Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Portrait of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman, theatre director and critic hailed as one of Germany’s most important writers. Strictly from the “Sturm und Drang” (Storm and Stress) period nevertheless he was a major influence on the Romantic movement. He was born in Frankfurt, Germany on 28th August 1749 and died in Weimar, Germany on 22nd March 1832 aged 82.

Major Works

“The Sorrows of Young Werther” (1774)
“Faust” (Part I, 1808; Part II, (1832)

Biography Timeline

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born on 28th August 1749 in Frankfurt am Main Germany. His father was a lawyer.

1765: He moves to Leipzig, Germany to study law even though he was more interested in literature.

1767: He publishes his first volume of poetry which is inspired by his love for Anna Katharina Schönkopf.

1768: He returns to Frankfurt. He takes up studying art, philosophy and science for his own interest.

1770: He returns to his law studies in Strasbourg. He publishes another volume of poetry inspired by his love for another woman called Friedericke Brion.

1772: He begins working as a lawyer in Wetzlar. During the summer he is inspired to write his first novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther“. He also starts sketching out his idea for a drama based on Faust story.

1774: “The Sorrows of Young Werther is published. It is immediately a huge success and causes a wave of imitations of the character Werther and suicides amongst young men across Europe. Goethe is grouped with other writers who are part of the “Sturm and Drang” movement (Storm and Stress).

1775: He becomes an advisor to Grand Duke Karl August at the Ducal Court of Weimar. This is a busy life leaving him little time for creating works of literature. He falls in love with another young woman named Lili Schönemann and proposes to her but soon breaks off the engagement. In November he becomes friendly with Charlotte von Stein the wife of a colleague, a friendship which is to last for many years.

1786: He suddenly abandons his post and friends in Weimar and spends two years traveling in Italy under an assumed name. He is greatly impressed by the art of the Renaissance and the Classical period and considers becoming an artist himself.

1788: He finally returns to Weimar a new man and works on several plays and more poetry over the coming years. Friedrich von Schiller travels to Weimar to meet Goethe at his home and although the initial meeting was slightly frosty Goethe became impressed by Schiller’s work and the two became firm friends.

1790: He publishes the first volume of “Faust“.

1791: He is appointed director of the Weimar Court Theatre.

1792–93: He is often by the side of Grand Duke Karl August on his military campaigns against Napoleon Bonaparte.

1806: He marries Christiane Vulpius, after many years of living together. She works making artificial flowers in a local factory. The Prussian army is defeated by the Napoleon at the Battle of Jena on 14th October and his troops enter Weimar.

1808: Bonaparte has been an admirer of Goethe and awards him the French Legion of Honor.

1810: He continues his studies in various scientific fields and he publishes “On Colour“. This becomes an influential work on the subject during the next decades.

1811: The first volume of Goethe’s “Poetry and Truth” is published.

1812: He meets Ludwig van Beethoven in the Bohemian spa town of Teplitz. They did not get on as Goethe thought Beethoven “uncontrolled” and Beethoven thought that Goethe was too obsequious to the nobility. The second volume of “Poetry and Truth” is published.

1813: The third volume of “Poetry and Truth” is published.

1816: His wife Christiane dies.

1817: He finally finishes in the post of Director of the Weimar Court Theatre.

1823: He falls in love with the teenage Ulrike von Levetzow in the spa town of Marienbad. She turned down his proposal but it inspired Goethe to write three poems about his heartbreak including on called “To Werther”.

1831: He completes the second volume of “Faust” and the fourth volume of “Poetry and Truth” although both will be published posthumously.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe dies on March 22 1832 and was buried in the Weimarer Fürstengruft (Ducal Crypt) in Weimar on the 26th next to his friend and fellow poet Johann Friedrich von Schiller.