Goethe and France: a love-hate relationship rescued in an exhibition in Switzerland

The exhibition “Goethe and France” rescue, in an underground space in Geneva reminiscent of an underground cellar, the love-hate relationship between the German and the Gallic culture, faithful companion of the poet throughout his life.

It is widely known that, in his training as a universal writer, Goethe was influenced by other cultures besides the German – especially the Greek, the Arabic, the English or the Italian – but the impact on his work of the events in the neighbor France is less recognized.

“The relationship between Goethe and the French culture was one of love-hate,” said Jacques Berchtold, professor, and director of the Martin Bodmer Foundation, a museum-library dedicated to the conservation of universal thought in books in Geneva. the sample until April.

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Although his artistic production was very innovative -especially in the creation of the modern myth that supposed “Faust” – Goethe was very conservative so he did not approve the political changes that took place at the end of the 18th century in the neighboring country.

As a “lover of order”, the “violent, multitudinous and vulgar” insurrection provoked in him a great rejection that he expressed both in his published works “The general citizen” and “The natural daughter” as in drafts that fell into oblivion as the satire “The journey of the children of Mezaprazon”.

Together with the drafts of “Faust” and the drawings that the romantic painter Éugene Delacroix made to illustrate the French edition of the poet’s masterpiece, the 31 pages that remain of the manuscript are, for their rarity, the jewel in the crown of the sample, formed by 90 first editions and other articles.

With “The Journey of the Children of Mezaprazon”, Goethe intended to give “an ambitious literary response” to the insurrection.

Nevertheless, the German ended up discarding its publication after the defeat of the campaign of France in 1792, in which the troops of the Germanic princes tried, without success, to stop the revolutionaries.

The arrival of Napoleón to the power was, however, a relief for Goethe, that was on the verge of immortalizing the history of the Gallic emperor through a work of theater on the life of Julio Caesar.

Proof of their mutual admiration is the cross of the legion that the emperor handed over to the German thinker and that he wore with pride, even after the withdrawal of his troops from German territory.

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It is an object that came out of Weimar for the first time to complete the sample.

On an artistic level, despite the fact that Goethe never communicated with the ideal of French literature prevailing at the time, it influenced his work.

It is undeniable that Goethe found consolation in the writing of the novel “The Misadventures of the Young Werther” and was inspired by the precursor work of the romantic movement, “La nouvelle Heloïse”, by Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Therefore, their originals are exposed together.

As head of libraries, theater, and opera of the Weimar Republic, Goethe will make known among his compatriots “the best” of literature, music, painting and dramaturgy gala of the time, for example, translating himself works of Voltaire and Racine.

In addition, the poet rescued the play “The nephew of Rameau or the second satire”, whose original by Denis Diderot fell into oblivion until an “illegal” copy comes into the hands of Goethe, who gives a title and translates it to German, thus enabling the survival of this key work of the French author.

But French influence was especially strong in his studies of botany and in the refutation of Newton’s theory of colors, a feat Goethe devoted himself to with particular passion and for which he was convinced he would pass on to posterity.

That the thinker is influenced by authors from other countries is not surprising, said the professor, since, throughout his life, Goethe “evolved against a concept of patriotic literature”, which is why he was not well considered by the Nazi regime, despite being one of the most important German authors in history.

Precisely, its universalist position is intended to be used in 1933 to unite the French and German cultures and cure enmities, when the President of the French Republic personally asks the poet Paul Valery to extol the figure of Goethe in a conference at the Parisian University of the Sorbonne.

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