Bildung and the feminine: an investigation into three major works by Goethe

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Bezerra de Albuquerque, Juliana
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University College Cork
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The subject of this thesis is the relationship between gender and the notion of Bildung in three major works by J.W. von Goethe, namely: Iphigenie auf Tauris (1786), Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795-96) and Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809). One of the central ideas throughout Goethe’s work is that of Bildung or the formation of the individual. This is a scientific and anthropological idea which was already current amongst some of Goethe’s contemporaries, but which Goethe applies in his literary works by means of analogy in relation to the achievement of self-knowledge and the harmonious integration of the different parts of one’s nature. The question addressed in the thesis is whether for Goethe the women in his fiction can be said to be potentially able to achieve the same the degree of Bildung as their male counterparts. In answering this question, the thesis contends that in studying the development of Goethe’s literary works it is important to pay attention also to the way in which his ideas on nature are reflected in his fictional creations. The thesis argues that given Goethe’s emphasis in his scientific writings on themes such as evolution and morphology, i.e. the theory of the formation and transformation of living organisms, the way he perceives nature as a whole, and human nature in particular, is very much dynamic and open-ended. All living organisms, in Goethe’s universe, are conceived as striving to develop and at the same time as being compelled to respond as well as they can to the limitations inherent in their own nature, the injuries inflicted upon them in the course of life, and the obstacles encountered in their environment, whether physical or, in the case of human beings, also cultural and social. Goethe’s notion of Bildung is not primarily moral in the traditional sense of this word but reflects a psychological and naturalistic perspective on the human condition, something that has been noted by other scholars such as T.J. Reed, Matthew Bell, Jane K. Brown and Astrida Orle Tantillo. Chapter One of the thesis deals with the relation between Bildung, gender and sexual difference in Goethe’s work by suggesting in which ways his ideas can be said to challenge the prejudices of his time on these issues. Chapter Two deals with the play Iphigenie auf Tauris. Chapter Three offers an interpretation of the novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre with an emphasis on the differences and similarities between the characters of Natalie and the Beautiful Soul. Chapter Four is an analysis of Die Wahlverwandtschaften.
Bildung , Goethe , Women , German classicism , German intellectual history , German literature , German philosophy
Bezerra de Albuquerque, J. 2021. Bildung and the feminine: an investigation into three major works by Goethe. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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