“James regarded Goethe as one of the three greatest figures in Western culture, alongside Plato and Beethoven, and Goethe's impact on James was commensurate with this view. In his early twenties, he studied Goethe and Schiller whilst learning German in Bonn, acquiring a good knowledge of some difficult texts, including Die Wahlverwandtschaften and Hermann und Dorothea, and continued to show an interest in Goethe in later life, e.g. in his lengthy review of a reissue of Carlyle's translation of Wilhelm Meister and in a late letter on Die Wahlverwandtschaften.
James's literary reception of Goethe can be seen throughout his career, beginning with his first novel, Roderick Hudson. Strands from Werther, Faust, and Wilhelm Meister can all be found in what is essentially a tragic "Künstlerroman"; at the end of James's early period, The Tragic Muse, with its subject of the theatre, recalls Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre as a Theaterroman; and at the end of the middle period, What Maisie Knew echoes Ottilie's misfortune in Die Wahlverwandtschaften. Arguably, the transparent structure and the moral ambiguity of Die Wahlverwandtschaften also played a part in helping to fashion the transparent complexities of the last three novels, the crown of James's achievement, The Ambassadors, The Golden Bowl and The Wings of the Dove. Moreover, James's treatment of "the international theme" in his novels closely echoes Goethe's call upon writers to produce what he called "Weltliteratur".”
|Adler at a poetry meeting, circa 1977, about the time he was working on his dissertation on the chemistry used in Goethe's Elective Affinities.  |
“To date, Jeremy Adler has provided the most detailed study of Goethe’s research in the history of chemistry, particularly “Zur Geschichte der chemischen ‘Verwandtschaft’ (The History of Chemical Affinity).”— Karl Fink (1991), Goethe’s History of Science