Johann Goethe's classic novel, wherein the protagonist undergoes a period of enlightening realization after he aspires to escape his mundane life as a merchant, is presented here complete in a single volume.
Notable for being an early example of the Bildungsroman - a story depicting the central character's growth thanks to his circumstances and efforts - Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship shows us a character whose life typifies middle-class mediocrity. Eager to escape a benign existence and reach some sort of higher goal which, in the beginning, even he is unaware of - Wilhelm is portrayed as a haphazard and lascivious, if determined, hero.
The book is characterized by numerous romances, the first being Wilhelm's affair with Mariane, a young theatre actress. Eventually he is recruited into a shadowy association named the Tower Society, which reveals it has been watching closely his progress through the world since he vowed to abandon his routine existence as a trader.
Lengthy and at times meandering, the book was never rated by critics of literature either at the time of its release or subsequently. A common criticism is that most the characters aside from William lack in depth, and serve only to advance his journey through life as bit players in the story-at-large. Another is that the plot sometimes veers to the fantastical, while leaving twists - such as the methods behind the Tower Society's surveillance - completely unexplained.
However, readers and scholars have noted that the timeless wisdom and genius of Goethe shines through on frequent occasions. His keen understanding of human fallibility occurs in moments of sudden insight, wherein revelations on humanity are dispensed. Perhaps most valuable in terms of a recurrent theme are Goethe's contemplation of William Shakespeare's dramas, particularly that of Hamlet.
Intended not merely for entertainment, Goethe's second novel occasionally veers to outright philosophy, as in this thought from William:
"The rude man is content if he sees but something going on; the man of more refinement must be made to feel; the man entirely refined, desires to reflect."