A Faustian Versprechen: Dürrenmatt, Staiger, and Late Goethe

Arlene A. Teraoka


Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s detective novel of 1958, Das Versprechen, begins by mentioning a lecture by Emil Staiger on late Goethe that draws a large audience in the Swiss city of Chur, leaving only a few to attend a competing talk that same evening by a Swiss author on the art of writing crime novels. This essay makes an argument for Das Versprechen as Dürrenmatt’s critique of the ethical and political stance embedded in Staiger’s aesthetics and, in particular, in Staiger’s reading of Goethe’s Faust. The discussion draws connections among the powerful aura of the Swiss literary critic Emil Staiger in the 1950s postwar era; the comforting idyllic self-image of Switzerland as a country of democracy, prosperity, and neutrality; and disturbing references to Goethe’s Faust in Dürrenmatt’s novel of a serial child murderer. (AAT)

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