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Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, a novel of self-realization greatly admired by the Romantics, has been called the first Bildungsroman and has had a tremendous influence on the history of the German novel. The story centers on Wilhelm, a young man living in the mid-1700s who strives to break free from the restrictive world of economics and seeks fulfillment as an actor and playwright. Along with Eric Blackall's fresh translation of the work, this edition contains notes and an afterword by the translator that aims to put this novel into historical and artistic perspective for twentieth-century readers while showing how it defies categorization.
Posted October 15, 2001
This book is perhaps the most beautifully written novel about growing up and having to make choices. The work uses Shakespeare's Hamlet as a foil for the drama involving a young man's journey across rural Germany with a theatre troupe. While basing some of its themes on Hamlet, the work also revolves around performing the play itself. However, unlike the play, this novel delves much deeper into the fantastical, ambiguous and existential aspects of human life, and does so with a truly awe-inspiring combination of poems, visual imagery and intense prose dialogue. Only a man as incredible gifted and well versed in both the physical sciences and the humanities could have produced a work of such comprehensive scope. The novel can be enjoyed on many levels, but once started, it can never be forgotten. It is a genuine shame Goethe's work never made many inroads into American literary society, for this book offers greater intellectual and sentimental sustenance than the usually prescribed list of bildungromans such as Catcher in the Rye or Huckleberry Finn - as good as those works are. The world Goethe paints in this work is the same spiritual world faced by any bright, eager young person confronting the choices that together make us human. It's an incredible book.
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