Sunday, April 23, 2006


From the In Our Time newsletter on the Goethe discussion:

The talk in the Green Room went on for quite a while. Not unexpectedly. We
failed to include a great many of the aspects of Goethe that makes Goethe
Goethe. On the programme itself I pointed out that we said nothing
whatsoever about his work as a scientist, although it was an area in which he
was frustrated at not being recognised as highly as he thought, and some of
his contemporaries thought, he deserved to be. His work on colours, for

Nor did we go into his almost rabid anti-Christianity. He called it, let us
be polite here, a load of manure. It's not too difficult to see a direct
line to Nietzsche from this one. He hated the symbol of the cross. In fact,
he was quite a good hater. He hated the peasants because they had too much
emotion and not enough intellect and yet, in his early days, the days of
storm and stress, he himself stormed against classicism and stressed the
primacy of passion.

Nor had we time to mention that, despite his well-publicised relationships
with women (and eventually he married the lower class Christiane Vulpius
after she had beaten off Napoleon's army at her front door) he was, by the
standards of the time, remarkably tolerant of homosexuality. He praised the
openness of homosexuals in Rome and there seems to have been evidence of his
own bi-sexuality.

Sarah Colvin observed that one of the reasons there were so few women in
Goethe studies was that when they came across the women he wrote about, they
tended to criticise the way in which the women were portrayed and any
criticism of Goethe was considered to be anathema to the great Goethe
scholarship establishment and they were given the cold shoulder.

This was confirmed by the other two, ie: that there is a halo around Goethe
studies still and you take your PhD in your hands when you attack it. Dan
Wilson, who revealed the darker side of Goethe in Weimar, ie: his treatment
of the peasants and his sending of prisoners onto the battlefields against
the law and the various other authoritarian views he took, was rounded on by
many Goethe scholars and outrage was expressed across that world.

This must come in some way from the need for Weimar to be the other Germany
after the Second World War. Germans quite understandably had to look for
somewhere and someone that represented the opposite of Hitler and Fascism.
They lighted on Goethe and Weimar. Now that that is being seen as a
blemished place (though no comparison whatsoever with the Third Reich), hands
are thrown up in horror.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg