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Intertextuality in Goethe's “Werther”

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Title: Intertextuality in Goethe's “Werther”
Author(s): DeGuire, Mary A.
Director of Research: Niekerk, Carl H.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Niekerk, Carl H.
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Hilger, Stephanie M.; Johnson, Laurie R.; Pinkert, Anke; Wade, Mara R.
Department / Program: Germanic Languages & Lit
Discipline: German
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): Die Leiden des jungen Werther Goethe, Johann W. intertextuality Bakhtin, M.M.
Abstract: This dissertation examines the intertextual references in eighteenth-century German author Johann W. Goethe’s epistolary novel Die Leiden des jungen Werther. The project consists of five chapters with a theory of intertextuality based on M.M. Bakhtin's ideas, which are presented primarily in the introduction. Chapter One addresses references to Klopstock, Chapter Two Lessing’s Emilia Galotti, Chapter Three Homer, Chapter Four Ossian, and Chapter Five eighteenth-century knowledge. This study examines intertextual references to authors, scholars, literature, and literary characters from other novels clearly identifiable in Werther. Werther’s explicit references to other literary texts elicit various intertextual dialogues. Werther creates a dialogic network of literary relations through its references to these texts, and they, in turn, elevate Goethe's novel to a similar canonic status. My findings contribute to a different interpretation of Werther, one that comprehensively explains how both the well-known and lesser-discussed intertextual references in the novel function. I argue that the young Goethe operated within the cultural understanding that the inclusion of other prominent European texts could help to situate Werther in developing the national German literary canon. Though Holquist states that a canonic state does not allow dissenting voices and that the novel as a “...heteroglot genre – has no canon...,” the tension caused by the intertextual references in Werther cannot be ignored (Imagination 25). Goethe's avoidance of Werther in his later years speaks to his contradictory ambitions. While he wanted to be the measure of success, he could not quiet the cultural context of originality in which he lived. Werther marks this general period of literary history when young writers expressed their expansive visions of greatness. Werther builds on the literary texts produced by German Enlightenment writers such as Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, and was influenced by authors beyond the borders of German-speaking lands, from the Anglo-Saxon tradition of Ossian to the Greek Antiquity of Homer, making Werther the first of many contributions to a Weltliteratur that Goethe discussed later in his career. Goethe’s intertextual references to authors and texts in Werther required a different understanding from audiences in the late eighteenth century than they do for readers over 200 years later. His references clarify general eighteenth-century interpretations of such writers as Ossian and Homer. Informed by Bakhtinian theoretical concepts, this study explains the significance the references had then and what they mean for readers today. For the study of intertextuality my dissertation provides an example of how Bakhtin's ideas alone can be used to guide an intertextual study of literature. It furthermore means that an intertextual framework can lead to conclusions concerning canon development.
Issue Date: 2011-05-25
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/24503
Rights Information: Copyright 2011 Mary A. DeGuire
Date Available in IDEALS: 2011-05-25
2013-05-26
Date Deposited: 2011-05
 

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