Book Review: Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

A quick note on translation.  Obviously, “Faust” is not originally an English text.  This means that someone has to take the German original and translate it into English for those of us too lazy to learn another language.  This version of “Faust” was translated by Bayard Taylor who did an outstanding job.  You can get it off of Project Gutenberg for free.  How in the world one takes a text written in verse in a different language and translates it into English while being able to keep the rhyme and the cadence AND hold true to the original meaning is beyond me.  I stand in awe.  Of course, I don’t have much to compare it to considering I’ve not read “Faust” before.  Maybe all are equally as good.

“Faust” is more a beautiful work of art than it is a good story.  In fact, the story is pretty crappy.  Man has almost everything.  Man wants more.  Man makes pact with devil.  Man wants girl.  Devil helps get girl.  Man destroys girl and her family.  Man lives happily ever after.  Poor Margaret.  A feminist book this is not.

Everything around the story is just phenomenal, though.  There is scene after scene of fascinating characters with entertaining dialogue.  Most of the time, it is quite easy to follow the unfolding of the story despite the verse.  Some of the free verse stuff can get a little thick and difficult to follow at times, but poetry’s not meant to be easy.  Those times were trying, but they were minimal.

It is clear why “Faust” is one of those books that has lasted 200 years.  It is a timeless tale woven into an artistic tapestry.  While reading, I couldn’t help but think how much more beautiful the original German version is.  I am sure that countless people were drawn to the German language just by the power of reading a translation of “Faust” alone.

Here’s an interesting “Faust” fact that I got from Wikipedia.  In the original version of “Faust”, while Margaret is rotting away in jail after accidentally killing her mom and drowning her baby, a chorus of angels cries out that Margaret is condemned – “Sie ist gerichtet!”.  Goethe quickly changed it to Margaret being saved – “Sie ist gerettet” – which makes much less sense to me, but was apparently a crowd pleaser.  What amazes me is how similar “gerichtet” and “gerrettet” are to each other.  You could probably easily mistake one for the other if not pronounced clearly.  Maybe for Germans being saved and being condemned are pretty much the same thing.