Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)

Picture of Author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)
'Goethe at the age of 81'. Woodcut after an engraving by C A Schwerdgeburth (1832). Image from istockphoto/ZU_09.

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About the author

By common consent, Goethe is Germany's greatest poet, but he was also a dramatist, novelist, amateur scientist, and artist. Key works include the novels, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship), Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther) and Die Wahlverwandschaften (Elective Affinities), the plays Egmont, Iphigenia auf Tauris (Iphigenia at Tauris) and Götz von Berlichingen, the autobiography Aus meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit (From My Life: Poetry and Truth), the poems Hermann und Dorothea, West-Östlicher Diwan (West-Eastern Divan), Römische Elegien (Roman Elegies), the Marienbader Elegie (Marienbad Elegy) and Faust (for the latter, parts 1 and 2, is perhaps best regarded as a dramatic poem). His most famous scientific publication was the Theory of Colours, and another enormously influential book was the Italienische Reise (Italian Journey), a record of Goethe's two-year trip to Italy (1786–1788), which was to create a fashion for such journeys among young Germans.

Goethe was born in Frankfurt and studied Law. He qualified in 1771 and practiced in his home city for a short time, before being dismissed on account of his excessive zeal. He took up another position in Wetzlar, some 40 miles north of Frankfurt. All th while as a student and junior lawyer, he had been writing both verse and plays, and he was to make his name early in the 1770s with, first Götz von Berlichingen, and then the novel, Werther, which was sensation throughout Europe. On the strength of his rising fame as a writer he was invited to join the court at Weimar, by the Grand Duke. Goethe was to remain there for the rest of his life, occupying various positions at the Court, among them Adviser to the ruler, but devoting himself chiefly to writing.

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