One Faust or Two?


What does it mean to speak of “Goethe’s Faust?” The title poses a problem of ambiguity, since there are actually (at least) two books by Goethe called Faust. It is true that the Second Faust appears, at least at first, to be “the second part of the tragedy.” But the large gap between the two parts makes it quite easy to think of them as two distinct texts: the Second Faust was published nearly 25 years after the first. Moreover, the form and particularly labyrinthine structure of the second part makes it so wholly different from the First Faust that it cannot easily be attached to it.

This ambiguity opened up a wide array of possible editorial choices over the years. What was a reader really getting behind a cover announcing “Goethe—Faust?” Two 1840 French editions provide a perfect case study: Charles Gosselin, editing Nerval’s translation, opted for a dissociation of the two parts through a double title: Goethe’s Faust, followed by the Second Faust. The same year, Charpentier published, with the title Goethe’s Faust, Complete Translation, a translation of both “parts” of the tragedy, along with a few fragments (the “paralipomena”).

Having caught wind of Gosselin’s project, Charpentier served notice to his fellow publisher through the press: “I shall bring M. Charles Gosselin before the tribunal, for having usurped the title of the Two Fausts, which is my property, since it does not exist in the original text, and which I created to demonstrate the critical distinction between the translation done by M. Henri Blaze, which is the complete translation, and preceding ones, which contain only the Margaret episode [which is to say First Faust].” The following week, Nerval answered in the same pages: “The title Two Fausts does not belong to M. Charpentier, but to everyone, since there are two Fausts by Goethe, and it would be impossible to call them by any other name.”

Not entirely impossible, it would seem, since in the end both editors opted for another title, without needing to result to any tribunals!