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Open SecretsLiterature, Education, and Authority from J-J. Rousseau to J. M. Coetzee$
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Michael Bell

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199208098

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199208098.001.0001

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Goethe’s Open Secrets: Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship

Goethe’s Open Secrets: Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship

(p.87) 3 Goethe’s Open Secrets: Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship
Open Secrets

Michael Bell (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers how the ironic treatment of Wilhelm Meister's process of maturing is coloured by Goethe's self-conscious irony with respect to the authority of the novel's own fictive world. Just as Wilhelm's mentors within the novel, the self-styled Society of the Tower are revealed to be divided and uncertain, so the last book of the novel subjects some of its own most powerful poetic elements, Mignon and the Harpist, to prosaic explanations. The gim-crack theatricality of the ceremony in the tower is an image of the book's wisdom. At the same time, as the principal mentor, the Abbé, with his policy of non-interference, enacts Rousseau's risky principle of delay, he is vindicated by the optimistic providence of the novel. Goethe's trust in life is given a transparent veil of fiction, with an irony that is protective and pre-emptive rather than destructive.

Keywords:   Goethe, Meister, open secret, mentor

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