Friday, April 6, 2012

Life of a Good-for-Nothing

I just finished Joseph Von Eichendorff's classic romantic novel Life of a Good-for-Nothing.  It's a good thing it's spring, because I feel I'd dismiss Eichendorff's adventure as "bunk" and "humbug" in any other season.  It's definitely a novel to read in spring, preferably while reclining in an open field, and thinking about falling in love for no verifiable reason.
Now, I am certainly a romantic, but even while typing this between two pictures of my wedding day, cannot I reconcile the amusing, though clearly nonsensical, story with the total lack of real substance.  The Good-for-Nothing's love interest, referred to throughout as the "beautiful lady," only speaks at the end of the work.  Granted, she isn't required to, considering the nature of the work, but if we're looking for truly great art, shouldn't she offer something to the main character other than a pretty face?  I mean, he meets many pretty faces throughout his journey and seems to be clearly interested in each one, yet he remains ardently in love with this one.  It's a stretch of the imagination, though not as much as the twists at the end.  I feel like even Dickens would come to the end of this book and be dumbfounded by the  absurd ending, which seems to come out of nowhere.
Regardless of this main criticism, it's hard to not be enchanted by the Good-for-Nothing's adventures.  He's a genuinely decent fellow, and anyone who's ever had a desire to go traipsing across the countryside just to see what there is to see will find him hard to resist.  And there is the novel's staying power, I feel.  As one person put it, the Good-for-Nothing (who is never named) is the embodiment of the German spirit.  I would go one step further and say he is the embodiment of the human spirit.  He is generous, kind, foolhardy, selfish, ridiculous, devout, religious, and essentially all the adjectives each of us could use to describe ourselves.
And so, this short novel--just over an hundred pages--continues to attract readers close to two hundred years after it was published.  While not as artistically satisfying, I would put it in the same arena as Don Quixote, The Pickwick Papers, or On the Road.  There's just something attractive about an overly romantic character. Perhaps it's because so many of us let ourselves grow calous.  Well, I recommend that this Spring, whoever is reading this take the time to read Eichendorff's Life of a Good-for-Nothing.  Personally, I think we could all stand be a little more good-for-nothing.