Joseph's Reviews > Faust

Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
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's review
Jun 05, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: fiction, poetry
Read from January 27 to February 16, 2013 , read count: 1

When reading what is clearly a classic of world literature, I expect to enjoy it, but hope, at least, to be able to appreciate it. Yet I must confess (and the fault is probably mine), that for the most part, I found Faust to be completely impenetrable.

Admittedly, there were parts that I enjoyed, and taken on their own merits, the Gretchen scenes and some of the later parts of Part Two would rank higher in my estimation. But I read this as a whole, and I can't help but be entirely mystified. I knew little of the Faust legend coming into this -- Faust makes a deal with the devil, who tempts him with Helen of Troy, amongst other things. But this ...

Seriously, what was all that? A part of me wonders if I didn't make a mistake in reading the interpretive notes alongside the play; though informative and helpful, they also drew a surprising amount of attention to the many flaws of the play: commenting on missing scenes, pointing out sections that "command little interest either as poetry or as drama" (not something I was expecting to read, by the by), and just generally emphasizing that Goethe's Faust seems to be kind of a cobbled-together Frankenstein creature. Hamlin makes a valiant attempt to establish some sort of connective tissue bringing the whole thing together, but his tortured logic just served (for me, at least) to draw attention to the fact that large chunks of this don't seem to make much sense. Perhaps he sees the poem's obscurity as something worth celebrating, but every time he started a new note by pointing out how "readers are likely to become impatient with this scene" or noting that it is not "always quite clear precisely what is happening and why", it just made me wonder why, exactly, I was reading this.

In truth, I don't remember why this book has been on my shelf for so long. I can only assume that something else I've read had made it seem valuable or challenging or otherwise worthwhile, but the actual act of reading it was a huge disappointment. To be frank, I can't even picture how a production of the play would actually look; some scenes, as described, seemed almost to defy dramatization with anything less than a massive CGI budget, although that must have more to do with a lack of imagination on my part.

Basically, I don't get it.

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