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236 Book Reviews her own, defined by her own needs and desires. Yet there is no escaping the fact that she is also the mother of one of the most famous sons in history and at second-hand enjoyed a public life denied to most women in the eighteenth century—and that she handled such notoriety with dignity and an almost grandiose sense of self-possession. Which is worse?—to be the child of a famous parent or parent of a famous child? Two anecdotes provide thought for child psychologists of the more than just-good-enough-mother persuasion, theorists of cultural studies , and literary historians alike. The first is recorded in both Dichtung und Wahrheit and Bettina Brentano's conversations with Catherine Elisabeth Textor Goethe. While watching her son ice-skating, Catherine Elisabeth Textor Goethe, concerned for her freezing, too-lightly clothed son, upon his request, lends him her purple fur coat, trimmed in sable and gold. In Goethe's words: "zu der braunen Pelzmütze, die ich trug, gar nicht so übel kleidete." In his mother's word: "Ich zieh halt meinen prächtig warmen Rock aus, er zieht ihn an, schlägt die Schleppe über den Arm, und da fahrt er hin, wie ein Göttersohn auf dem Eis" (204-5).A son taking pleasure in his mother's clothing and vice versa—yet there could be no greater difference in the perspective of what a son takes for granted —his own well-being and his own vanity—and the larger-than-life image of the son in the mother's eyes. The second anecdote is what Gersdorff calls a secret code of reassurance between mother and son that is reiterated verbatim in their correspondence at times of crisis throughout their lives. With Goethe near death after his return from Leipzig in 1768, his mother opens the Bible to the following passage:"Man wird wiederum Weinberge pflanzen an den Bergen Samariä, tanzen wird man und dazu pfeifen" (131 Jeremiah 31:5). Goethe recovers, the mother is intimately involved in that recovery by way of text, which goes on to become self-fulfilling prophecy. Every mother—every son—should be so lucky. I would not call it a pleasure to read Goethes Mutter: it lacks everything we have come to appreciate in contemporary biography: narrative, story-telling, introspection, the attempt to enter the subject's consciousness and to recreate an inner life from clues, from fragments, and from speculative lacunae. Gersdorff's biographical voice is only notable in its absence. We are definitely not dealing with new historicism here. If Goethe's life is the most documented life in history, his mother's is demonstrably less so. But pleasure in the text is not everything, even in biography, and it often misses or misreads the point. Indeed, there is room enough among an avalanche of biographies for straight biography, there is a resonance that results from account books read accurately and with precision, and I must admit that I learned more—and more nuanced differences—about Goethe himself, and far more about his mother, from von Gersdorff's biography than from a dozen other recent biographies of various persuasions. It may be time to revise the dictum: if you want to know who the son will become, what he will look like with age, look at his mother, without holding her responsible for either his successes or his human failures. Wheaton College (Massachusetts) Eric Denton Liisa Saariluoma, Erzählstruktur und Bildungsroman: Wielands Geschichte des Agatbon, Goethes Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2004.348 pp. Das richtige Buch zur rechten Zeit! Während einerseits der Bildungsroman als Phantom-Gattung bezeichnet wird (Marc Redfield, Phantom Formations, Goethe Yearbook 237 1996) und andererseits die Lehrjahre zu einem hybriden Künstler-Bildungsroman (Hellmut Ammerlahn, Imagination und Wahrheit, 2003) verklärt werden, arbeitet die Verfasserin die unterschiedlichen Ansätze zur Theorie des Bildungsromans auf und stellt die Problematik der Gattung in den Horizont der Modernisierungsfrage. Dabei sind besonders beeindruckend die Gründlichkeit, mit der die Sekundärliteratur erfaßt wird, und die Historisierung, die zur Erfassung der Erzählstruktur unternommen wird. Die Verfasserin löst die narratologischen Grundbegriffe wie Erz...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-9087
Print ISSN
0734-3329
Pages
pp. 236-237
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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