Saturday, February 21, 2009
Faust: My Soul be Damned for the World (Volumes I & II)
by E. A. Bucchianeri
(AuthorHouse / Large format paperback with notes, appendices, and bibliography. Volume I: 1-434-39060-8 / 978-1-434-39060-8 / September 2008 / 436 pages / $65.00. Volume II: 1-434-39061-6 – 978-1-434-39061-5 – September 2008 / 704 pages - $95.00)
Reviewed by Malcolm Campbell for PODBRAM
E. A. Bucchianeri describes her two-volume work on the back cover as “a comprehensive exploration of Dr. Faust, the man who sold his soul to the devil, and those who lived to tell his tale.”
“Comprehensive” is almost an understatement, for the scope and scholarship of this two-volume, large-format Faust – My Soul be Damned for the World is astonishing. Bucchianeri traces the evolution of the Faust legends and literature from the historical individual who called himself Faustus (c1466 – c1538) through early folktales and Christopher Marlowe’s drama The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (1604) to Goethe’s closet drama Faust: The Tragedy Part One (1829) and Faust: The Tragedy Part Two (1832).
Clearly, the Faustian literature evolved with the times, and at each stage, Bucchianeri shows how the influences of the church, state, society and the education, upbringing and life experiences of the of the principal authors and commentators changed the intent and flavor of the legend. The Faust story, as Joseph L. Henderson notes in Man and his Symbols (Carl Jung, Ed.) dramatizes man’s battle with the dark or negative side of his personality, the “‘shadow’ figure that Goethe describes as ‘part of that power which, willing evil, finds the good.’” One of the greatest strengths of Buchianeri’s work is in its heavily documented presentation of the vast symbolism found throughout the multiple versions of the legend.
The historical Dr. Faustus, Faust books and folk tales, Marlowe’s drama with its “A and B texts,” the puppet plays, and Lessing’s unfinished drama comprise Volume I. At the outset, Bucchianeri writes, “Faust, the notorious reprobate who willingly forfeited his immortal soul to the devil in exchange of the fleeting illusory pleasures of the world as recounted in famous works of drama, literature, and music did not originate as the imaginary brainchild of a literary genius.A historical figure named ‘Faust’ did exist.”
Separating the historical personage from the folklore that quickly arose in letters, pamphlets and that individual’s own circulated exaggerations of his “powers” requires careful research. “Faustus” was the title/pseudonym used by Georg Helmstetter who was born in or near Heidelberg, Germany, in the mid-1400s. He was an educated man and, according to reports, an accurate astrologer. His self-aggrandizing claims of dark-side occult powers and an association with the Devil gave rise to the initial folklore and popular Faust books.
Bucchianeri brings order to the documented facts about Christopher Marlowe’s contribution to the Faust legend during Elizabethan times. She writes that the poet and dramatist “recognized in the character of Faustus his personal cynicism in regard to the subject of religion and his ardent desire to accomplish great deeds in the world.”
Here, as with the Goethe material, the author ostensibly presents readers with a miniature biography of the dramatist as a means of demonstrating important themes in the resulting play. Marlowe’s difficult route to a college degree and his rebellious views and lifestyle play into his version of “Faust.”
Goethe worked on “Faust” throughout his lifetime. Like Marlowe, Goethe had deep and basic questions about religion. He brought to “Faust” his youthful, manic-depressive mood swings and a wealth of study into subjects including the greater and lesser mysteries, alchemy and freemasons as Bucchianeri shows in Volume II.
Written in an academic style, Faust – My Soul be Damned for the World, will be of especial interest to scholars as well as serious students of the Faust legends, Marlowe, and Goethe. The scope of work and impeccable research may, in fact, be definitive insofar as the development of the literary Faust is concerned.
Some readers will find the biographical detail about Marlowe and Goethe to be too lengthy, far exceeding that which is required to illustrate how their personalities and their lives and studies influenced their Faust dramas.
If a second edition of Faust – My Soul be Damned for the World is released, the work will be greatly strengthened by the addition of an introduction that explains how this work differs from earlier Faust literature, concise chapter summaries and additional subheads and sidebars to break up the ponderous sections of straight text, a biography showing the author’s credentials for writing the book, and a comprehensive index.
That said, this work is a labor of love that greatly adds to our understanding of the literary Faust as he grew with the changing times.
See Also: The March of Books Review
The Faust Wikipedia Page