When Goethe was born, the Ancien Régime was still in place and powdered wigs were still worn; by his death, the first train lines were already crossing the German territory. Goethe was thus a privileged witness to the revolutionary transformations that took place around him and were reflected in his outut and his vast correspondence. In fact, he was the first author to conceive an autobiography based on the inextricable relation the individual maintains with his time. Hence, when referring to Goethe’s life, reference must inevitably be made to the birth of modern Germany, as his works marked the beginning of the German cultural revolution, which would produce figures such as Marx, Nietzsche and Freud.
Of all of Goethe’s works, we are most familiar with his novel The Sorrow of Young Werther, which led the way to Romanticism, and his tragedy in verse Faust I, which generated some of the most important modern archetypes. From a present-day perspective, accustomed ad nauseam to Romantic clichés and the Romantic sensitivity, it is difficult to ascertain the extent to which Goethe caused an authentic aesthetic revolution with these works in contrast to the old stagnant canons. However, in other less accessible or lesser-known works to Spanish readers, Goethe demonstrated his ability to bring together the trends of the intellectual life of his time and reflect on the moral ambivalence of modernity. Inductively based on quotes and excerpts, this lecture will provide an approach to the complexity of his literary output.