May 19, 2024

‘Great Lives’ Lecture Series Continues with Goethe

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The William B. Crawley Great Lives Lecture Series continues on Thursday, Feb. 25 with German poet and author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, presented by UMW Professor Emeritus of German Sammy Merrill. The Davenport & Company Lecture.

Because of restrictions on public gatherings on campus, the entire series of 18 lectures will be pre-recorded and delivered electronically, through Zoom Webinars, with closed captioning available. Although the presentations will be taped in advance, there will still be a live Q&A session following the online debut of each lecture, in which the speaker will be available to answer questions submitted by audience members.

Portrait of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832, a German poet and author.

Portrait of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832, a German poet and author.

The German author, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is known to most of the English-speaking world as the author of Faust, the story of a scholar, who, disillusioned with the course of his life, and seeking new directions to the truth, turns in frustration to the Devil and enters a compact with him. It is one of numerous plays that he wrote, along with hundreds of poems, and four major path-breaking novels.

His first major dramatic work was Goetz von Berlichingen, which immediately catapulted him into the forefront of the movement known as “Storm and Stress.” Similarly, his first novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, was such a sensation that for much of Goethe’s life he was known as the author of Werther. He was also known outside the world of belles lettres for his writings on scientific topics as diverse as color theory, plant and animal morphology, and geology.

Duke Karl August appointed him chief minister of state, the highest official after the duke himself in the duchy of Weimar. During his lifetime Goethe enjoyed close personal and intellectual relationships with many women who were important for his development as an artist and a man. The body of work of this universal genius fills more than 133 volumes in the Weimar edition of his collected works.

Other upcoming lectures include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, presented by Professor of Political Science and International Affairs Jason Davidson; Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston and southern novelist Eudora Welty, presented by Professor of English and English Department Chair Gary Richards; and St. Augustine, presented by Associate Professor of Religious Studies Jennifer Barry. To learn more about Great Lives and view past and upcoming lectures, please visit