Faust: My Soul be Damned for the World (2 vols.)
By E. A. Bucchianeri. 2008. Bloomington: AuthorHouse. 1140 pages. ISBN: 978-1434390608 (soft cover).
Reviewed by K. A. Laity, The College of Saint Rose
[Review length: 798 words • Review posted on March 9, 2010]
The advent of digital publishing has made it possible for authors to self-publish works that no publisher would find economically feasible. Bucchianeri's massive two-volume study of Faust analogues and sources would be an unlikely choice for any mainstream publisher, overstuffed as it is by examples, tangents, and obsessive detail. This exhaustive compendium will nonetheless be a useful handbook for those interested in the Faustus legend to consult, aiming at comprehensiveness rather than comprehension. It is tempting to see the author engaged in a pursuit nearly as obsessive as the legendary fictional character, surrounded by his notebooks and occult objects, muttering to himself as he conjures this eventual tome.
Like all fanatical endeavors, the focus is sharp yet not always on the things that the rest of us would like to see. From the start, this aspect of the study becomes clear. Bucchianeri begins with the overlong sentence, "Faust, the notorious reprobate who willingly forfeited his immortal soul to the devil in exchange for the fleeting illusory pleasures of the world as depicted and recounted in the famous works of art, literature, drama and music, did not originate as the imaginary brainchild of a literary genius" (9). While I immediately assumed he referred to Marlowe, I'm sure just as many will assume he refers to Goethe (a quick glance at the table of contents will make clear that it is the latter). Having his head down over the Faustian materials with a microscope, Bucchianeri assumes the reader to be right beside him, too, seeing what he sees and thinking what he thinks. Rarely will this be the case. Most handbooks of this type acknowledge this difference by preparing the materials for easy access at any point of reference. For the casual reader—assuming such a thing might exist—this kind of rhetorical guidance is almost completely lacking.
The language of the study, likewise, does little to captivate the reader. As a compendium of useful facts, there's not likely to be a replacement any time soon. Bucchianeri pursues every avenue of Faustian analogue with a dogged persistence that would win accolades from Ahab. The bulk of the second volume is dedicated to a minute examination of the composition and text of Goethe's work, ending with an annotated chronology of his life. Clearly it is this text that drives Bucchianeri's compulsion. His final words on the subject cement this impression. After declaring the drama to be the indisputable "zenith" of Faustian legends, he goes on to tell us what this means:
“Although many failed to appreciate, or indeed, to understand this magnum opus in its entirety, from this point onward his drama was the rule by which all other Faust adaptations were measured. Goethe had eclipsed the earlier legends and became the undisputed authority on the subject of Faust in the eyes of the new Romantic generation. To deviate from his path would be nothing short of blasphemy” (665).
Here the fanatical gleam in the eye shines brightest. While doubtless many would argue that the importance of Goethe's drama would come first among all others, there are plenty who would argue that the narrative focus and mordant humor of Marlowe's vision has never been surpassed. Few scholars on either side would argue it quite so ardently. Both dramas have proved influential, certainly.
This single-mindedness will doubtless spark some controversy. Bucchianeri puts so much weight on the Masonic controversies that one gets the impression of a sort of Da Vinci Code mystery with the poet running in fear of his life from the fellow Masons who would silence his pen even if it cost the nation their favorite writer. While there may be more menace in attacks on Goethe than simply literary scolding, one need not invoke Occam to persuade that it is hardly convincing to argue for murderous plots on the basis that "this answer is too simplistic" (664).
While Bucchianeri occasionally gives in to a somewhat heated rhetoric based on somewhat dubious interpolations, there remains much in the set to celebrate. Bucchianeri's unceasing search for source materials brings together in one place the many texts that build the Faust legend from the late Middle Ages onward, including tables of contents for various iterations of the legend and a timeline of the twenty-eight major documents from the first possible candidates for the role model as the legend develops from a troublesome scholar conjuring for nobility and inflicting demons upon his detractors, to the eventual template of the man who sold his soul to the devil. Faust fans will enjoy the coverage of the puppet plays and of Lessing's lost play. While scholars will probably continue to consult more authoritative German texts, the English-speaking fan will find entertainment in the pages of this collection, though she would do well to read with a skeptical eye.