52 in 52 Week 39: Faust Part Two by Goethe
Since I know the story of The Iliad and other classical stories (thank you Susan Wise-Bauer of The Well-Educated Mind), it wasn't too hard to get through. I cannot imagine reading it with no prior background though.
It was published in 1832, the year of Goethe's death. Because of its complexity in form and content, it is usually not read in German schools, although the first part commonly is. It can be seen as one of the most difficult works of World literature, requiring an extensive knowledge of Greek mythology. In fact, a saying even emanates from this fact: "do not go to the library to read Faust II without necessity.
While there were drafts of this book as early as 1797, most of Faust, Part II was written during the last seven years of his life. (www.wikipedia.org)Well, I guess Wikipedia just backed up what I just said in the first part of my review (I had cut and pasted this in my blog several months ago after I read Part I and was thinking I would read Part II right afterward and forgot what it said until right now).
Goethe finished writing Faust Part Two in 1831. In contrast to Faust Part One, the focus here is no longer on the soul of Faust, which has been sold to the devil, but rather on social phenomena such as psychology, history and politics, in addition to mystical and philosophical topics. The second part formed the principal occupation of Goethe's last years. (www.wikipedia.org)Faust is considered "the cornerstone of classical German drama and a seminal work in the Romantic movement" (Invitation to the Classics, p. 207).
To give you a little background about the legend of Faust. It is based on a real historical figure named Georg Faust (c. 1480-1540). He was a German alchemist, astrologer, and charlatan. Because of his strange and bizarre practices, many tales and legends evolved about him. One of the most notable is Christopher Marlowe's, Everyman, which I read in June of 2008. It was written two hundred years before Goethe's version. While both involve Faust selling his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge, Marlowe's version ends differently. In Marlowe's version, since Faust refused to heed the consequences of his sin, he is damned to hell. In Goethe's version, there is universal mercy for Faust's bargain with the devil, and he is taken to heaven. It isn't biblical, but there you have it.
I would have liked to meet Goethe, and maybe I will read a biography of his life. I wonder if he was a troubled soul? He certainly was a ponderer of this great dilemma.
The idea of "Faustian striving" has made it into Western thought due to this book. When something is "Faustian" it is "pertaining to or resembling or befitting Faust or Faustus especially in insatiably striving for worldly knowledge and power even at the price of spiritual values; 'a Faustian pact with the Devil'" (http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=faustian).
Now I will probably hear this in the news and know what it REALLY means rather than letting it go over my head. That is what I like about reading the classics.
This was NOT as difficult to read as I thought it would be, but I would heartily recommend breaking down and buying the translation by Robert David MacDonald though.
Here is the review of Part I: http://carolhomeschool2.blogspot.com/2012/07/52-in-52-week-28-faust-part-one-by.html.