Goethe's Elective Affinities and the End of the Old Regime
New Studies in the "Age of Goethe"
After Jena is the first scholarly work in English to set Goethe's influential and controversial novel Elective Affinities (Die Wahlverwandtschaften, 1809) squarely within the turbulent time in which it was written. Peter J. Schwartz explores the era of rapid modernization following Prussia's defeat at the battle Jena-Auerstedt (1806)--a battle that permitted Napoleon to extend French hegemony throughout Continental Europe and to dissolve or reform the institutional structures of the German ancient régime. Adducing evidence from many spheres and applying the tools of several disciplines, Schwartz persuasively shows how Elective Affinities reflects post-Jena changes in marriage, property, and inheritance law, and in the political role of the German nobility. He links questions of character, fate, and sacrifice in the novel to modern problems of sovereignty and legitimacy, and investigates how key scenes in the novel comment implicitly on Napoleon, Rousseau, the French Revolution, and the politics and aesthetics of the German Romantics. After Jena reveals the novel's ethical core to be a calculus of political legitimacy, and its aesthetics a means of conciliating tensions provoked by modernity's onrush. It will be of special interest to students of literature, history, philosophy, art, history, and aesthetics.
"One of the greatest strengths of Schwartz's book lies in his ability to make original and illuminating connections between Goethe's novel and the socio-political upheaval of his day by drawing on a diverse array of sources."
--Elliot Schreiber, Vassar College, Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies 49: 2 (2013): 254-256.
About the author:
Peter J. Schwartz is Assistant Professor of German at Boston University.
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