German Faculty Publications

Document Type

Article

Abstract

My comparative analysis of Lessing's Miß Sara Sampson, Sophie von La Roche's Geschichte des Fräulein von Sternheim, and Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werther elicits how the concept of love changes during the Enlightenment period. These literary texts mark the end of the art of gallantry and seduction and introduce a new understanding of love which emphasizes authenticity and self-validation. The texts by Lessing and La Roche struggle directly with intrigue and seduction, which threaten not only the innocence of "father's only daughter," but‑‑because communication itself becomes a suspect and inherently unreliable undertaking‑‑also threatens the very foundation of reason, civility, and society. In both texts, it is the authoritative voice of the father which restores and guarantees the authenticity of the lover's discourse. In comparison to these two texts, the almost complete absence of persuasion and seduction in Goethe's Werther is striking. This absence, however, does not mean that the problematic status of communication is ignored; rather, Werther acknowledges the paradoxical situation encountered by any attempt to communicate love in its authenticity and immediacy and puts this problem at the center of its love experience as well as its reflections on art and poetry.

Publication Date

Winter 2004

Publication Title

Comparative Literature

Volume

77

Issue

1

Start Page No.

29

End Page No.

46

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