The book contains essays on Goethe’s “Werther,” Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, and Faust; on Schiller’s theory of modern literature; and on Hölderlin’s Hyperion. Written between 1934 and 1940, these essays interpret the classical German literature in terms of the “ideological preparation of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Germany.” According to this interpretation, the literary works of this period reflect the basic contradiction of the bourgeois revolution: that between the ideology of liberty and liberation on the one side, and the “miserable reality” of capitalist society on the other. This contradiction, insoluble within the bourgeois world, determines the inner limitations and the various literary forms of the classical Humanitätsideal. In developing this conception, Lukács places the exemplary products of classical German literature in the framework of the specific historical conditions prevalent in Germany at that time. He uses the well-known concept of the “retarded bourgeois-democratic revolution.” In contrast with the more advanced countries of Western Europe, there was no strong and progressive middle class in Germany capable of defeating the obsolete feudal-absolutistic regime and its institutions; there was above all no “Jacobin” force, no radical petty bourgeoisie

and semi-proletariat which could give the progressive demands of the bourgeois revolution their political manifestation. This lack of an actual struggle for the fulfillment of these demands had a twofold effect. On the one hand, the remoteness from political practice and its consequence gave the German poets and philosophers an apparently unlimited realm for the development of the theory of the bourgeois world. “It is no accident that the laws of contradictory development, the principles of the dialectical method were consciously elaborated in Germany during the period from Lessing to Heine, that Goethe and Hegel raised this method to the highest possible level within the limits of bourgeois thought.” On the other hand, however, the lack of a political solution forced the most advanced representatives of bourgeois thought either into romanticist obscurantism, or into heroicutopian desperation (Hölderlin), or into realistic accommodation and resignation (Goethe and Hegel). But even the remotest transfigurations of the revolutionary bourgeois demands in classical German literature retain their societal origin and content-although in distorted and metaphysical forms.