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Goethe's «Elective Affinities»

An Interpretation


John Winkelman

This study is addressed to two audiences: the community of Goethe scholars and the wider audience of English-speaking readers interested in improving their acquaintance with Germany's greatest author. It presents a new understanding of the story and a corresponding reinterpretation of the novel as an allegory depicting the forces at work in western civilization at the opening of the nineteenth century and foretelling the outcome of their interaction.
Contents: The four protagonists are allegorical representatives of the social classes in early nineteenth-century Germany during the Napoleonic Wars and their interaction represents the ongoing evolution of western society. This interpretation is a fundamentally new departure and is based on a new understanding of the story line itself. The study is adapted to a general audience as well as one consisting of Goethe specialists.