Goethe and the genteel tradition in America
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From the time he first became known in America two contrasting attitudes toward Goethe have been discernible. There was on the one hand a rejection of the poet on moral and political grounds, and opposing this an appreciation of the humanist, poet, and last universal man. In general the pre-Civil War period shows a decline in the puritanic standard of judging literature and a growing appreciation of Goethe's central importance. Of the two substantial studies of the poet in the postCivil War period, von Grueningen deals with the attitude toward him as reflected in periodicals , and Pochmann's contribution, while encyclopedic in scope, does not attempt critical evaluation. The present investigation undertakes to explore the reaction toward Goethe of a representative group of writers in the genteel tradition. This term, coined by Santayana and widely adopted, is used here to characterize the attitude toward culture prevailing in America from 1865 to 1912. It is marked by a failure to reflect the national background, by moral timidity, cultural nostalgia, and an insistence on decorum in artistic expression. Its salutary influence lies in its transmission of the European cultural heritage. Much of Goethe's influence during this time was in the field of literary criticism. Lowell saw him as the last of the great humanists and as the successor of the major poets of the West. He adopted the poet's canons of criticism and often his judgments on specific works. Howells, less inclined to accept him in toto as a literary and critical model, commended chiefly his theory of the novel, and repudiated his personal morality. Of the minor critics, Whipple praised him with undiscriminating vagueness, Stedman adopted many of his critical criteria, while Mabie went farthest toward providing a complete picture of the poet. Woodberry, the youngest of the group, while acknowledging Goethe's importance in modern thought, held strong reservations as to his personal character and his ideal of self-culture.[TRUNCATED]
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University.
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