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.MORAL PROGRESS IN GOETHE'S FAUST CECll., LEWIS THE Second Part of Goethe's Faust has from its first appearance excited -strong disagreement among the critics. Does it fit together with the F.i.nlt Part to form a continuous and unified whole? Is there a clear idea consistently w_ orked out in the two parts? Almost at the beginning of Faust criticism, George Henry Lewes, an ardent admirer of the poet, condemned the Second Part as strongly as he praised .the First. He declared that the "two poems" were separate and distinct, not two parts of one poem. The Second Part was "of mediocre interest, very far inferior to the First Part and both in conception and execution an elaborate mistake." He had not even the patience to complete the· analysis of the action, and ignored entirely the long .closing scene. Seventy years later, Benedetto Croce expresses, albeit more tolerantly, the same attitude..He, too, considers the two parts to be separate. The Second Part is the play of imagination of ·an old artist, henceforth master of innumerable figures ·and situations·drawn from reality and from literature, who is glad to make them pass through his mind again, toying with them; and it is the wisdom of the man, experienced in the world and in human thought, who has already witnessed so many mental and moral vicissitudes, and without for this reason becoming sceptical or callous, has rather saved for himself a·strong faith of his own. He is no ·longer roused· to excessive enthusiasm or to violent contempt. His wisdom is often softened by a smile.' Even his faith he.expresses discreetly, sometimes borrowing a jesting tone.... It is not a lamentable document of the senile decay of a genius, but a crackling of sparks when.a great fire dies out, the rich close of a superlatively rich poetical and p:tental life. German criticism, which before 1900 was decidedly less favourable to the Second Part than to the First, has since tended to place it on at least the same level .and almost always insists"upon the fundamental unity and consistency of the work as. a whole. The word "Faustian," as employed by such writers as Spengler, has come to mean restless dynamism, and all the old admiration for such masterfUl figures as Frederick the Great and Napoleon h~s been concentrated upo~ the legend of a Faust engaged in a titanic struggle towards ever greater ·heights. Ri~kert and others have devoted very great reasoning powers to the task of presenting a fully coherent drama inwhich the hero rise$ steadily out of error into the realm of pure and selfless activity. In the last twenty years the more popular interpretation has been that of Faust as a ruthless egoist whom it was our duty somehow to admire. There have, fortunately, been some who have refused to bow down to such a Faust. l.Jlrich von Hassell, a man of noble character who gave his life in the struggle against Hitler, writes in his diary during·1942: "I saw a fascinating performance of Faust, Part Two. Never before have I perceived so clearly the complete fiasco of Faust on earth, who . 147 148 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY ethically and aesthetically has need of grace from on high in order to be saved. At the moment when his collapse is perfectly clear, he says: 'To complete this, the greatest of works, one mind suffices for a thousand hands.' An idiotic section of the audience applauded.'' Let it·be said ·at once that orthodox criticism does not support this _ far too common popular reading of the character of Faust. It believes in "an . ever higher and purer 'activity of Faust-eine immer reinere und hohere Tatigkeit," as Goethe expressed it to Eckermann. According to this view, Faust in the whole of the First Part is a Titan involved in tragedy, who in the Second Part undergoes a gradual purification till at the ehd he beoomes both human and humane and -calls up a vision of men living in freedom. Faust's upward striving is declared to be proved by the Prologue in Heaven and the closing scene...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 147-158
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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