Programme 2022-2023

It is essential that you book your place in advance for each event.

27 October 2022


Young Slapsauces and Old Trout: Translating Die Leiden des jungen Werthers.

Despite the appearance of Goethe’s reworked version of the novel in 1787, the Werther that made all the running in the Anglophone world, until well into the 19th century, was a relay translation from the French, based on the Weygand second edition of 1775. It was not until 1854 that this was superseded by R D Boylan’s translation of the revised Werther. Since then, to my knowledge, all subsequent translations into English, apart from William Rose’s in 1929, have been of the second version. They include at least five this century. In this paper I discuss some of the issues I have encountered in attempting to English Wertherin its first and most influential incarnation. These will include what has been called the “instability of originals” and its implications for translators, also how the Anglophone translator should approach the novel’s extensive adaptation from Macpherson’s intrinsically unstable Ossian.

8 December 2022


Randfiguren. Ernst Brandes’ and Franz Josias von Hendrich’s Assessments of the French Revolution as new perspectives on old topics.

Looking at Brandes’ Politische Betrachtungen über die französische Revolution (1790) and Hendrich’s Freymütige Gedanken über die allerwichtigste Angelegenheit Deutschlands (1794), the paper discusses these two writers as examples of political and cultural commentators who were widely read and well respected at the time but are now either completely forgotten (Hendrich) or only a historical footnote (Brandes). The aim is less to resurrect them as lost ‘greats’ than to illuminate, through reading their book-length comments, the complex and shifting reactions to the Revolution in Germany and to ask why their considerable contemporary fame evaporated so quickly. Both were early supporters of the original aims of the Revolution, which does not quite fit the picture of the limited reception Brandes has had as a political conservative, nor the expectation one might have of Hendrich, given his life-long high-level involvement in the administration of Saxe-Meiningen. This approach of investigating ‘temporary canonicity’ yields twofold gains: writers who are widely read by their contemporaries provide insights into aspects of the contemporary context that may have become obscured, while their marginalisation may provide clues, or even evidence, for subtle historical shifts.

26 January 2023

Prawer Lecture


Gessner’s Voegel, Klopstock’s Frühlingswürmchen, and Lavater’s Schmetterling. Metaphors of Mortality and Metamorphosis in Eighteenth-Century Religious Literature

(preceded by the Annual General Meeting, at 5pm)
This lecture explores animal metaphors of mortality and metamorphosis in three eighteenth- century works of religious literature. Gessner’s epic poem Der Tod Abels (1758) describes how the discovery of a dead bird prompts Eve to reflect on her responsibility for human mortality. Klopstock’s hymnic poem ‘Die Frühlingsfeyer’ (1759) questions the impermanence of life by the example of a little insect, the ‘Frühlingswürmchen’. In Lavater’s play Abraham und Isaak (1776), the metamorphosis of a butterfly proves that death is the threshold to eternity. What were the functions of animal metaphors in the literary reception of the Bible, and how did they shape the German-language tradition of religious literature?

16 March 2023

Wilkinson-Willoughby Lecture


Genesis. Beobachtungen zur Interdisziplinarität bei Goethe

27 April 2023


Female Quixotes, or: Symptomatic Readers and the Sentimental Novel

8 June 2023


Meister meets Quijote: Singing from the same hymn sheet?