Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years

Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years

Infobox Book
name = Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years, or the Renunciants
title_orig = Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre, oder Die Entsagenden

image_caption =
author = Johann Wolfgang Goethe
language = German
publisher = Cotta'sche Buchhandlung, Stuttgart
pub_date = 1821 (1st ed.), 1829 (2nd ed.)
preceded_by = Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795-96)

"Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years, or the Renunciants", [Sometimes translated, less accurately, as "Wilhelm Meister's Travels] is the fourth novel by German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the sequel to the Bildungsroman "Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship" ("Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre") (1795-96). Though initially conceived during the 1790s, the first edition did not appear until 1821, and the second edition—differing substantially from the first—in 1829.

The novel was greeted by mixed reviews in the 1820s, and did not gain full critical attention until the mid-20th century. Consisting largely of discrete short stories and novellas woven together with elements of the epistolary novel, lengthy sections of aphorisms, and several interspersed poems, the structure of this novel challenged the novel form as commonly practiced at the time of its publication.

A major theme running through the various parts of the novel is that of "Entsagung," translatable as "renunciation." The most famous section of the novel is probably the episode in which the protagonist and his son Felix visit the "Pedagogical Province."

Contents of the 1829 version of the novel

First Book

Chapter One: opens with "The Flight to Egypt," in which Wilhelm and Felix encounter a family in the course of their travels; the father of the family identifies himself as "Saint Joseph." The chapter closes with a letter from Wilhelm to Natalie in which he speaks of his wish to be with her, and also tells of the rules guiding his journeys: "Not more than three days shall I remain under one roof. I shall leave no lodging without distancing myself at least one mile from it."

Chapter Two: consists of the stories "Saint Joseph the Second," "The Visitation," and "The Lily Stem"

Chapter Three: opens with a letter from Wilhelm to Natalie in which Wilhelm comments briefly on the story he has just retold; he states a further rule of his journey: "Now in the course of my journey no third person shall become a constant companion. We wish to, and we are required to, be and remain two..."; and he leads into the further narration of his and Felix's encounter with Montan (Jarno). The narrator then tells of how a playmate of Felix's leads them to where Montan is in the mountains. Felix asks many questions about stones and geology, about which he has developed a strong interest. The manner of Montan's explanations leads him and Wilhelm into a discussion of human understanding, of the need for "resignation," and of the inadequacy of language and the written word to express what can be perceived clearly in nature. "Nature only has one kind of writing, and I don't need to get bogged down with so many kinds of scribbling," states Montan, adding at the close of the chapter, "Precisely for this reason I don't talk with anyone about it, and I don't want, precisely because you are dear to me, deceptively to exchange the wretched stuff of dreary words with you any further."

Chapter Four: narration of Wilhelm's travels

Chapter Five: continued narration, then the story "The Wandering Madwoman"

Chapter Six: narration of Wilhelm's travels resumes; chapter closes with an exchange of letters between Lenardo, the Aunt, Juliette, Hersilie, Wilhelm, and Natalie

Chapter Seven: narration of Wilhelm's travels

Chapters Eight and Nine: the novella "Who Is the Traitor?"

Chapter Ten: Wilhelm and Felix arrive at the home of the old woman Makarie, and are welcomed as friends. Makarie's friend the astronomer is also present, and, after a discussion of mathematics in the evening, Wilhelm and the astronomer ascend to an astronomical observatory where Wilhelm observes the night sky. The following day the young woman Angela tells Wilhelm about the archive that Makarie maintains, containing written records of spoken conversations - in these, she explains, things are said "that no book contains, and on the other hand the best things that books have ever contained." The archive contains the mathematical treatise that had been the object of discussion the previous evening, and Wilhelm is permitted to read and copy it. On the third day of their stay Wilhelm asks Angela about Makarie's unusual character, which has become evident to him. Angela confides in him that Makarie has an unusual and intuitive insight and harmony with regard to the solar system, and that this has even been confirmed by investigations carried out by the astronomer. (This foreshadows chapter 15 of book three). Finally, Angela tells Wilhelm of a traveling nephew of hers who worries about having hurt an unnamed young woman. Angela asks Wilhelm, as a favor to the family, to deliver a letter in this regard.

Chapter Eleven: the story "The Nut-Brown Girl," and further narration of Wilhelm's travels

Chapter Twelve: Wilhelm arrives in a city which appears to have been burnt and entirely rebuild, based on the striking newness of its appearance. Here, Wilhelm delivers a letter to an old man who engages him in a conversation about time, permanence, and change. Asked for advice as to whether to attempt to open the box, the old man says that while it might entirely possible, he advises against it: "... since you obtained it by such a remarkable chance, you should test your luck by it. For if you were born fortunate and if this box has meaning for you, then the key to it must eventually turn up - and just there, where you least expect to find it." Wilhelm decides to follow this advice, and leaves the box there for safe keeping. The conversation then turns to education, and the question of where and how Felix should be schooled.

econd Book

Chapters One and Two: arrival of Wilhelm and son Felix at the Pedagogical Province

Chapters Three, Four, and Five: novella "The Man of Fifty Years"

Chapter Six: letter from Wilhelm to Lenardo, and from Wilhelm to the Abbé

Chapter Seven: narration of Wilhelm's travels resumes; letters from Lenardo to Wilhelm, and from the Abbé to Wilhelm; closes with an "Interruption" by the narrator

Chapters Eight and Nine: continued narration of Wilhelm's travels; Chapter Eight contains the poem "To invent, to resolve..."

Chapter Ten: letter from Hersilie to Wilhelm

Chapter Eleven: letter from Wilhelm to Natalie

"Observations in the Mindset of the Wanderers: Art, Ethics, Nature": collection of 177 aphorisms

The poem "Legacy"

Third Book

Chapter One: narration of Wilhelm's travels resumes

Chapter Two: letter from Hersilie to Wilhelm; includes illustration of the key (the only visual element incorporated into any of Goethe's literary works)

Chapters Three and Four: further narration of Wilhelm's travels

Chapter Five: four entries from Lenardo's journal

Chapter Six: contains the story "The New Melusine"

Chapter Seven: letter from Hersilie to Wilhelm

Chapter Eight: contains the story "The Risky Bet," which the narrator includes here in unedited form because, he explains, the tone of the novel is getting ever more serious, and so there won't be place for the inclusion of such "irregularities" later in the novel. A group of young men observe an older man "of lordly, austere appearance" but with a big nose arriving in a mountain village, and one of them offers a bet: "... what do want to bet that I will tweak his nose without suffering any dire consequences for it? Indeed, I will even earn myself a gracious master in him by doing so." His friends bet him one Louisdor than this will not happen. Learning that the man wishes to have his beard shaved, the young man presents himself as a barber, and, in the course of the shave, pulls the man's nose conspicuously. At the end, he earns the man's praise for his skillful work, but is admonished for one thing: "One does not touch people of stature on the nose." His friends having witnessed the deed, the young man wins the bet. One of the friends, however, tells his lover of the bet; she tells a friend, and by evening the old man who was tricked hears about it. Enraged, he comes after the group with an axe, but they are able to escape. This slight to the noble old man's dignity hurts his pride, compromises his health over time, and is believed to have been a contributing factor to his eventual death.

Chapter Nine: narration of Wilhelm's travels resumes

Chapter Ten: contains the story "Not Too Far"

Chapter Eleven: conversation regarding "that which genuinely holds people together: religion and custom." Christianity, time, police and authority, law, and the state are all discussed; the narrator relates only the "quintessence" of the conversation, however, rather than its entirety.

Chapter Twelve: Odoard speaks generally and abstractly about plans for building settlements, and about the roles of discipline and creative freedom in the arts.

Chapter Thirteen: three further entries from Lenardo's journal, telling of his observation of the yarn industry and of his conversation with a young woman named Gretchen, who tells of her past romantic attachment to an unnamed man. After this relationship ended, Gretchen kept a page composed by her ex-lover summarizing the ideas of certain conversations they had had together; Lenardo recognizes the handwriting as being Wilhelm's.

Chapter Fourteen: narration of Wilhelm's travels resumes

Chapter Fifteen: consists of a characterization of the character Makarie. This characterization, the narrator tells us, is taken from Makarie's own archive, but, as he also tells us, cannot necessarily be seen as "authentic." Makarie's unique nature and her relation to the solar system are described.

Chapter Sixteen: narration of Wilhelm's travels resumes

Chapter Seventeen: letter from Hersilie to Wilhelm telling of her encounter with his son Felix. Felix kisses her, but although the affection is mutual, she scolds him for doing so. Taking this to be a true reflection of her feelings, he takes offense and rides off on his horse.

Chapter Eighteen: close of the narration: By the side of a river, Wilhelm sees a horseman slip and fall into the water. Wilhelm saves him by helping bring him to land, and then opening one of his veins with a blade. The young man - Felix - comes to and embraces his father; the two stand together "like Castor and Pollux."

"From Makarie's Archive": collection of 182 aphorisms

Untitled poem: "In the austere charnelhouse..." (often referred to as "Upon Viewing Schiller's Skull," though this title is not from Goethe himself).

At the close of the poem it reads, "(To be continued.)"


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