For many readers in the English-speaking world, Goethe is somehow separate from the European intellectual and literary tradition. In this unique and wide-ranging study, Matthew Bell aims to correct this view by showing how Goethe portrayed human beings as part of a natural continuum, very much in the spirit of the Enlightenment. Dr Bell's fresh readings of Goethe's major and lesser-known texts are set against the background of the science
and philosophy of the age, and the writer's debts to other thinkers are analysed. The development of Goethe as a writer and thinker is traced from his sentimental epistolary novel Werther - read in the context of the rise of psychological theory in the Englightment - to the emergence of his own theory
of `empirical psychology' in the great roman a clef of 1809, Die Wahverwandtschaften. In a major new interpretation of Wilhelm Meisters Lehriahre, Matthew Bell follows the ideal of organic growth from the novel's origins in Engligtenment optimism to its revision in an atmosphere of post-revolutionary scepticism. Placing Goethe in an anthropological context, Goethe's Naturalistic Anthropology demonstrates that eighteenth-century anthropological thought provides an
essential, hitherto overlooked context for the understanding of Goethe's literary enterprise from Werther to Die Wahllverwandtschaften.
`his subtle analyses of the works are persuasive as he reveals the complex ambiguities of Goethe's moral maze...'
Forum for Modern Language Studies XXXI 3
`Bell does a fine job in identifying these anthropologies and in showing their importance for shaping Goethe's work in this period.'
David W. Koeller, German Studies Review, Vol. XX, No. 1
`original and provocative book ... We are indebted to Bell for offering this original reading, which not only challenges other interpretations of Geothe, but helps characterize this intellectual universe, both before and after the 1800 divide.'
Studies in Romanticism, January 1997
`It is rare to read a doctoral dissertation, even one that has been revised for publication, with ambitions as broad as Matthew Bell's. ... considerably enriches our understanding of Goethe's thought.'
The Modern Language Review, vol.92, part 3, 1997
`It is impossible to do justice in such a short review to the wealth of ideas in this book and the light they shed on Goethe's diverse productions.'
British Association for Romantic Studies Bulletin and Review, issue no.12, June 1997