JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE – The German novelist and poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is an important literary figure of the 18th century. A great playwright, he is the author of the masterpiece “Faust”.
Von Goethe was born on August 28, 1749 in Frankfurt in a wealthy family.
Goethe’s education was demanding at an early age and he proved to be a brilliant student.
At his father’s instigation, he studied law in Leipzig in 1765. At the same time, he showed a great interest in the literary arts and developed a passion for Shakespeare.
In the course of his meetings and love affairs, he finds the inspiration to compose some poems, such as the New Lieder or the Caprice de l’amant. Serious health problems forced him to move to Frankfurt.
There he meets a friend of his mother’s who arouses his interest in mysticism, occultism and alchemy.
In 1770, when he regained his health, he decided to continue his law studies in Strasbourg.
Goethe’s success began with the publication of his first works.
After graduating from university in 1772 with a doctorate, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe returned to Germany full of inspiration and began writing numerous works. Among them, the play Götz von Berlichingen (1773) is a serious success and fits perfectly into the German literary trend of Sturm und Drang (Storm and Moose).
Goethe was then inspired by his fallen love with Charlotte Buff to write his first novel, The Suffering of Young Werther (1774).
The play, which deals with suicide, caused a great stir in Germany and later in Europe.
His success was immediate: Goethe became rich and famous from his first book. The following year, he was called to Weimar and the Prince assigned him heavy administrative duties.
There he develops a platonic relationship with Charlotte von Stein, which leads to an important epistolary exchange. He published some poems and plays, including Iphigenia in Tauride (1786). Needing a break, Goethe spent a regenerative stay in Italy, starting in 1786.
Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s masterpiece
Back in Germany in 1788, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe shared a great love story with Christiane Vulpius.
Appointed to the Directorate of Culture, he studied science and published scientific articles on biology (The Metamorphosis of Plants, 1790) and geology. In 1794, he became friends with Friedrich von Schiller, which allowed him to deepen his literary ideas.
Similarly, in 1808, Goethe published the first part of his complete masterpiece, the work Faust.
It tells the story of the life of Johann Georg Faust, a German alchemist who sells his soul to the devil Mephistopheles to enjoy life.
Goethe wrote a second part of this acclaimed work, which was not published posthumously until 1832.
Goethe returned to more scientific considerations and became interested in the study of optics, to which he dedicated his Treatise on Colors in 1810.
The political context of the time changed his view of life. His last works are marked by the wisdom of an old man.
It was after a long, tumultuous and passionate life that the “Wise Man of Weimar”, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, died in his home at the age of 82 on March 22, 1832.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Key dates
August 28, 1749: Goethe’s birth
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born in Frankfurt into an old family of craftsmen. He is the author of numerous poems, novels, plays and art theories of worldwide scope.
Numerous operas were adapted from his poems, further enhancing his fame. He was successful since the publication of his first book, The Suffering of Young Werther, in 1774.
July 1794: Goethe becomes a friend of Friedrich von Schiller.
Goethe has known Schiller since 1788, but there is a form of enmity between them. It was in the summer of 1794 when the two men of letters sealed their friendship after a discussion about natural sciences and philosophy.
Now friends, the two German writers produced an abundant correspondence. Schiller died in 1805. The two men meet side by side at the Weimarer Fürstengruft in Weimar.
August 1831: Goethe finishes the second Faust
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe completes his second Faust. He had published the first in its final version in 1808.
Composed of 25 scenes, the play tells the famous myth of the scientist who sells his soul to Mephistopheles.
Written as early as 1826, the second work represents a Faust washed up from its past. Goethe inserts many scenes inspired by mythology (the character of Helen of Troy plays an important role).
Particularly allegorical, the work relies on the imagination and closes the literary career of its author. It was not published until a few months after his death in 1832.
March 22, 1832: Death of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The German writer died at his home in Weimar at the age of 82. His work is a literary reference, and he contributed to give German literature of the 17th century its letters of nobility.