Edition of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die- just Goethe x2.

    I frankly question whether the exclusion of Friedrich Schiller's On The Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters.  Let me make the case for including On The Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters and excluding a title like Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile Or; On Education, or, for that matter, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

(1)  On The Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters was published in 1796.
(2)  On The Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters is the stylistic equal of those included in the 1700s section of the 2006 Edition of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. Books like Rousseau's, Emile; On EducationReveries of a Solitary Walker & Confessions.
(3) On The Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters is easier to read an more relevant to contemporary life then ANY of Rousseau's books. Can we not read about Jean-Jacques Rousseau in history books without him getting four books on the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die list?

  THERE! I said it.  As for Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, I bring up Schiller because they were big bros back in the 1780s-1790s Frankfurt/Strasbourg.   They were also hooked up with Johann Herder, who was a big boss in the German Enlightenment philosophy scene of the late 18th century.

 A key interesting part of Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship is the way Hamlet is used in the plot.  I guess Shakespeare had only recently been translated into German, and the main character's introduction to and obsession with Hamlet gives parts of this book a real pop cultur-ey sheen- like he could just have easily been obsessed with a rock and roll band, or, for that matter, a Romantic era poet.

   Wilhelm Meister is what they call a "bildungsroman."  I discussed the bildungsroman, briefly, in my recent review of Kim by Rudyard Kipling.  In English translation bildungsroman is a genre of literature best described as a "Coming of Age Story."  Originally developed in 18th century books like Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, the bildungsroman combines picaresque techniques of plot mechanics and character depiction to the moral philosophizing of French writers like Voltaire and Rousseau, to whom Goethe is clearly in debt, at least in a literary sense.

  Goethe is a giant to be sure, but I found The Sorrows of Young Werther to be the bigger hit.  I guess Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship gets the credit for "founding" the Coming of Age Novel, so give credit where credit is due, but I certainly didn't enjoy it in this translation.

  Unfortunately I almost certainly read a bad translation that dates from the 19th century, which let to problems both with the formatting of the Ebook- like- the Chapter heading appears at the bottom of the page with no text under neath, to a complete absence of footnotes, introduction and end notes.   Something I've learned after reading only two books on the Kindle is that I miss the Oxford Worlds Classics edition- the most recent one of those I read was Rameau's Nephew by Denis Diderot and the experience was frankly superior.

  As someone who held out on buying an Ereader I can frankly see justification FOR holding out.  The argument being basically, who are you that you read so much and so fast that you need an Ereader?  At the same time I can't argue with the convenience of the device.  The fact is, you can fill your head with garbage whether you read regular books or have an Ereader, and the same is true about reading books in specialty fields.

  I don't think though that the Kindle will increase the amount of time I read each day, it will just decrease the amount of time between books- changing it from a decision process "Which book do i read next?" to an automatic function. That's bound to speed things up.


(1) Clarissa, by Samuel Richardson, Peregrine Pickle by Tobias Smollett, Amelia by Henry Fielding and The Adventures of Caleb Williams by William Godwin.

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