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From Goethe to Novalis

Studies in Classicism and Romanticism: "Festschrift</I> for Dennis F. Mahoney in Celebration of his Sixty-Fifth Birthday

Edited By Wolfgang Mieder

This Festschrift in honor of Dennis F. Mahoney’s sixty-fifth birthday is somewhat different from the standard Festschrift: rather than present essays from various authors, this Festschrift collects twenty-one of Mahoney’s most important English-language publications on German Classicism and Romanticism published over the past thirty years. Mahoney is the author and editor of many articles and books in German and English, among them Die Poetisierung der Natur bei Novalis (1980), Der Roman der Goethezeit (1988), The Eighteenth Century and Uses of the Past (1992), The Critical Fortunes of a Romantic Novel: Novalis’s «Heinrich von Ofterdingen» (1994), The End of Enlightenment (2000), Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis) (2001), and Literature of German Romanticism (2004).
Mahoney has taught German language, culture, literature, and film at the University of Vermont for thirty-five years, and has received national and international recognition. On campus he has been a champion of international education, advising students about studying abroad, setting up an exchange program with the University of Augsburg, and inviting students and colleagues from Germany to Vermont. He has received an Excellence in Teaching Award, an Award for Outstanding Contributions to International Education, and he was the first American to be named president of the International Novalis Society.
The title of this Festschrift captures Mahoney’s life-long occupation with this rich period of German cultural, intellectual, and literary life. The essays display his erudition and expertise on such subjects as the multifaceted Age of Goethe, including the continuing discussion of the nature of the Bildungsroman and the influence of the French Revolution. The essays deal primarily with Goethe, Schiller, and Novalis, but Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Georg Forster, Caroline von Wolzogen, Jean Paul, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Achim von Amim, and others are discussed as well. These individual essays are representative of Mahoney’s accomplishments as a literary scholar – and a remarkable professor, colleague, and friend.
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Chapter 9. The French Revolution and the Bildungsroman


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When reflecting upon the emergence of the German Bildungsroman in the years immediately following the outbreak of the French Revolution, one’s initial response might be to regard these two phenomena more as polar opposites than as organically related processes. The ideological implications of “Bildung”—the harmonious development of an individual in fruitful interplay with his/her surroundings1—would seem to contradict the premise of the French Revolution that major change can be achieved only by a radical break with the past. If anything, the circular plot movement of novels such as Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, Titan, Hyperion, and Heinrich von Ofterdingen, where the protagonists come to see the course of their lives leading to a deeper union with their origins,2 hearkens back to the traditional, pre-1789 understanding of Revolution as a return to one’s starting point.3 In addition, as late as 1978 Martin Swales has argued that the sphere of activity delineated by the German Bildungsroman is itself far less socially specific than the plot of a typical Western European “novel of adolescence”:

The forces which oppose its hero are less susceptible of realistic portrayal for the reason that they tend to be ontologically, rather than socially based. The resistance ranged against the Bildungsroman hero is not a tyrannical parent, nor social or economic ← 135 | 136 → sanctions: rather it is the limitations set to any and every existence within the sphere of outward, practical being...

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