Title: Faust (Part One)
Author: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, translated by various
Publication date: 1808
Genre: Drama; tragedy

What’s it about?Faust

Goethe’s version of this classic tale sees Faust, a brilliant scholar, feeling dissatisfied with his life. He makes a pact with Mephistopheles, who in his turn has made a wager with God that he can win the soul of this mortal.

The devil will help Faust access areas of learning he could only previously dream of, and also convince him of the desirability of more worldly pleasures. Faust is unconvinced of Mephistopheles’ power, and says that if he can achieve this, he will happily offer up his soul.

Faust is taken on a whirlwind tour of the world and its seedier pleasures, eventually falling for a young girl whom he seduces. Her life falls into ruin, and although she is ultimately redeemed and admitted to Heaven, Faust is left distraught, pondering the calamity he has wrought.

Read more information on Goodreads.

Where did I get hold of the book?

I was considerably more organised this time round, and managed to get this out of the university library. However, I wasn’t quite organised enough to realise that the book I’d found was Part One: Part Two is a separate work. So I may or may not decide to follow up this week’s read with Part Two at some point – but this blog post is only about Part One. Sorry.

What did I learn from it?

I learned – or, rather, was reminded – that this version of the Faust story is just one of many. Up to this point I was really only familiar with the Christopher Marlowe version, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, which I’d studied for A-level and enjoyed very much. But it plays out in a very different way to Goethe’s tale.

In Doctor Faustus, the majority of the story concerns Faustus’ explorations and experimentations in the world; we see him causing havoc and mayhem wherever he goes. In Faust, 200 years later, we see less of this; more emphasis is given to the unfolding plot of his seduction of Margareta (Gretchen), and the effect his actions have on her life and those around her. The two plays also present very different endings for the Faust character.

As well as these two classic works, there are many other variations on the Faust story: some are overt, using the name, and others merely draw on the theme of a pact with the devil. Clearly – and unsurprisingly – it is a topic of perennial human interest…

How did it make me see the world differently?

The play is written predominantly in verse. Now, even though I am familiar with verse drama and know that you don’t have to pause for ‘breath’ at the end of every line, there was a part of my brain that kept wanting to do that! In other words, I wanted to be swept along by the rhyme and the rhythm of the piece rather than focusing purely on the sense of it.

This was a real wake-up call as to the power of poetry, words and rhythm. One of the things I’m trying to do with the Book Diaries is to demonstrate how personal a response a story can evoke. A single word, image or allusion can spark an association in someone’s mind that wouldn’t occur to someone else – and when those words are backed up by the hypnotic power of poetry… wow.

This is a reminder of the power of stories to transport us into another world, where we can escape our daily cares and let the story carry us through until we emerge, blinking, into the daylight.

The other purpose of the Book Diaries is to encourage you to think about what you will do next. Certainly, enjoy each story in its own right – throw yourself in, let it sweep you away! – but then come back to reality; pick out the bits that have particular meaning for YOU, and act on them. Figure out how the story makes you feel about your own life – and make changes accordingly.

Maybe something as simple as a rhyming couplet will spark that association…

What changes will I make to my life as a result of it?

Two things, one that I can do this week and one that will have to wait until next year:

  1. Realising that I’d only read Part One of Faust reminded me that I have a bit of a backlog of unfinished jobs (in addition to reading Part Two…). There are a couple of 3-month updates for Book Diaries posts (which will go into the published book next year, so you can see whether I made all the changes I said I would!); and there is a bunch of ‘urgent but unimportant’ stuff that has now mounted up. So I will make every effort to clear these off my to-do list this week.
  2. I’ve been getting increasingly interested in doing some more writing for theatre. There may even be the opportunity to do some short works for performance in a more informal setting than my am dram group – and so I’m going to make this a priority for exploring as a sideline to my Book Diaries work. Past experience suggests that this may be just another pipe-dream that will never manifest – but then I’d have to admit that to all of you in the book of the Book Diaries, and that wouldn’t look good, would it?

Over to you…

Has this post inspired you to read the book for yourself?

If you’ve read it, do you agree with what I’ve said? Did you have insights that I’ve not mentioned?

Please share in the comments below!