Q&A with Susan Gustafson

By | July 7, 2016

Susan Gustafson, author of the recently released Goethe's Families of the Heart, answered a few questions for us about how she came to write her new book.

How would you describe your book in one sentence?
Goethe’s Families of the Heart outlines the families and relationships that Goethe highlights throughout his works that are based on love, including families with same-sex parents and adoptive families.

What drew to you writing about this subject?
Traditional scholarship focused on dysfunctional and broken families represented in Goethe’s works and my question was: Did Goethe portray any successful and ideal families? My discovery was that families that come together through love are the ideal families in Goethe’s works. These families include biological, adoptive, group families, and families with two fathers and two mothers, etc.

How long have you been researching it? How did you come to study it?
I have been focusing my research on Goethe’s representations of families since 2010. The more I re-read Goethe’s works, the more I realized that he was providing consistent representations of non-aristocratic and non-bourgeois family structures based on love and not on preserving heritage or strengthening one’s economic ventures.

What does your book focus on that hasn’t been explored elsewhere?
Previous scholarship focused on the aristocratic and bourgeois and father controlled families that Goethe represents throughout his works as falling apart and dysfunctional. Scholars did not address the families of love that Goethe foregrounds throughout his works.

What initially drew you to Literary Studies?
I love to read and write and teach and studying German literature was my passion in College, so I decided to become a Professor of German.

Which Bloomsbury Lit Studies books have you read? Which are your favorites, and why?
I have read several of the books in the New Directions in German Studies series and found them all to be excellent. Sabine-Maria Weineck’s book on The Tragedy of Fatherhood was very useful to me as I worked on my book, especially since she provides a broad overview and analysis of the tragic representations of fathers in German literature.


Goethe_smallSusan E. Gustafson is Karl F. and Bertha A. Fuchs Professor of German Studies at the University of Rochester, USA. Her areas of research include 18th-20th-century German literature, aesthetic theory, conceptions of families, gender studies, psychoanalysis, and feminism. She is the author of Absent Mothers and Orphaned Fathers: Narcissism and Abjection in Lessing’s Aesthetic Production (1995) and Men Desiring Men: The Poetry of Same-Sex Identity and Desire in German Classicism (2002).

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