Wilhelm Meister's apprenticeship

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Title page of the first print and spine of contemporary bindings
JH Lips (1791): Goethe

Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship Years is a classic educational novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe . The groundbreaking development novel was published in 1795/96. It consists of eight books, the first five of which are based on the unpublished fragment of Wilhelm Meister's theatrical mission during Goethe's lifetime . A comparison of both texts shows quite a number of literal matches. The sequel to Wilhelm Meister's Wanderjahre was published in 1821 and 1829 respectively.


"... to train myself just as I am there, that was dark from my youth on my wish and my intention", Wilhelm confesses in a letter to his brother-in-law Werner. It is Wilhelm's aim to achieve order out of disorder through manifold efforts and "creative power" - in the intellectual and also in the social sector.

Following in the footsteps of the enlighteners Diderot and Voltaire , Goethe proclaimed the right of the free citizen to all-round education. With the irony of the authorial narrator, he puts together a colorful mosaic of life, whose literary stones also consist of lyrical sprinkles and a comprehensive life confession ( Confessions of a beautiful soul , 6th book).


main characters

  • Felix is the son of Mariane and Wilhelm. After the early death of her mother, the crafty old Barbara brings Felix up with Aurelie. The harper believes in madness that Felix is ​​his future murderer. A “bad table custom” saves Felix's life.
  • The harpist (harpist, Augustin) is the father of Mignon and the brother of the Marchese Cipriani and the holy Sperata.
  • Baron Lothario (Lothar) is a member of the Tower Society. His siblings are Natalie, the Countess and Friedrich. He marries Therese.
  • The young actress Mariane is Felix's mother. Wilhelm leaves the pregnant Mariane because he does not know that she has given up the rival Norberg.
  • Mignon is the daughter of St. Sperata and the harpist Augustin. Wilhelm buys Mignon from rough jugglers and takes her in like a daughter. Mignon thanks her for her devotion. The girl with heart disease dies of heartache when Therese and Wilhelm kiss in love.
  • Baroness Natalie , Wilhelm's beautiful Amazon, is the sister of Lothario, the Countess and Frederick. Natalie takes care of Mignon and eventually becomes Wilhelm's bride.
  • Wilhelm , see plot
(8.4) Therese compares Wilhelm with Natalie and writes to her about him: "... from you he has the noble search and striving for the better, whereby we ourselves produce the good that we think we can find." Therese adds : "... his biography is an eternal search and not find."

Minor characters

  • In the background, the Abbé controls Wilhelm's fortunes.
  • The doctor is in the service of the Lotharios family.
  • The actress Aurelie (Aurelia) is Serlos' sister.
  • Old Barbara is Mariane's housekeeper.
  • The baron deals with the Melina theater company on behalf of the count.
  • The Marchese (ital. Markgraf) Cipriani from Italy is the brother of the harper and Mignon's uncle.
  • Friedrich is a member of the Tower Society as well as Natalia's brother, Lothario and the Countess.
  • The count takes on the actors Melina in his castle.
  • The countess is the sister of Natalia, Lothario and Friedrich.
  • Jarno is a member of the Tower Society and Lydie's groom.
  • Laertes is a member of the theater troupe and a friend of Wilhelm. He helps him to send his father at home a fictional description of his trip, which should meet the contemporary requirements of an educational trip. (4.17)
  • Lydia (Lydie) - when Lothario no longer wants her as a lover, Jarno takes her as his wife.
  • The actor Melina leads the theater troupe. Wilhelm supports him.
  • Madame Melina is the wife of Mr. Melina.
  • The wealthy merchant Norberg is a lover of Mariane.
  • The seductive actress Philine likes to flatter herself with the gentlemen, wants to be Wilhelm's lover and finally becomes pregnant by Friedrich.
  • The aunt of Natalia, Lotharios, Friedrichs and the countess is a beautiful soul . (8.3) Natalie tells Wilhelm about her aunt, the beautiful soul: “I owe her so much. Very poor health, perhaps too much preoccupation with oneself, and at the same time a moral and religious fearfulness did not allow the world to be what it could have become under other circumstances. "Wilhelm, who wrote the confessions of Aunt Natalia (6th book ) read, expresses that this reading influenced his further life and adds: “What shone most to me from this writing was, I would like to say, the cleanliness of existence, not only of itself, but also all of it what surrounded them, this independence of their nature and the impossibility of absorbing something that was not in harmony with the noble, loving mood. "
  • The theater director Serlo is Wilhelm's friend and sponsor. After all, he doesn't want Wilhelm on stage anymore.
  • Saint Sperata is the harper's sister and Mignon's mother.
  • Miss Therese eventually becomes Lothario's bride.
  • The businessman Werner is Wilhelm's brother-in-law.



1-5 Book: The young Wilhelm Meister wants to become a theater man, but ultimately fails after considerable success.

6th book: Confessions of a beautiful soul : A young girl discovers love, emancipates herself, acquaints herself with scientific as well as musical and spiritual knowledge, turns completely to God and becomes a beautiful soul by creating a very personal one , developed natural religiosity and finally matures into a benevolent and believing woman who also appears as an acting person under the name "beautiful soul".

7th-8th Book: Wilhelm leaves the boards that mean the world and finds connection with a lodge that strives for social change and for which the United States of America serves as a model: "Here or nowhere is America!"


Note: In the following, the number of the chapter is in front of the text. Not all chapters are listed.

first book

1 When the young actress Mariane comes home after the performance, she finds a white negligee, the gift of her absent lover, the wealthy merchant Norberg . However, Mariane loves Wilhelm dearly. He enters and stormily greets his beloved. Old Barbara doesn't like that. Barbara wishes her beautiful mistress should stick to rich Norberg.

2 For Wilhelm's father, his son's frequent visits to the theater are a waste of time.

3 Wilhelm enjoys his first love with delight. Mariane is "the loveliest creature in his arms".

4 Wilhelm says that he saw a puppet show as a child. When the game came to an end, he spotted the dolls packing. The young Wilhelm became more and more curious to look at the dolls without voice or life.

5 Wilhelm discovers the put together dolls and uses them to develop his skills in the theater.

6 Wilhelm tells Mariane and Barbara about his childhood, about puppets and the theater.

9 Wilhelm, the “pure soul”, familiar with the theater from childhood, considers himself an “excellent actor” and wants to leave his father's house.

10 Friend Werner , a very businessman, thinks that Wilhelm, as a future businessman, will come up with sensible ideas when he gets to know the world on a business trip.

11 The father would also like to send Wilhelm on a trip “in trade matters”. Wilhelm uses the favorable opportunity "to escape the pressures of his previous life and to follow a new, noble path". Wilhelm wants to gain a foothold on a stage and "then pick up" Mariane. He asks the lover if he will be a father. Mariane wears the treacherous new negligee and answers "just with a sigh, a kiss".

12 Norberg has announced his visit. Barbara means Mariane, it is Norberg who can endure both of them, the weak women.

13 Wilhelm meets the actor Melina and his madame on his business trip . He helps both out of an embarrassment by mediating between the couple and the relatives of the Madame.

15 Werner, cold and calculating, makes inquiries about Wilhelm's love affair and confronts his friend.

16 Wilhelm sticks to Mariane, but plans on realizing his acting ambitions. On his next business trip, he intends to contact the theater director Serlo, whom he knows, about this.

17 One night before Wilhelm could say goodbye to Mariane, he was horrified to witness that his beloved had another admirer and left Mariane.

second book
The Harper , copper engraving by Gustav Heinrich Naeke (1786–1835) for Wilhelm Meister's years of apprenticeship

1 “In a moment” Wilhelm's “whole being is shattered”.

2 Wilhelm "resigns" and dedicates himself “with great zeal to trading”.

3 Years later, on his next business trip, Wilhelm meets people who “play comedy”.

4 A little later Wilhelm met Mademoiselle Philine and a few other “rubble of an actor society”. In Philine's company there is also Mignon , "the wonderful child", a member of a troupe of circus people. Wilhelm estimates them at "twelve to thirteen years" and buys them from the brutal leader of the circus troupe "for thirty thalers".

5 Mr. and Mrs. Melina meet the actors. Philine wants to get rid of the newcomers because Madame Melina is a mere would-be actress.

6 Mignon's figure and nature appear to Wilhelm “ever more charming”. She speaks "a broken German, interwoven with French and Italian".

7 A decrepit old man Philine knows reappears. Wilhelm asks him carefully about Mariane in private. The old man calls Mariane frivolous and dissolute. "Cheekiness and ingratitude" are "the main features of her character". Then the old man turns around. He once wanted to save Mariane from Barbara and adopt her as his daughter, but "the project failed". Wilhelm also learns that Mariane was "rejected" by the director almost three years ago because of her pregnancy.

8 Wilhelm wishes Mignon "to be incorporated into his heart as a child".

10 Philine flirts with Wilhelm. He is wary of “the crushing trap of a female embrace”.

11 An old harpist is admitted. When he plays and sings, his big blue eyes gaze gently.

12 Wilhelm has every difficulty in rejecting Philine. Wilhelm intervenes correctively in Mignon's writing exercises.

13 He goes to the harper and listens to the melancholy singing and playing.

14 Philine, who was rejected by Wilhelm, now makes the count's stable-master beautiful eyes. Mignon fears that she could lose Wilhelm: “If you are unhappy, what should become of Mignon?” Mignon sobs, cries and makes “a scream that is accompanied by convulsive movements of the body”. Wilhelm comforts her: “My child! You are mine ... I will keep you, not leave you! "Mignon replies:" My father! you want me. I am your child! "

Third book
Goethe: Italian Coastal Landscape (pen drawing)

1 At the beginning of the chapter is Mignon's famous song “Do you know the land where the lemons bloom”. Mignon says to Wilhelm: “If you're going to Italy, take me with you, I'm freezing here.” When he wanted to know more about her love for Italy, she was silent. The troupe meets the count, who judges the troop towards his wife, the countess : "If it were French, we could give the prince an unexpected pleasure and provide him with his favorite entertainment." The actors want to please the counts. Philine kisses the countess's hands. The kissed girl remarks: "You just have to dress better."

2 The baron , commissioned by the count to inspect the troops, “soon discovers the weak side of the little bunch”.

6 Wilhelm instructs the baron in vain: “The lover and connoisseur shows the artist what he wants and then leaves him to worry about producing the work.” The baron makes it clear: “The Count relies on the piece to be so and not be performed otherwise as he stated. "

7 Mignon also shows more realism than Wilhelm. She refuses to perform her highly artistic egg dance and asks Wilhelm: “Dear father! stay off the boards too! "

8 Jarno , a - it seems at first sight - hard-hearted, cold favorite of the prince, points out Shakespeare to Wilhelm .

11 Wilhelm is very impressed and cannot thank Jarno enough for pointing this out; Jarno, however, recommends Wilhelm to renounce the theater and "move on to an active life", which offends Wilhelm and alienates him from Jarno.

12 Philine continues to flatter herself with the countess. Since the countess is plagued by boredom, Philine brings Wilhelm over. He has to read from his manuscript. When he says goodbye to the countess in private after the reading, she suddenly lies "in his arms without knowing how it happened" and they exchange kisses. With a scream she tears herself away from him and shouts: "Run away from me if you love me!"

Fourth book

1 As a farewell, Baron Wilhelm gives a bag of gold coins. Wilhelm reluctantly accepts the gift. The harper asks Wilhelm “to release him immediately”. Wilhelm wants to keep protecting him. But the harper says: “The vengeance that persecutes me is not that of the earthly judge; I belong to an inexorable fate; I cannot stay and I must not! ... I am guilty ... My presence drives away happiness. "Wilhelm can appease the harper.

2 The future of the troops does not look bright. Wilhelm encourages the actors to practice. Only Philine is on Wilhelm's side.

5 The troops must leave the count's castle and move on. On the way, she is attacked and looted by a band of robbers in the forest. Wilhelm is injured by a shot.

6 Salvation for Wilhelm approaches in the form of a “beautiful Amazon ”. In their entourage are an “old man” whom the beautiful young woman calls “dear uncle” and a “surgeon”.

7 After surviving the attack, Wilhelm, Mignon, the Harper and Philine feel the troops' displeasure in the emergency shelter.

8 Wilhelm, on the sickbed, promises the troops that he will lead them out of their misery.

11 The troop moves on. Philine stays with Wilhelm. On the way to recovery, Wilhelm indulges in “infinitely sweet memories” of the countess and the beautiful Amazon. He has a handwriting sample of each one - “a lovely song by the countess's hand on his writing board”, and a “little piece of paper” on which “one inquires with great care about the health of an uncle”. Wilhelm admires "the similarity of their handwriting".

13 Serlo receives Wilhelm in the “lively trading town with open arms” and pours him “mercilessly” pure wine: Melina's troupe is useless for theater work. Serlo introduces his sister Aurelia Wilhelm.

14 Philine recognizes the terrain in order to “settle in”. Soon she can entertain Wilhelm with new gossip stories: Aurelie had an "unfortunate love affair" with a Baron Lothar . “There's a boy walking around, about three years old, beautiful as the sun,” continues Philine. The boy's name is Felix . Philine again confesses to Wilhelm that she is in love with him and asks that he would like to fall in love with Aurelie.

17 Since Wilhelm is mainly on the road on behalf of his father and is expecting this report, Wilhelm begins with Laertes' help to write a made up report.

19 "With the inner coldness of his mind" Serlo doesn't really love anyone; “With the clarity of his gaze” he cannot respect anyone. Nevertheless, Serlo hired Wilhelm and even brought Melina in. Wilhelm ensures that Mignon and the harper can stay with him.

20 Aurelie acts like a "half-mad". With her dagger she cuts Wilhelm's hand and immediately bandages him carefully. Wilhelm's comment: "Best, how could you hurt your friend?"

Fifth book

1 Felix prefers to drink from a bottle rather than a glass. This "improper" habit will save the lively boy at the end of the novel. Werner informs Wilhelm of his father's death in a letter.

2 Werner explains to Wilhelm his plan to take over Wilhelm's inheritance and marry his sister. Since Wilhelm had presented himself so excellently in his letters, he was supposed to become estate administrator together with Werner.

3 In Wilhelm's reply he confesses to the fraud. But there are also some truths in it: “I just have an irresistible inclination towards that harmonious development of my nature, which my birth denies me ... but since I am only a citizen, I have to go my own way ... Now I deny it Not that my urge to be a public person is becoming more insurmountable every day, and to please and work in a wider circle. ”Wilhelm joins Serlo as an actor.

4–10 Wilhelm works on Hamlet and reduces it to the essentials. Rehearsals are progressing and all actors are enthusiastic about it.

11 The ensemble is successful with Hamlet in Wilhelm's production. The "ghost" is played by a stranger.

12 After the performance, the troupe celebrates. At night a beautiful stranger sneaks into Wilhelm's bed with whom he sleeps.

13 The house where the actors are staying is on fire. Mignon calls to Wilhelm: “Master! Save your Felix! The old man [d. H. the harpist] is mad! the old man kills him! "

14 The troops are split up and relocated. Wilhelm secretly "suspects that the old man is to blame for the fire".

15 The harper shows “clear traces of madness”. Wilhelm has to entrust him to “a country clergyman” who treats “such people”. Philine distances herself from Wilhelm, who thinks he sees his Mariane in a visitor to Philina. The next day Philine left without Wilhelm being able to assure himself that it was really Mariane.

16 Wilhelm goes to the harper. The country clergyman called a " doctor for advice". Wilhelm receives the manuscript Confessions of a Beautiful Soul from the doctor to read. Melina - "cold and insidious" - and Serlo are responsible for removing Wilhelm and Aurelia from the stage. New actors join the troop, the mood in the troop deteriorates.

Aurelie, always ill, confesses to Wilhelm that the end of her life “is approaching soon”, instructs him to deliver a letter to her beloved Lothar, and dies, not without first having read the confessions of a beautiful soul . Wilhelm leaves to deliver the letter to Lothar. When saying goodbye, Felix says to him: “Listen! bring me a father "and Mignon sings:

Don't tell me to talk, tell me to be silent
Because my secret is my duty;
I want to show you my whole inner being
Fate alone does not want it.


Sixth book. Confessions of a beautiful soul

The beautiful soul (see above under “Overview”), an aunt of Lothario, describes her religious life, especially her turn to the Herrnhutern . In addition, family relationships become known: Baron Lothario has a sister, Baroness Natalie .


Seventh book

1 Wilhelm, on the way to Lothar with the letter from the deceased Aurelie, meets the Abbé . He has met the clergyman before - on the water trip as a stowaway (spontaneous play with Laertes, Philine, Melina and Madame Melina). The Abbé asks about the theater company. Wilhelm admits that he has "nothing left". In Lothars Castle - henceforth called Lothario - Wilhelm had “strange dream images” after his accommodation. Mariane meets him. “That Amazon” is similar to a picture on the wall of the room.

2 Lothario has received Aurelia's letter, but other worries plague him. He duels over a love affair and is wounded.

3 Wilhelm receives his first order from the tower company through his old friend Jarno. He is supposed to remove the intrusive Lydie from Lothario's bedside. Jarno, well informed, scoffs at Wilhelm's “old cricket”, acting. Wilhelm would like to "get on the track" of the beautiful Amazon.

4 Before Wilhelm carries out his assignment, he meets the doctor to whom he owes the “interesting manuscript” and who looks after the harpist. Wilhelm learns of the sick man's madness: The harper thinks that he is facing “death by an innocent boy”. After Jarno, Wilhelm's first assignment is to lead him to Fraulein Therese , a “true Amazon”. The clairaudient Wilhelm hopes to "find his Amazon again, this figure of all shapes".

6 When Therese arrives, he has to find out that she is not his Amazon. He learns from the intelligent young lady that she “made a covenant with Lothario's excellent sister”. Therese means Natalie. Wilhelm misunderstood: he thinks Therese is talking about the countess he kissed once. Lydie asks about the mysterious great tower: “Why these locked rooms? these strange corridors? ”Wilhelm also noticed the tower.

7 Lothario and Therese, who “loved each other hard”, wanted to get married, but there are obstacles. Wilhelm wants to reprimand Lothario for leaving Aurelie. The attempt fails. Wilhelm learns from Lothario, "Aurelie had no son, least of all" from him. Jarno, who is present, recommends Wilhelm: “In general, I think you gave up the theater for a moment, for which you have no talent.” Wilhelm receives the next order from the tower through Jarno: He should fetch the children.

8 Wilhelm does not find Mignon and Felix in Frau Melina's care, but meets old Barbara. Wilhelm has to find out the truth from Barbara: When he believed that Mariane was unfaithful to him, she actually dumped Norberg at the time. Felix is ​​Mariana and Wilhelm's son. Mariane died after his birth. Werner had previously "rejected" all of Mariana's letters to Wilhelm. Barbara's intrigue: she had pretended to Aurelie that Felix was a son of her lover Lothario. Aurelie then took Felix - out of love for Lothario - into her caring protection. Mignon wants to see the harper. Wilhelm talk it out of her. Wilhelm looks at himself and Felix in front of the mirror, looks for "there similarities between himself and the child". He takes the two children to the tower.

9 Wilhelm receives his apprenticeship letter from the Abbé and is allowed to ask a question. Wilhelm asks whether Felix is ​​really his son. The question is answered in the affirmative by the omniscient Abbé. The clergyman adds: "Your apprenticeship years are over."

Eighth book

1 Werner, having become a “hard-working hypochondriac ”, comes to the tower on business matters. One exchanges. Wilhelm has other worries. He needs a mother for Felix and asks in writing for the hand of the good Fraulein Therese.

2 Mignon is not doing well. She's with Natalie for care. Lothario asks Wilhelm, together with Felix, to visit his sister and Mignon and also to tell the sister that Marchese Cipriani , a friend of the family, is coming soon. Lothario hands Wilhelm a "ticket" from Natalia. Wilhelm thinks he recognizes the handwriting and looks forward to the encounter with anxiety: “For God's sake! … That is not the hand of the countess, it is the hand of the Amazon! ”Wilhelm actually meets his Amazon, the Baroness Natalie. She has closely observed Mignon's heart disease, which the girl is "gradually consuming", and reproduces a song by Mignons:

So let me shine until I will
Don't take off my white dress!
I rush from the beautiful earth
Down into that stable house ...

3 Natalie means to Wilhelm that he could "not be better informed by her family than by the essay" of her aunt, the beautiful soul. The Countess, Natalie Wilhelm continues, is her sister and the "funny, frivolous Friedrich" is her brother. Mignon's doctor comes and tells Wilhelm that Mignon's illness stems from her longing for Italy and her longing for Wilhelm. Mignon was "kidnapped from her parents in a very early youth by a company of tightrope walkers". The doctor had put this together from Mignon's songs. Then he mentions Mignon's fiasco after the Hamlet performance, when she tried to sneak into Wilhelm's bed and a rival preceded her.

4 Therese replies to Wilhelm's advertisement: “I am yours”. As soon as it comes out, “surprise against surprise” comes up. The obstacle to marriage between Lothario and Therese is gone, because "Therese is not her mother's daughter". Lothario prepares the marriage with the "noble girl". Natalie confesses with her "calm, gentle, indescribable Highness" Wilhelm with a smile that she has never loved.

5 Therese travels to Natalie and Wilhelm's home - unaware of Lothario's wedding preparations. Mignon's heart pounds "violently" in the face of the happy bride. When the bride and groom embraced "with the most lively kisses", Mignon "fell down with a cry at Natalie's feet for dead".

6 Wilhelm was always watched by the tower: Friedrich informs the astonished Wilhelm that Philine will have a child from him, Friedrich. At first Friedrich was unsure because it was Philine who slept with Wilhelm after the Hamlet performance, but the time was right.

7 Jarno wants to marry Lydie.

8 Mignon is buried.

9 The Marchese Cipriani comes from Italy. He is the harper's brother and Mignon's uncle. The harper, Augustin is his name, loved the girl Sperata at a young age . When Sperata was expecting a child from him, it turned out: Sperata and the Harper are natural siblings, so it was incest . The couple separated and Sperata took away her child - Mignon. Mignon lived with "good people" on Lake Maggiore until she was kidnapped . The harper, detained in a monastery, "claimed that when he woke up a handsome boy was standing by his bed and threatening him with a shiny knife." He was able to escape to Germany. Sperata's "mind gradually broke free from the bonds of the body" and she died. After her death, she was venerated as a saint by the people.

10 Therese often rides alone with Lothario. The harper Augustin reappears, but unfortunately he shows the old fear of Felix. At the end the harper surprises the company with the exclamation: “Felix is ​​poisoned!” Fortunately, Felix - according to his custom - drank from the bottle and left the poison in the glass. The harper attempts suicide, is rescued, but kills himself on the second attempt. When the countess said goodbye, she put Wilhelm's hands in Natalie's. In the same vein, Lothario speaks out to Wilhelm for a double wedding. Money from Werner arrives for Wilhelm. Friedrich, too, is of the opinion (with the tower) that Wilhelm should marry Natalie and then follow the invitation of the Marchese Cipriani to Italy with Felix. Wilhelm has nothing against it.


From the factory

  • (1,10) Wilhelm: "It is not up to the pupil to complete it, it is enough if he practices"
  • (2,2) "Usually a person resists as long as he can, to abhor the fool that he cherishes in his bosom, to confess a major error, and to admit a truth which brings him to despair."
  • (2.2) "We only notice how sad and uncomfortable a dreary day is when a single penetrating glimpse of the sun represents the encouraging shine of a cheerful hour."
  • (2,2) Wilhelm: "Of course there is a certain indefinite desire in every human being to imitate what he sees; but this desire does not prove at all that we have the strength to do what we do get."
  • (2,2) Wilhelm: "Yes, who, if you want, formed gods, raised us to them, brought them down to us, as the poet?"
  • (2,3) "The raw person is satisfied if he only sees something going on; the educated person wants to feel, and thinking is only pleasant for the fully educated person."
  • (2,4) Laertes: "You let everything in the world go until it becomes harmful, then you get angry and strike."
  • (2,4) Philine: "There is nothing more unbearable than having the pleasure calculated for you that you enjoy."
  • (2,4) Wilhelm: "Man is the most interesting thing to man, and should perhaps be of great interest to him."
  • (2,9) Wilhelm: "Everyone is limited enough to want to educate others to be their own image."
  • (3,9) "As a person approaches a development of his powers, abilities and concepts, he sometimes gets into an embarrassment from which a good friend could easily help him. He is like a wanderer who does not go far from the hostel Water falls; if someone grabbed at once and pulled him ashore, it would be a matter of getting wet, instead of helping himself out, but on the other bank, and having to make an arduous long detour to his specific goal . "
  • (4,2) Wilhelm: "It is with the talents as with the virtue: one has to love them for their own sake, or give them up completely. And yet neither of them are recognized and rewarded differently than when one has them, like one dangerous secret, can practice in secret. "
  • (4,8) Wilhelm: "No misfortune entitles us to charge an innocent person with reproaches"
  • (4:12) "Self-love makes both our virtues and our faults seem far more important than they are."
  • (4:20) "Love is nothing but the waste of time!"
  • (5.1) Serlo: "One should hear at least a little song every day, read a good poem, see an excellent painting and, if it could be done, speak a few sensible words."
  • (5,7) Serlo and Wilhelm: “In the novel, attitudes and events should be presented; in drama characters and deeds. The novel must go slowly, and the main character's attitudes must, in whatever way, hold the whole back from developing. The drama should hurry, and the character of the main character must push itself towards the end. "
  • (7.1) The Abbé: "The safest thing is always to only do the next thing that lies ahead of us."
  • (7.3) Jarno: "I forgive the actor for all mistakes of the actor, I forgive the person no mistakes of the actor."
  • (8.3) Wilhelm: "It is true art like good company: it compels us in the most pleasant way to recognize the measure by which and to which our innermost being is formed."
  • (8.4) Therese quotes Natalie: “If we only take people as they are, we make them worse; if we treat them as if they were what they should be, we bring them to where they are to be taken. "
  • (8.5) Wilhelm on the tower company: "As far as I know these holy men, it always seems their praiseworthy intention to separate what is connected and to connect what is separated."
  • (8,9) The harper: “If nature abhors it, it speaks it out loud; the creature that is not supposed to be cannot become, the creature that lives wrongly is destroyed early. "
  • (8.9) The harper: "Whoever has suffered like me has the right to be free."

Goethe about his work

"With the encouragement of the duchess mother, in these last few days I have made Wilhelm Meister again, perhaps this old work will also move closer to its completion in this new year."

- Goethe's letter of January 1, 1791 to Karl Ludwig von Knebel

“ I would like to answer the questions about Wilhelm Meister verbally. In such works the artist may decide what he wants, there is always a kind of confession, and indeed in a way of which he hardly knows how to give an account of himself. The form always retains something impure and one can thank God if one was able to put so much content into it that feeling and thinking people can occupy themselves with developing it again. "

- Goethe's letter of March 29, 1801 to Johann Friedrich Rochlitz

“... we also came to talk about Wilhelm Meister's apprenticeship years , whereby I allowed myself to remark that with the blissful delight in which this novel always drove me, whenever I read it, I still hadn't come to terms with whether the chapters in it owe their existence to the novel, or whether the novel emerged from its fragments. Goethe smiled and asked me how I got the idea? I justified it by the relaxed attitude of the chapters to one another, especially I referred to the sixth book with the heading Confessions of a beautiful soul , which seems to have no connection whatsoever with the rest, to which Goethe replied: 'Since I have you with your Find the idea on the right path, I want to lead you to your goal. I had written the chapters or fragments, as you call them, individually and published them one by one in magazines. '"

- Goethe's conversation on August 6, 1822 with Johann Wenzel Tomaschek in Eger


Friedrich von Schlegel (1772–1829)
Germaine de Staël (1766-1817)

Reviews and Analysis

  • Friedrich Schlegel writes about Goethe's master in 1798 : “We also see that these years of apprenticeship are more likely to want and educate anyone else to be a capable artist or man than Wilhelm himself. Not this or that person should be educated, but nature, education itself should be presented in manifold examples, and compressed into simple principles. "
  • According to Germaine de Staël , Goethe overloaded his apprenticeship years with “witty discussions”.
  • In February 1800, Novalis described the apprenticeship as “a fatal and silly book. The joy that it is now over is felt to the full at the end. The whole thing is an ennobled novel. Wilhelm Meister's apprenticeship years , or the pilgrimage after the nobility diploma. ”The spirit of the book is“ artistic atheism ”, since it dismisses“ the wonderful ”in it as mere“ poetry and enthusiasm ”. Novalis never published his private notes on Wilhelm Meister . He let his friend Friedrich Schlegel praise the novel effusively, secretly thought his own part and wrote his alternative, the novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen .
  • In his lectures on German science and literature 1806/1807, Adam Müller puts Goethe on a par with Cervantes when he emphasizes that "in the entire history of literature there is only one world-wide counterpart in Don Quixote ".
  • The great Goethe admirer Nietzsche noted in 1884 (left behind fragments): " Wilhelm Meister: the most beautiful things in the world alternate with the most ridiculous childishments."
  • Friedenthal explains why Goethe was accepted into two boxes in real life.
  • In his balanced appreciation, Gerhard Schulz makes the connections between the theatrical broadcast , the apprenticeship years and the wandering years visible.
  • Boyle takes a critical look at the handlebar roles that Jarno and other men from the tower play in Wilhelm's Vita.
  • According to Wilpert , the Confessions of a Beautiful Soul (6th book) go back to Susanna Catharina Klettenberg (1723–1774), a friend of Goethe's mother .
  • Conrady addresses the disparity between the feudal nobility and the bourgeoisie and its treatment by Goethe.
  • Hannelore Schlaffer names works by
    • Hans-Egon Hass : Wilhelm Meister's years of apprenticeship . Düsseldorf 1965.
    • Georg Lukács : Wilhelm Meister's years of apprenticeship . Reinbek 1967,
    • Rolf-Peter Janz: On the social content of the "apprenticeship years". Berlin 1975.

Film adaptations


  • In early editions of the novel the songs appeared as a sheet music supplement by Johann Friedrich Reichardt .
  • In 1816 Franz Schubert set to music parts from the second book ( Who surrenders to loneliness - Who never ate his bread with tears - I want to sneak to the doors ) in the harpist's songs (D 478-480).
  • From Mignons Lied Do you know the country ... (beginning of the third book) there are numerous settings, u. a. by Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann and Hugo Wolf .
  • The opera Mignon by Ambroise Thomas , premiered in 1866, is a free adaptation of Wilhelm Meister's apprenticeship years .
  • In 1869 Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed Six Romances, Op. 6, the last song being a setting of Nur Wer die Sehnsucht , based on Lev Alexandrowitsch Mei's translation into Russian. Goethe's original had already been set to music by Franz Schubert in 1826 (Lied der Mignon, op. 62, No.4).

Audio books

Wilhelm Meister's apprenticeship years, read out in full by Hans Jochim Schmidt, Reader Schmidt Hörbuchverlag, ISBN 978-3-941324-66-4



  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Poetic Works. Volume 7. Phaidon, Essen 1999, ISBN 3-89350-448-6 , pp. 5-386.

First edition

Secondary literature

(Sorted by year of publication)

  • Richard Friedenthal: Goethe - his life and his time. R. Piper, Munich 1963, pp. 476-480.
  • Friedrich A. Kittler : About the socialization of Wilhelm Meisters. In: Gerhard Kaiser, Friedrich A. Kittler: Poetry as a socialization game. Studies on Goethe and Gottfried Keller. Göttingen 1978, pp. 13-124.
  • Gerhard Schulz : The German literature between the French Revolution and the restoration. Part 1: The Age of the French Revolution: 1789–1806. Munich 1983, ISBN 3-406-00727-9 , pp. 302-319.
  • Hannelore Schlaffer : Wilhelm Meister. The end of art and the return of myth . Metzler, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-476-00655-7 .
  • Benedikt Jeßing: Johann Wolfgang Goethe. Stuttgart / Weimar 1995, ISBN 3-476-10288-2 , pp. 123-137, 149-158.
  • Gero von Wilpert : Goethe-Lexikon (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 407). Kröner, Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-520-40701-9 , pp. 1182-1186.
  • Karl Otto Conrady: Goethe - life and work. Düsseldorf and Zurich 1999, ISBN 3-538-06638-8 , pp. 623-649.
  • Nicholas Boyle: Goethe. The poet in his time. Volume 2: 1790-1803. Frankfurt a. M. 2004, ISBN 3-458-34750-X , pp. 292-315, 416-427, 452-483.

History of interpretation

Since its first reception, the work has been characterized by a controversial history of interpretation.

  • Hans-Jürgen Schings : Agathon - Anton Reiser - Wilhelm Meister. On the pathogenesis of the modern subject in the Bildungsroman. In: Wolfgang Wittkowski (Ed.): Goethe in context. Art and humanity, science and politics from the Enlightenment to the Restoration. A symposium. Tubingen 1984.
  • Heinz Schlaffer : Exotericism and Esotericism in Goethe's novels. In: Goethe yearbook. 95 (1978), pp. 212-226.
  • Ulrich Schödlbauer : Art experience as understanding the world. The aesthetic form of “Wilhelm Meister's apprenticeship years”. Heidelberg 1984, ISBN 3-533-03522-0 and ISBN 3-533-03523-9 .
  • Manfred Engel : The novel of the Goethe era . Volume 1: Beginnings in Classical and Early Romanticism: Transcendental Stories . Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 1993, pp. 227-320.
  • Klaus Gerth : "The interplay of life". An attempt to read Wilhelm Meister's apprenticeship years (again) differently. In: Goethe yearbook. 113 (1996), pp. 105-120.
  • Lothar Bluhm : "You seem like Saul, Kis' son ...". Wilhelm Meister's apprenticeship between 'healing' and 'destruction'. In: L. Bluhm, A. Hölter (Ed.): “That the fixed letter will be cared for”. Trier 2001, pp. 122-140. (New publication in: Goethezeitportal: Bluhm (discontinued on January 12, 2004) (PDF; 204 kB))
  • Hee-Ju Kim: The appearance of being. On the symbolism of the veil in Goethe's “Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship Years” . Niemeyer, Tübingen 2005, ISBN 3-484-15106-4 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Wilhelm Meister's years of apprenticeship in the Gutenberg-DE project The three stanzas of the Mignon song
  2. ^ Wilhelm Meister's apprenticeship years in the IMDb
  3. Peter Gülke: Franz Schubert and his time. 3. Edition. Laaber-Verlag, 2002, ISBN 3-89007-266-6 , pp. 129-137.