restricted access The Faust Legend: Popular Formula and Modern Novel (review)
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Reviewed by
Marguerite De Huszar Allen. The Faust Legend: Popular Formula and Modern Novel. Germanic Studies in America 53. New York: Lang, 1985. 178 pp. $16.50.

Although it is commonly known that the Volksbuch vom Doctor Faustus served as archetype for Mann's Doktor Faustus and relations between the two have often been examined, Allen adds a new dimension to the analysis of the Volksbuch as source by demonstrating that it also is a montage of disparate elements that derive from social and literary impulses. Doktor Faustus thus has much more in common with the Volksbuch than plot elements and quotations; it parallels its model in the relationship to its social context and literary tradition as well.

Allen begins by comparing the Faust formula to the plots of the saints' lives in the Legenda aurea, discovering in Faust's life the negative image of a saint's life. Conversion has been replaced by a pact with the devil, miracles by feats of magic, and Faust's violent death leads not to salvation but damnation. Allen [End Page 334] diagnoses influences of Lutheranism in this inversion of the saintly life, the Faust legend being a repudiation of Catholic hagiography. The formulaic nature of both saints' lives and the Faust legend encourages a method of composition Allen views as precursory to Mann's montage technique: the segments of the paradigm are filled with materials from traditional or contemporary sources, selected to suit the author's purposes.

The technique of montage bridges the analysis of the Volksbuch's sources and the second section of the book, which deals with the relationship of Doktor Faustus to the Volksbuch. The episodic nature of the formula has given way to a more unified concept of the novel, but the stuff of the narrative is still pieced together from a multitude of literary, cultural, and historical sources. Most prominent among the sources Allen mentions are materials taken from Nietzsche's life and philosophy, particularly the concept of ressentiment, which, Allen suggests, replaces the devil in this more secular version of the legend. Leverkühn emulates Faustus' life; his pact is his surrender to ressentiment.

The emphasis on Nietzsche in this second half constitutes a serious weakness of Allen's study, for now the expressed aim of documenting the popular formula's influence on a modern novel disappears in a preponderance of observations about Nietzschean ressentiment. This is not to say that the observations are entirely extraneous; instead of emphasizing formal and compositional aspects of the Faust legend, as in the first section, however, the focus is shifted to the historical and literary material that fills the forms.

By subordinating the Nietzsche material to the formula of hagiographyantihagiography, Allen could have preserved the unity of her study. That Mann might associate Nietzsche with such a motif is suggested by essays and correspondence from the Faustus period, where he more than once refers to Nietzsche as a martyr or a saint.

Despite a promising thesis, organizational weaknesses and a lack of consistency prevent Allen's interesting and potentially valuable ideas from coalescing into a compelling essay. Instead the reader is presented with a somewhat diffuse and ultimately disappointing study.

Alan J. Swensen
Princeton University
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