Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship
Original German Language Title: Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre
As a boy he is noble-minded and enthusiastic and remains so as a young man: Wilhelm Meister, always seeking and striving to educate himself; always ready to selflessly help others wherever the need arises.
For his own inner freedom and spiritual development, he gives up the old without a thought and bravely moves on to the new. In doing so, he also makes mistakes, has to gain his experience painfully, but … he continues to pursue his ideals with good will.
Even as a child, Wilhelm was enthusiastic about acting, and as a young man he joins a traveling theater group.
Goethe understands how to “entertain, enlighten and uplift” in the best sense of the words. In a captivating way, he lets the reader experience various young women whom Wilhelm fancies or to whom he is inclined: Mariane, his childhood sweetheart. Philine, the beautiful actress, who brashly tries to ensnare him, but whom he cannot respect. Aurelie, also an actress, he treasures her but cannot love her with his whole heart. And then the beautiful young countess, who has great affection for Wilhelm and he for her.
After Wilhelm is attacked and injured by muggers, a “beautiful Amazonian” comes to his aid, and, after helping him, disappears without a trace. After longing and searching for quite some time, he meets his dream woman Nathalie again and her friend Therese. He worships the natural feminine dignity in both women. Both women share his high ideals and he shares theirs.
The gracefulness and the extraordinary vigor of these two young women inspire Wilhelm because he sees how the two not only talk about the beautiful, the noble and the true, but also work every day to “uplift” their surroundings in the most wonderful way, whereby they are also committed to the upbringing and education of girls and boys.
The clear, bright natures of Therese and Nathalie (the “beautiful Amazonian”) are what draw Wilhelm to them and also draw him inwardly upwards. At the same time, the conversations with the French Abbé and the stay at the castle of Natalie’s uncle “educate” him.
The plot is full of twists and turns and people are continuously running into others who both have something they must “relieve” themselves of. Some of the story is too fantastical to me, especially Wilhelm’s spiritual “accompaniment” by the “tower” secret society.
Would I want to read this book again? Oh yes, even if just for the lively descriptions of noble, spirited people, what they feel, how they think and act.
Readers who wish to experience such outstanding male and female characters will find joy and will profit from it. After all, according to Goethe they are
models, not to be copied, but to strive for.