Goethe and Patriarchy
Faust and the Fates of Desire

James Simpson

Legenda (General Series)


2 January 1999  •  336pp

ISBN: 1-900755-04-1 (paperback)  •  RRP £75, $99, €85


This book traces the history of a complex sexual fantasy which features recurrently in Goethe's writings from his days as a student in Leipzig to the final years as Europe's most celebrated living poet. Simpson shows how the young man's fantasy of innocent sexuality became an increasingly troubled one during the poet's first decade in Weimar. Goethe began to recognize in it a submerged element: the incestuous roots of desire. Triggered by this discovery, Goethe's imagination becomes increasingly analytic and diagnostic, and startlingly prefigures the work of Freud. Yet, paradoxically, Goethe's insight leads him to a triumphant reassertion of an innocent sexuality purged of those elements he identifies as 'diseased'. Central to Goethe and Patriarchy is a new account of the genesis of the first part of Faust, which is shown to contain a record of Goethe's changing attitudes to human sexuality. In particular, Simpson is the first critic to demonstrate that the Gretchen episode is a deliberate Kontrafaktur of the patriarchal idyll of the Song of Songs. The book explores numerous other Goethe texts and casts entirely new light on his creative imagination.

James Simpson lectures in the German Department at the University of Liverpool. He has previously published on Goethe, Matthew Arnold, and on Anglo-German literary relations.


  • notice, Germanistik 41.3-4, 2000, 921
  • ‘Simpson argues that Goethe's work, in essence, constitutes an act of self-diagnosis and therapy... his paradigm is not just Freudian, but also implicitly Jungian.’ — Paul Bishop, Modern Language Review 96.2, 2001, 566-7 (full text online)
  • ‘This book is not brilliant: it is too carefully argued and clearly written to deserve that flashy label of the day. A more apt descriptor might be formidable, both for its ambition and for its achievement. Simpson has undertaken nothing less than the elucidation of the paradigm that was central to all of Goethe's intellectual, personal, scientific and poetic concerns, the "ur-fantasy that is a fantasy of origins"... In the best tradition of British literary criticism, Simpson writes in a lively, engaging style that does not need jargon... No one working seriously on Goethe or on Faust can ignore the challenge of this study.’ — Arnd Bohm, Seminar 41.1, 2005, 73-74

Bibliography entry:

Simpson, James, Goethe and Patriarchy: Faust and the Fates of Desire (Cambridge: Legenda, 1999)

First footnote reference: 35 James Simpson, Goethe and Patriarchy: Faust and the Fates of Desire (Cambridge: Legenda, 1999), p. 21.

Subsequent footnote reference: 37 Simpson, p. 47.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

Bibliography entry:

Simpson, James. 1999. Goethe and Patriarchy: Faust and the Fates of Desire (Cambridge: Legenda)

Example citation: ‘A quotation occurring on page 21 of this work’ (Simpson 1999: 21).

Example footnote reference: 35 Simpson 1999: 21.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

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