Religious & Philosophical

Theatrical Revolutions and Domestic Reforms: Space and Ideology in Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre and Austen's Mansfield Park

A study of the theatre and the house as symbolic loci in which Goethe and Austen present their responses to the historical changes brought about by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Domestic and theatrical spaces take on a political
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  Theatrical Revolutions and Domestic Reforms: Space and Ideology in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters  Lehrjahre  and Austen’s  Mansfield Park  ROSA M!IG"ATIAt first glance# nothing appears more distant from the monumental  Meister  # $ith itscomple% intellectual frame$or& and great philosophical de'ates# than Austen’s minuteaccount of petty cruelties and triumphant female virtue in the Mansfield household()et chronology# if nothing else# dra$s the t$o novels together( Goethe pu'lished Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre  'et$een *+,- and *+,.# although the first five chaptersare 'ased on an earlier manuscript &no$n as Theatralische Sendung   /*+++0*+1-23 thedate for Austen’s  Mansfield Park is *1*4# that is# a year 'efore the end of the "apoleonic $ars# in a period of 5uropean history that 'rought immense and violentchanges# $hose conse6uences ma&e themselves felt in the concerns and plotdevelopments of Goethe’s and Austen’s narratives( Although neither of the novelsinclude direct references to these e%traordinary events# it can 'e argued that 'othGoethe and Austen find indirect $ays to evo&e the sense of transformation andupheaval that had ta&en hold of 5urope at the time of their $riting# and that they do so 'y means of the same image: the theatre( 7ithout $ishing to understate the comple%ity of Goethe’s $or&# its far8reachingsynthesis and sym'olic density# or# conversely# transcend the premises and theintentions of Austen’s novel# this article aims at presenting a comparative reading of these t$o te%ts# $hich concentrates on their use of t$o specific spatial figures: thetheatre and the house( This article $ill concern itself $ith ho$ Goethe and Austen usethe e%perience of play8acting to investigate issues of order and authority# and ho$# in 'oth novels# the theatrical episodes are presented as disruption of esta'lished domesticconte%ts# as miniature revolutions on the space of the everyday( It $ill also sho$ ho$the e%citing 'ut dangerously su'versive e%perience of the theatre is opposed $ith themodel of a measured# gradual reform# re$arded in the end $ith the con6uest of the perfect home( My aim is to clarify the $ay in $hich the dialectic relation# e%isting in 'oth novels# 'et$een free$heeling formation years and settled adult life is reflectedon t$o spatial paradigms# the theatre and the house# $hich are also associated $ith theconflicting principles of revolution and reform( 9ranco Moretti says it $ith one of his sharp phrases: the  Bildungsroman  narratesho$ the 9rench Revolution could have 'een avoided’( *  Difficult as it is to pin do$nGoethe’s comple% attitude to$ard the revolutionary efforts# critics tend to agree thatthe reaction to $hat $as happening in 9rance and else$here has played a decisive partin his decision to go 'ac& to his old novel’ and re$or& it into the  Lehrjahre ( ; Admittedly# the meaning Goethe assigns to the theatre in this conte%t is hard to define(On the one hand# and especially in the Sendung  # theatre remains for 7ilhelm ane%citing playground# $here he imagines the true no'ility of art prevailing against 'ourgeois limitations and materialistic $orldvie$( On the other# the  Lehrjahre fully*  e%poses the illusoriness of 7ilhelm’s theatrical mission’# 'y sho$ing ho$# after theinitial fervour has died out# the $andering life along $ith the troupe of actors 'ecomesfruitless and even $earisome# and effectively hinders 7ilhelm’s harmonious personalgro$th( <ut as the ultimate failure of the theatrical enterprise $as already envisagedin the Sendung  # the passage to the  Lehrjahre  is not simply the result of a progressive$ithdra$al into conservatism on Goethe’s part( Rather# it 'rings to the fore a tensionthat lies at the heart of the novel since its earliest formulation# that 'et$een order anddisorder# individual freedom and universal harmony# the e%citement of adventure andthe contentment of a settled life( =e'en und 7e'en ist hier# a'er nicht Ordnung und >ucht’ /there is life andmovement here# 'ut no order or discipline2# recites one of the Venetianische Epigramme  Goethe $rote in *+,?( @  The same disparity he perceived $ith displeasure 'et$een Italy and Germany# or at least 'et$een enice and 7eimar# also separates thee%otic sensuality of the theatre for $hich 7ilhelm falls# and the regulated $ell'eingof home that he finally settles for( And if $e add a further level to this opposition# $ecan lin& Southern theatrics to revolutionary chaos# anarchy# and the violent overthro$of authority# $hile the Apollonian restraint of the Germans $ould correspond to theenlightened realm of harmony and order Goethe $as striving to create in 7eimar# and7ilhelm finds ready for him in "atalie’s neoclassical villa at the end of the  Lehrjahre ( Goethe’s concept of classicism as is em'odied 'y "atalie’s villa consists in anaesthetically pleasing environment# $here a selected group of people share their life inuseful and no'le pursuits# and social and personal 'oundaries are arranged in such a$ay that can 'e accepted 'y the individual and conse6uently 'enefits the community(As Giuliano <aioni has it# classicism for Goethe 'ecomes the attempt to stop historyat the level of tolerance and Geselligkeit   $hich characteriBed the eighteenth century’( 4 Goethe sa$ the process triggered 'y the Terror in 9rance 'ring $ar# institutional chaosand civil strife all over 5urope# destroying $hat he considered the 'asis of eighteenth8century civiliBation: sense# the idea of an interioriBed moral la$# and the faith in anorganic human community( It is little $onder# then# that Goethe does not participate inthe Caco'in enthusiasms of other 5uropean intellectuals# and that the hero of his novelopts out of the theatrical plan# renouncing the moral and material disorder of theacting life( A connection 'et$een theatre# disorder and forms of resistance to an esta'lishedauthority is also made 'y Austen in  Mansfield Park  ( Marylin <utler has called  Mansfield Park the most visi'ly ideological of Cane Austen’s novels’# -  and placed itin the category of the novels a'out female education# alongside annah Moore’s andMaria 5dge$orth’s# $hich promote conservative moral values and contain elementsof the anti8Caco'in discourse that dominated the <ritish pu'lic scene from the mid*+,?s( .  Accusations of immorality and political radicalism $ere levelled especiallyagainst the gro$ing vogue for German literature# $hich 'ecomes associated $ithsu'version# intellectualism# and an impious 'elief in human self8assertion# epitomiBed 'y figures li&e Schiller’s Earl Moor and Goethe’s 9aust( Although August vonEotBe'ue $as &no$n in Germany as a popular dramatist $ith a conservative leaning#considered in the conte%t of <ritish anti8Caco'inism# Austen’s choice of a German play seems directed at emphasiBing that the theatricals are a defiant and illicit scheme#implying again the e6uation of theatre $ith su'version and the stum'ling 'loc& onone’s path to$ard self8reform( +  In fact# it is fair to say that the main theme of  Mansfield Park   is $hat 9anny Fricecalls# in reference to Mary !ra$ford# the effect of education’ /p( ;**2 and# li&eGoethe# the aim Austen sets for her protagonist is the foundation of a ne$ home at;  Mansfield Far&# culminating in the restoration of its placid neoclassic perfection after all the remains of the theatricals are e%pelled( At the end of the  Lehrjahre # t$o of thefemale figures more closely involved $ith theatre and irregular life are removed# after Mariane’s death has 'een ascertained and Mignon safely shut in her mausoleum(  Mansfield Park  ’s Mary !ra$ford and Maria <ertram meet a scarcely 'etter fate# 'uried a$ay in social shame# and it is upon these more or less figurative dispatchesthat 'oth houses continue and prosper( o$ever# 'oth in Austen and in Goethe the criticism of play8acting is not a'solute#and a distinction is carefully made 'et$een high theatre as a valua'le art andtheatricals of the lo$er order# $hich indulge in vulgar and narcissistic pleasures( Thisdou'le standard is evident in the  Lehrjahre # $here 7ilhelm’s inspired dis6uisitions onSha&espeare’s natural genius 88 $hom the To$er# through Carno# recommend him tostudy 88 are opposed to Fhiline’s distasteful small tal&( 1  Moreover# 7ilhelm’s desire toact can 'e interpreted# as Dieter <orchmeyer has done# as a metaphor of his aspirationto elevate himself from the 'ourgeois condition of 'eing defined 'y one’s $or& to thehigher position of the no'leman# $hose only tas& is  scheinen # to appear’ or represent’ his o$n personality in society( Of course# 7ilhelm’s e%perience of  professional acting is far from this ideal# hence his $ithdra$al from the theatre( ,  In  Mansfield Park  # 5dmund ma&es it clear that he does not oppose theatre as such#and indeed admits he $ould travel far to see good hardened real acting’ 'ut disdainsthe ra$ efforts of those $ho have not 'een 'red to the trade’( e then e%plains thatgentlemen and ladies’ ma&e 'ad actors 'ecause they are encum'ered 'y their sense of education and decorum’( *?  e is proved $rong on this one# for the Mansfield troupe#himself included# $ill sho$ very little of the moral scruples he postulated in them(7ilhelm sees the discrepancy 'et$een his ideal $ay of living and the gritty theatre 'usiness# 5dmund instead argues that theatre is 'est left to only one sort of people# theungentlemanly# 'ut they 'oth come to the same conclusion: there is something a'out play8acting that ma&es its pursuit un$orthy( One of the reasons for this# I argue# is the affinity 'oth novels postulate 'et$eentheatre and revolution( The idea is not ne$: in his  Reflections on the Reolution in !rance # <ur&e remar&s that revolutionaries have a li&ing for coups de th"#tre  andal$ays loo& for a great change of scene3 there must 'e a magnificent stage effect3there must 'e a grand spectacle to rouse the imagination’( The 5nglish# instead# prefer a manly# moral# regulated li'erty’# even if to some it seems flat and vapid’( **  <ur&econtrasts uniform and carefully planned change to violent upturns# and a safe andsteady domestic routine to the e%citement of the stage( Austen# especially in her later novels# develops a social vision very close to<ur&e’s# centred on the themes of community and customs# and on the necessity of maintaining continuity $ithin a natural process of improvement( *;  And although nomention of <ur&e is made in Goethe’s $ritings# there are evident analogies in their  political thought: they 'oth condemned the violent turn of the 9rench Revolution#$ere s&eptical a'out the penchant for political theories and purely a'stract ideals of the Caco'ins# and valued instead a vie$ of human society as a vital organism thatgro$s and evolves regularly according to its o$n internal dynamics( *@  An emphasis on organic gro$th processes# an idea Goethe derived from erder’sreflections on language and human nature# is most clearly present in Goethe’snaturalistic $ritings# especially those composed after the Italian ourney of *+1.0*+11and his participation in the 9ranco8Frussian $ar of *+,;0*+,@( It is precisely in the*+,?s that Goethe returns to the Sturm$und$%rang concept of organic gro$th# toreassess it on the 'asis of these dramatic e%periences# $hich# as Goethe e%presses in a@   'iographical note# shattered all sentimentality’ in him and demanded a dispassionatee%amination of the natural $orld# aimed at reconstructing the systematic plan thatunderpins the $hole creation and regulates its continuous# gradual metamorphosing( *4  As for Austen’s 9anny Frice# she also does her share of naturalistic enthusiasm and#li&e Goethe in the 'otanical garden of Falermo# is inspired 'y the lush variety of the parson’s shru''ery# to declare: One cannot fi% one’s eyes on the commonest natural production $ithout finding food for a ram'ling fancy’( In her musings $e even findtrace of the concept of natural metamorphosis# a theory Goethe had long studied# asthe attainment of multiplicity in a perfectly integrated $hole( !onsidering thee%ample of the evergreen plants# she e%claims: 7hen one thin&s of it# ho$astonishing a variety of natureH’ and ho$ amaBing# she adds# that the same soil andthe same sun should nurture plants differing in the first rule and la$ of their e%istence’/p( *.42( As a further e%ample of vegetal virtues# trees are often images of continuityand flourishing tradition for Austen# and indicate the economical and moral $ell'eingof an estate: in this sense# Mr( Rush$orth’s intention of cutting do$n the avenue of old 5nglish oa&s at Sotherton fore'odes his loss of dignity( Although Austen’s discourse is considera'ly less e6uipped $ith philosophicalinsights than Goethe’s# she does share his 'elief that organic gro$th# gradual reform#and  Bildung   represent the idea of constructing on sta'le foundations# allo$ing the positive 6ualities present in nuce  to emerge and 'lossom( Rather than tur'ulentchanges of scene# mindless demolition# and uprooting# the eighteenth8century ToryAusten and Goethe the 'ridge8'uilding polymath al$ays choose the ordered 6uiet of a$ell8managed# su'stantial# comforta'le home( ;aving thus esta'lished the terms of the correlation 'et$een theatre and the violenttransformative action of revolution# as opposed to the gradual reforming processfavoured 'y Goethe and Austen# I $ill first loo& at ho$ the t$o authors incorporatesu'versive theatre8ma&ing in their narratives of education# and then at their representation of the ideal condition that is realiBed in the home after the theatres have 'een dismantled( The  Lehrjahre  opens in the dressing room of the young performer Mariane# $hereshe receives 7ilhelm after her evening sho$ is over( 9rom this scene of charming playfulness# the narrator ta&es us instantly to the follo$ing morning at the oldMeister’s 'rea&fast ta'le# $here 7ilhelm must hear his mother’s plea not to distur'their domestic 6uiet $ith his foolish passion for theatre /p( **3 I # ;2( A sharp antithesisis set from the very 'eginning 'et$een the unrestrained pleasures of the theatrical$orld and the 'lea& scenario of his father’s house( 7e then learn that this is a ne$house# 'uilt 'y 7ilhelm’s father $ith the money o'tained from the sale of a preciousart collection put together 'y his grandfather( It is a grand mansion filled $ith heavyfurniture in the fashiona'le rococo style# 'ut to the young 7ilhelm it is empty andsoulless 'ecause it has nothing of the snug croo&edness and the peculiar appearance of the old one# $hich housed an impressive display of ancient and Italian art assem'led 'y 7ilhelm’s grandfather according to the idiosyncratic criteria and educational purposes of eighteenth8century classicism( *-  <ereft of the formative aesthetic stimulus provided 'y the collection# 7ilhelmclings to the only instance of creativity allo$ed in his father’s house: the puppettheatre( On one !hristmas day a puppet8sho$ is performed in the dra$ing room# $ithunforeseen conse6uences on 7ilhelm’s imagination: he o'serves the rigid 'oundaries4  of the house 'eing 'lurred and the utilitarian arrangement of the space transformedinto something strange and surprising: Die TJrK erLffnete sich3 allein nicht $ie sonst Bum in8 und 7iderlaufen# der 5ingang $ar durch eine uner$artete 9estlich&eit ausgefJllt( 5s 'aute sich einFortal in die Lhe# das von einem mystischen orhang verdec&t $ar( /p( *@3 <&( I #!h( ;2The door opened# 'ut not as formerly# to let us pass and repass3 the entrance $asoccupied 'y an une%pected sho$( 7ithin it rose a porch# concealed 'y a mysteriouscurtain( *. The $ide8eyed e%pectation# the glittering and ingling o'ects glimpsed 'ehind thes$aying curtain# and# a'ove all# the sense of a magic transformation of the everyday8life space are imprinted on 7ilhelm’s mind and mar& the 'eginning of his fascinationfor the theatre( is father’s house is a $ell8ordered and so'er household# dominated 'y the sternfro$n of the paterfamilias# $hich scarcely allo$s for genuine enoyment and realcommunication 'et$een family mem'ers( Guests are seldom invited# and allgatherings 'ecome ela'orate and ceremonious functions( 5very o'ect of the house isdescri'ed as heavy# dar&# and immova'le: In seinem ause mute alles solid und massiv sein# der orrat reichlich# dasSil'ergeschirr sch$er# das Tafelservice &ost'ar( (((K Sein aushalt ging einengelassenen und einfLrmigen Schritt# und alles# $as sich darin 'e$egte underneuerte# $ar gerade das# $as niemanden einigen Genu ga'( /p( 4*3 <&( I # !h(**2In his house he $ould have all things solid and massive3 his stores must 'e copiousand rich3 all his plates must 'e heavy3 the furniture of his ta'le costly( (((K Theeconomy of his house $ent on at a settled# uniform rate: and everything that movedor had place in it $as ust $hat yielded no one any real enoyment( / I # --2Moreover# 7ilhelm’s father entertains a severe idea of education# opposed to theaesthetic  Bildung   envisaged 'y his o$n father the collector# 'ased on the principle thatchildren’s oy must 'e marred and their merits diminished# so as not to stimulate their  presumption( In this stifling atmosphere# 7ilhelm gro$s restless and discontented#and develops a special receptiveness to the occasional irregularities and fla$s of the$ell8oiled house&eeping machine# $hat 7ilhelm calls RitBen und =Lcher’ /crevicesand holes2# li&e a door left aar# a &ey standing in its loc&# or the most conspicuousnovelty of the puppet8sho$( If the house 'e solid and 'urdensome# everything connected $ith theatre is tiny#light# and spar&ling# from the puppets in their colourful costumes to the $aterfalls of tin# the paper roses# all the ta$dry# flimsy devices of Mariane’s theatre company( )etlightness is not only the opposite of $eight# 'ut also the opposite of profundity#steadiness# and order( <road8minded as he might 'e# 7ilhelm still cannot help 'ut$onder# $ith mi%ed desire and disgust# at the um'le and dirt of Mariane’s 'edroom#$here her stage costumes lie scattered every$here# along $ith music scores#under$ear# ma&e8up# and cham'er pots( In this anarchic paradise of soil and se6uinshe revels# coming at last to feel einen ReiB# den er in seiner stattlichen Frun&ordnung-
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