Faust, Part 1 by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1808)


Okay, Faust is pretty good. I read the translation by Peter Salm.

My favorite bit is that Mephistopheles, the devil, first appears in the flesh as… get this, a demonic poodle. Yes. Poodle. Demonic poodle. Major points to Goethe.

My biggest annoyance is how unsatisfying the end of the first part is, because I was totally not planning to track down a copy of a good translation of part 2. And after reading a synopsis of that (I know, I’m a sinner) I’m not sure I want to read it.

I’m not sure I can even talk about this without being all spoilery, so if that’s a problem, stop reading. Okay. Okay?

We start with a scene like the one in Job. The devil is talking to God, and says, “Oh, I see you’ve got this servant, God, but I bet I can corrupt him.” “Oh yeah? Go ahead and try then.”

That’s Faust. He’s a scholar. He’s decided that knowledge isn’t worth seeking because it’s all useless. And then Mephistopheles comes along and says, “Hi, Faust. I see you’re unhappy. I’m the devil. I can make you happy.”

And Faust says, “Yeah, right. But… you’re welcome to try.”

So among other things, the devil gives Faust a potion that restores his youth, including his, um, libido. And then a pretty girl walks by. BOOM. I MUST HAVE HER.

The devil says, “Oh no, not that one. She’ll take time because she’s so virtuous.” And yes, Margarete is good. Like, really good. Only Faust is so obsessed with finding pleasure above all other things, that he and the devil seduce her by degrees. And by the end of the book, the angelic Margarete has committed some pretty nasty sins—she poisons mom so she isn’t caught with a man in her bedroom, she gets pregnant and Faust kinda disappears, and ends up killing her newborn… and…

Anyway, I had a hard time with it. The end of part 1 moved really quickly and time passed off screen. It was hard to swallow. I didn’t see how Margarete went from angel to scum, but she did. It all happened off stage.

And, at the very end, we see a penitent Margarete in prison. Faust is trying to rescue her from execution, but she has no desire to escape what she views as the rightful punishment for her sins. So the devil pulls Faust away, claiming to leave Margarete to her damnation—only, some divine voice whispers, that no, she is saved—presumably because she is truly repentant. But anyway, the good girl falls from virtue, manages to repent but still be executed, and the STUPID, STUPID man behind the whole thing just runs off with the devil some more.

So yeah. Faust. Apparently, this is my sister’s favorite work of literature, so I need to have a talk with her. Maybe she sees something in it that I don’t…

But hey, there is the demonic poodle. That helped a little.



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