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Saul, Nicholas (2015). ‘Vorgänger Darwins’ or ‘Nachfolger Goethes’? Wilhelm Bölsche on Evolutionism in Goethe and Novalis or, Literature and the Two Cultures Then and Now. Publications of the English Goethe Society 84(1): 76-91.

Author(s) from Durham


This essay is the first to consider Wilhelm Bölsche’s activity as editor of, and commentator on, Novalis’s work. It does so on the one hand by contrasting Bölsche’s image of Novalis with his image of Goethe, and on the other by setting that in the context of Bölsche’s evolutionist theory of culture. Both are said to represent evolutionism in an early and vigorous form, and so to ‘precede’ Darwin. Finally, Bölsche’s evolutionist characterization of Novalis as a sympathetically Faustian conqueror of other cultures is critically evaluated against his own, later essay on Columbus and the Conquistadors. Bölsche’s attempt to propagate an evolutionary critique of culture is in conclusion argued to prefigure key tendencies of today’s cognitive humanities and evolutionary poetics.