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Goethe’s Delineation of Womanhood.

At a meeting ot the Manchester Goethe Society Mrs W. C. Williamson read a paper on ‘Goethe’s Delineation of Womanhood.’ After pointing out that in literary as in pictorial portraiture the true test of worth is the definiteness and individuality of the figure itself, apart from the accessory details surrounding it, Mrs Williamson remarked f'' it women writers have, as a rule, been -nccessful than men in giving this indep.l'dcnt life and force to their female characters. Men, for the most part, cither make the leading features of their heroines so strong that they arc mere caricatures, like Becky Sharp and Mrs Jellaby, or they find no leading features at all, and produce mere mild nonentities like Rose Bradwardine and Julia Mannering. In Goethe alone of men writers do women readers detect that true instinct, that penetration into the moving springs of a woman’s nature, ns it lay hidden behind a covering of fashion and circumstances which other men writers have failed to possess. The secret of this success is, as Carlyle said, that in his deep, susceptive heart he felt a thousand times more keenly than anyone else could feel, and with the creative gift which belonged to him as poet, ho embodied those feelings and gave them local habitations and names. The circumstances by which Goethe surrounded his heroines were those of the time in which he or they lived. To our more highly-developed modern civilisation they may appear crude, painful, even at times repulsive; but in no case where Goethe has given us a finished picture do such circumstances necessarily form the character and disposition of the woman. Wo can in each case lift the portrait out of its frame and give it modern and more familiar surroundings without materially spoiling the character. In proof of this assertion Mrs Williamson passed briefly in review the various types of female character treated by Goethe, Amongst them she counted as least important the young girls, all heart and love and trust, but without education or power of thought, who inevitably fell a prey to the world’s caprice, who are made to pass before us and attain their goal of misery unwept. Besides these we have several fine embodiments of strong-minded, clever coldness—women who, though winning universal respect, were without the womanly power of love, and so received their homage from a safe distance ; these Goethe felt and has shown to be ridiculous. then we have a very beautiful combination of these —women in whom loving tenderness, impulsive sympathy, high culture, _ and strong domestic capability form an ideal womanhood which, whilst gladly devoting her powers for the good of some loved ones, knows full well what is due to herself, and will not bend before every passing breeze. It is this latter class whom Goethe drew with most success, and clearly with deepest sympathy. Passing on from these generalisations, Mrs Williamson sketched in some detail, and with many graphic and sympathetic touches, several of Goethe’s most successful female characters, among them Philine, Luciane, Therese, Lotte, Natalie, and Ottilie. The last-mentioned she pronounced to be not only one of the most perfect womanly sketches ever produced by the imagination of man, but the sketch of a woman of exceptional force and delicacy,

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Bibliographic details

Goethe’s Delineation of Womanhood., Evening Star, Issue 8030, 5 October 1889, Supplement

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Goethe’s Delineation of Womanhood. Evening Star, Issue 8030, 5 October 1889, Supplement