GOETHE AND HIS PUBLISHERS by Siegfried Unseld

GOETHE AND HIS PUBLISHERS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An urbane, engaging exploration of the great poet's career in letters by Germany's foremost literary publisher. This unusual new work is welcome for two reasons: Scholars have written relatively little about Goethe's relation with his publishers and nothing at all that anyone but an academic Goethe- drudge would care to read. And since Unseld is himself a publisher (of Suhrkamp Verlag, in Frankfurt), he brings a unique perspective to this material. He is able to identify and clarify the problems that Goethe and his various publishers were up against in the days before copyright law, lending libraries, and book clubs. In addition, he is able to vivify the personalities involved, Goethe above all. The result is a book that is simultaneously learned and personal, informative and entertaining, thoughtful and judicious. The underlying aim, obscured by the book's title, is to come to grips with Goethe's prodigious creativity by setting it in its historical context. Unseld proceeds chronologically from the poet's earliest works through his final attempts to collaborate with his most important publisher, Johann Friedrich Cotta, on establishing a complete and reliable edition of his works. Surprisingly, Unseld's unpretentious prose is never dry. It sparkles with lively digressions on Goethe's loves, his politics, his friends, his tics and foibles. In short, this is really a literary biography that uses the author and his publishers as a kind of point of orientation. There is some occasional fuzziness in the translation. When we hear, for example, that contemporary critics regard Goethe's Theory of Colors as a work of ``disturbing actuality,'' few would guess that the phrase is supposed to mean a ``disturbing relevance to the present.'' The book is a slow starter, but Unseld's passion and good sense gradually win the reader over by throwing light on Goethe, on his accomplishments, and on his complex relations with his publishers.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-226-84190-1
Page count: 377pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1996




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