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GE8: German literature, thought, and history from 1700 to 1815 (including Goethe's works to 1832)

This paper is available for the academic year 2017-18.

The period from 1700 to 1815 was one of rapid and far-reaching change. It saw the emergence of modern German culture, and produced some of the greatest poets, philosophers and politicians in the history of the German-speaking lands: Goethe, Kant, Frederick the Great, to name but a few.  Paper Ge8 offers an accessible and stimulating introduction to this era, and seeks not least to highlight the concerns which are still relevant to our own time. 

 

 

Topics: 

The course is divided into Section A and Section B. Topics are described in detail below, and recommendations for secondary reading can be found at the end of each section.

 

Section A: Literature

Specific guidance on the preparation of topics will be provided by lecturers and supervisors. Exam questions typically require you to draw on TWO OR MORE texts, and you are advised to study three to four in detail during the year.

The literature modules are as follows:

The forms of feeling (2 lectures)

German poetry was revolutionised in the eighteenth century: forms became freer and modes of expression more spontaneous. This was the age of feeling, and the first part of this topic addresses the development of the lyric in that context. We consider the entire spectrum of ‘feeling’, from sensation to emotion, and its treatment by some of the major poets of the era, from Brockes to Brentano and Eichendorff. The pivotal figure in this first section is Klopstock who, more than anyone else in the period, made poetry move, and for whom the physical and the metaphysical were intimately linked. The second part of the topic serves as an introduction to the two greatest poets of the era, Goethe and Hölderlin. The lecture will compare and contrast their technique and preoccupations, but students are encouraged to explore the two poets on their own terms in supervision essays.

Primary texts: 

  • Selected poems by Brockes, Klopstock, Goethe, Hölderlin, Eichendorff and Brentano.

Students wishing to focus exclusively on Goethe may do so.

 

Theatre, society and humanity (2 lectures)

In the second half of the eighteenth century, the turning away from ancient and neo-classical models towards domestic drama, the advocacy of Shakespeare and the establishment of theatres in various parts of Germany helped to produce a large number of literary plays that established modern German drama. In the first part of this topic we study Lessing’s comedy Minna von Barnhelm and consider the relation between comedy and tragedy in the dramas of the Sturm und Drang, which focussed on social issues and the problems of self-realisation in the late Enlightenment. The second part of the topic focuses on the emergence of classical German drama in plays by Lessing, Goethe and Kleist. Lessing’s Nathan der Weise presents a plea for religious tolerance, while tragedy is at the heart of Goethe’s play about the poet Torquato Tasso and comedy of a darker kind figures in Kleist’s Amphitryon.

Primary texts: 

  • Lessing, Minna von Barnhelm
  • Lenz Der Hofmeister
  • Goethe, Götz von Berlichingen
  • Lessing, Nathan der Weise
  • Goethe, Torquato Tasso
  • Kleist, Amphitryon
  • Students wishing to focus on Goethe should add Iphigenie auf Tauris and Die natürliche Tochter.

Full recordings of some of the plays are available on youtube.com. Recordings of trailers of recent productions of many plays can be found by typing in the title. Other recordings (DVDs and CDs) of the plays are available from the MML Faculty library.

 

Society and the subject (2 lectures)

Die Leiden des jungen Werthers was Goethe’s first major success as a writer, and it marked a turning point in German literary history. In many ways the culmination of certain eighteenth-century trends –the epistolary novel, for example, or the cult of sensibility – it also became the mouthpiece for a new generation of writers, and of readers. We shall assess the impact of this novel both on Goethe’s own career, and on the subsequent development of the literary landscape.

For many writers in the period around 1800, however, it was short prose which particularly fired their creativity. We shall look at outstanding examples of the mode, from Goethe’s ‘Märchen’ to Tieck’s Kunstmärchen to Kleist’s Erzählungen, and we will also consider Novalis’s Heinrich von Ofterdingen: an unfinished novel which exploits all the expressive possibilities of short prose. Despite their many differences, the texts in this topic all share an intense preoccupation with the life of the human subject. Some, like Werther, engage directly with the question of the place of the individual in contemporary society, whilst others may appear to be running away from the ‘real’ circumstances from which they emerge; but all are, in fact, profoundly concerned with German-speaking society at the end of the eighteenth century.

Primary texts: 

  • Goethe, Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, ‘Märchen’ from the Unterhalthungen deutscher Ausgewanderten 
  • Novalis, Heinrich von Ofterdingen
  • Tieck, Der blonde Eckbert, Die Elfen
  • Kleist, Das Erdbeben in Chile, Michael Kohlhaas.

Students wishing to focus on Goethe should add Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre and / or Die Wahlverwandtschaften.

 

Women and writing (1 lecture, 1 seminar)

In recent decades, increasing critical attention has been paid to the distinctive contribution made by female writers in the period. They played a key role, for example, in the literary salons that developed in the late Enlightenment, and were also active as translators. We look at particularly compelling examples of work by women, such as the lyric poetry of Sophie Mereau and Karoline von Günderrode, and the prose writing of Sophie von La Roche and Dorothea Schlegel, and we consider the extent to which these authors either reflect or challenge trends in ‘mainstream’ writing (such as the poetry and prose studied elsewhere on this paper). Our view will also pan out to the broader conditions in which women in the eighteenth- and early-nineteenth centuries were writing. We address the social factors which affected them, such as the disparity in the level of education offered to men and women at the time, and we will explore the effects of early theorizing about gender. Finally, we consider the process of canon-formation, and the possible reasons why women writers were overlooked for so long.

Primary texts: 

  • Sophie von La Roche, Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim
  • Dorothea Schlegel, Florentin
  • Selected poems by Sophie Mereau and Karoline von Günderrode
  • Wilhelm von Humboldt, ‘Ueber den Geschlechtsunterschied und dessen Einfluß auf die organische Natur’

 

Goethe's Faust (1 lecture, 1 seminar)

In this topic, we get to grips with Goethe’s best-known and – especially outside Germany – most influential work. We trace the genesis of the piece: the expansion of Urfaust, that intense burst of ideas from a writer in his early twenties, into Part One, and the addition of Part Two in Goethe’s old age. The spirit of radical experimentation and innovation which characterised the very first instalment did not dwindle as the Goethe grew old: if anything, it became more ambitious. We also discuss the central problems posed by the work, which have lost none of their bite in our own time: the nature of guilt and responsibility, the temptations of power, and the relentless drive of modernity.

Primary texts: 

  • Goethe’s Faust. Erster und Zweiter Teil

Crime, passion and politics in Schiller's dramas (2 lectures)

‘Schillers Talent war recht fürs Theater geschaffen’ (Goethe, 1825). Schiller’s early plays were bold and experimental, rejecting the superficial entertainment and moralising of the theatre of his day. His first play Die Räuber is written in a spirit of rebellion, after which he turns his attention to history (Die Verschwörung des Fiesko) and social conditions in Germany (Kabale und Liebe). His preoccupation with history, philosophy and aesthetics create a break in his career as a dramatist of about a decade before he turns his attention to the Thirty Years War (the Wallenstein trilogy), British history (Maria Stuart) and the legend of Swiss unification (Wilhelm Tell). Schiller’s plays are frequently performed on the German stage and more recently, in English adaptations, have been acclaimed in the West End. In this topic we look at the plays in their historical and cultural context, as well as studying how they can be realized on the stage.

Primary texts: 

  • Friedrich von Schiller, Die Räuber, Kabale und Liebe, Wallensteins Tod, Maria Stuart, Wilhelm Tell

 

Please see here for recommended secondary reading. 

 

Section B: History and Thought

This section consists of the following modules: 

Enlightenment, society and politics in the Holy Roman Empire (2 lectures)

The eighteenth century was the century of the Enlightenment and in Germany the Aufklärung was the dominant intellectual movement. This module examines the origins and development of the Aufklärung and explores its central ideas of improvement, education, toleration and the paths that led from Aufklärung to the cult of Bildung around 1800 and to political liberalism in the early nineteenth century. It pays attention to the interaction between German thinkers and their counterparts in France and the United Kingdom and also to the reaction of German thinkers to key historical events such as the French Revolution. In the second part we examine the social and political impact of the Aufklärung. Enlightened despotism took a variety of forms in the Holy Roman Empire. The two most famous enlightened rulers were Frederick the Great of Prussia and Joseph II of Austria, who, although contemporaries, each ruled a rather different way. But there were many other rulers of small territories, including the ecclesiastical territories, who also pursued policies shaped in various ways by Aufklärung principles. We ask what difference Aufklärung made in practice and how the new way of thinking shaped the subsequent course of German history.

 

Identity and Nation from the Holy Roman Empire to German Confederation (2 lectures)

Between 1790 and 1815 the German lands were completely transformed by wars which had consequences as far-reaching as those of the twentieth century. The Holy Roman Empire suffered repeated onslaughts of French armies from 1792 and by 1806 Napoleon had destroyed it. The module will first examine the nature of the Holy Roman Empire and the sense of national identity that had developed within it. The removal of this framework, which had existed for a thousand years, was a profound shock for many Germans. The scramble of some of the medium-sized and larger territories to annexe their small neighbours, which led to the disappearance of several hundred smaller territories, permanently changed the map of Germany and subjected many millions of Germans to the harsh rule of new authorities. The relentless pressures imposed by France also generated growing resentment against French domination. Discussion of the future of Germany between 1806 and 1815 threw up often conflicting visions which subtly transformed the notions of nation and German identity which had evolved in the eighteenth century. We conclude by asking how both the Holy Roman Empire and the French period shaped the development of the German people on the threshold to the modern era.

 

Jews and Germans in the Eighteenth Century (2 lectures)

This module explores the history of the Jews in the eighteenth-century Holy Roman Empire. By 1750 there were about 70,000 Jews in the German territories, living in both towns and rural areas, and enjoying varying degrees of protection from princes and urban magistrates. Most were poor and lived on the margins of society. Others, however, prospered and began to attend universities and to interact socially with Christians, for example in the new coffee houses. We examine the entry of the Jews into German society, the controversies that Jewish engagement with the social and intellectual movements of the time provoked within the Jewish communities, and the emergence of a Jewish Aufklärung or Haskalah; we also look at the role of Jewish women and their salons in Berlin from the 1780s. We consider the discussion of the Jews and their position within Christian society by leading Aufklärer, which revealed the limits of enlightened Christian toleration. We also explore the ideas of the Berlin philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), a friend of Lessing and Friedrich Nicolai and one of the few Jewish-German public intellectuals, who opposed both the critics of the Jews and the conservative rabbis. We conclude by reflecting on how these developments shaped Jewish thought in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the subsequent history of the Jews in Germany.

 

Enlightenment and the Meaning of History (2 lectures)

The German Enlightenment or Aufklärung represents the most significant intellectual event in the period covered by this paper. Though they are generally considered less radical than their French counterparts, Enlightenment philosophers such as Christian Wolff, Moses Mendelssohn, G.E. Lessing and Immanuel Kant played a crucial role in a movement that revolutionized man’s understanding of his place in the natural as well as the social world.

This module introduces students to the central ideas of the German Enlightenment – rationalism, universalism, religious tolerance, progress – and examines how they were applied to the study of history. Finding an overarching, non-religious meaning and purpose in history was the goal of the Aufklärer – and laid the foundations for what would later be known as Geschichtsphilosophie.

Focussing on the writings of Kant and Johann Gottfried Herder, we will explore different attempts to define the causes and ends of the historical process – and lay to rest the myth that Enlightenment philosophies of history were imbued with a facile, triumphalist belief in humanity’s inexorable march towards ever higher levels of rationality, emancipation, and civilization.

Set texts: 

  • J.G.Herder, Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit [1784-91], Book XV, in: J.G. Herder, Werke in 10 Bänden, vol. 6, ed. Martin Bollacher (Frankfurt 1989)
  • I. Kant, ‘Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlicher Absicht’ [1784], in: I. Kant, Schriften zur Geschichtsphilosophie, ed. M. Riedel, rev. edn (Stuttgart 1992)
  • Additional primary reading: J.G. Herder, Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte zur Bildung der Menschheit [1774] (Stuttgart 1990) (=Reclam edn)
  • F.M. Barnard, Herder on Social and Political Culture (Cambridge 1969), esp. the extracts from the Ideas for a Philosophy of the History of Mankind [1784-1791], pp. 253-326
  • I. Kant, ‘Mutmaßlicher Anfang der Menschengeschichte’ [1786], in: I. Kant, Schriften zur Geschichtsphilosophie, ed. M. Riedel, rev. edn (Stuttgart 1992)
  • I. Kant, ‘Rezensionen zu J.G. Herders Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit‘ [1784-5], in: I. Kant, Schriften zur Geschichtsphilosophie, ed. M. Riedel, rev. edn (Stuttgart 1992)
  • I. Kant, ‘Das Ende aller Dinge’ [1794], in: I. Kant,Was ist Aufklärung? Ausgewählte kleine Schriften, ed. E. Cassirer and H.D. Brandt (Hamburg 1999)

 

The Romantic Revolution in Thought (2 lectures)

German Romanticism is traditionally viewed as a cultural movement, defined by a new set of aesthetic values and criteria – subjectivity, expressivity, and the autonomous creativity of the imagination – that still inform popular perceptions of what is modern in modern art.

This module offers a different perspective on the Romantics in that it highlights their philosophical concerns, in particular their growing scepticism about the possibility to identify objective, empirically validated and universal truths; their increasingly subjective and relativist approach to morality; their emphasis on the individual and his sentiments (Gefühl), on contingency and historicity; their articulation of new political ideas such as nationalism, republicanism, and anti-colonialism.

We will concentrate on the early Romantics, notably Novalis and Friedrich Schlegel, and the writings they published in the journal Athenaeum between 1798 and 1800. The aim is to approach German Romanticism as an intellectual movement, one that is deeply engaged with genuinely philosophical problems, especially those raised by Kant’s First Critique (1781) and Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre (1794).

Set texts: 

  • Novalis [d.i. Friedrich von Hardenberg], Blüthenstaub [1798], in: Novalis [d.i. Friedrich von Hardenberg], Novalis: Die Christenheit oder Europa und andere philosophische Schriften (Cologne 1996)
  • Novalis [d.i. Friedrich von Hardenberg], Glauben und Liebe [1798], in: Novalis [d.i. Friedrich von Hardenberg], Novalis: Die Christenheit oder Europa und andere philosophische Schriften (Cologne 1996)
  • Friedrich Schlegel, Athenaeum Fragmente, in: F. Schlegel, Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe, ed. E. Behler et al., 35 vols (Munich 1958–2002)
  • Friedrich Schlegel, Kritische Fragmente, in: F. Schlegel, Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe, ed. E. Behler et al., 35 volsMunich 1958–2002

 

 

 

Preparatory reading: 

Please see primary reading and reading lists as outlined above. 

Teaching and learning: 

Lectures cover all the topics listed here. Attendance is essential: even topics which you choose not to cover in depth will help to develop your understanding of the period. In addition to lectures, you will receive eight supervisions at fortnightly intervals across the Michaelmas and Lent terms, and two seminars in Lent.

Ge.8's Moodle site can be accessed here. The enrolment password can be collected from the paper coordinator.  

Assessment: 

The paper is divided into two sections. In the examination (3 hours in length) three questions must be answered, at least one from each section.

Section A covers the literature of the period 1700-1815, and includes Goethe's works up to his death in 1832.

Section B covers the thought and history of the period 1700-1815.

Please click HERE to view a specimen exam paper.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Charlotte Lee