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The Faust Legend

Margueritte De Huszar Allen – The Faust Legend: Popular Formula and Modern Novel

Margueritte De Huszar Allen’s book examines both the first published version of the Faust myth, Faustbuch and Thomas Mann’s novel Doktor Fasutus. She investigates what she believes to be a hugely important connection between the two texts. Allen deals with; the origins of the Faustbuch, formulaic fiction, the aesthetics of Faust, the question of salvation and introduces the idea of the pact being the Faustian reversal as Nietzschean ressentiment.

The Faustbuch and formulaic fiction
Allen argues that the Faustbuch has been often analysed merely as a means to decode greater puzzles about the more modern representations of the myth. She believes that there is much to learn from regarding the original work as a piece of literature in its own right. She argues that the foundations for the Faustbuch lie in connection with the Calendar of Roman Catholic Saints. In particular she mentions the collection of saints’ legends by Jacobus de Voragine entitled The Golden Legend. She points out that the first time the relationship between the Faustbuch and the Calendar of Saints was fully recognised was in 1930 when Harold G. Meek wrote in his commentary on the Faustbuch;
“Apart from the very few episodes in the legend of Faust which…were historical or were borrowed from prior magicians or popular legends, every single item in Faust’s mythical deeds has a parallel in the sixteenth-century calendar of Roman Catholic Saints.” She also mentions another critic Andre Jolles who regarded the notion of the Faust Legend as the antithesis of the saint’s legend. The Saint’s legend depict the growth of the saint living according to God’s words, they face conflict with the devil and evil but ultimately they prevail (formulaic fiction)
    The author then argues that the Faust myth is a reversal of this. Faust serves the devil instead of Christ. The structure of the formula is not greatly changed just it has been inverted.

The Aesthetics of the Faust Formula 
In her chapter on the aesthetics of formulaic structures Allen describes the needs for excitement and escape but with some grounding in the familiar. She writes; ‘To achieve an aesthetically satisfying formula, the author seeks to intensify the already familiar experience of a developed formulaic form. Each individual formulaic work relates to the formula as a variation to a theme or as a performance to a text. Thus, each individual work must add some new element to the conventional structure; if it is to be successful, it must in some way be unique.
She then applies this to the Faustbuch, explaining that it maintains the familiar plot surrounding a hero’s life but also twists the details and produces a ‘unique and outrageous new version of the formula.’ Allen is convinced that the success of the Faustbuch is due to its originality and radical variation from its sources.

The Question of Salvation

Later on in her work Allen discusses the idea of hope in Mann’s Doktor Faustus. She then compares the ideas of salvation between Mann’s novel and the original Faustbuch. She argues, that whether hope exists and whether Faustus can still be saved, is negated by reality. For Mann and his Germany, which Adrian represents, and for the original Faustus, there is no hope for salvation, but there is still the idea, put forward by Zeitblom, the narrator in Mann’s novel, that one can still hold out for some possible change. There may be a hope for ‘a dialectical reversal similar in effect to the last minute conversions of the Catholic pact stories. However this is then undercut by authorial resignation with the famous lines, ‘A lonely man folds his hands and speaks: “God be merciful to thy poor soul, my friend, my Fatherland!”
Allen discusses Mann’s use of dialectical irony which creates ambivalence in Zeitblom’s narration. In turn this is shows a sharp contrast with the clear-cut doubtless nature of Faustus’s end in the Faustbuch; Faustus is damned.

The Pact: The Faustian Reversal as Nietzschean Ressentiment
Allen discusses the nature of the pact in both Mann’s novel and the Faustbuch. She states that in the latter, the pact is already being negotiated by chapter 3 and by chapter 6 Faust has signed the contract with his blood. For Mann the actual meeting with the devil is not until the middle of the novel. This is to emphasise the fact that Mann’s Faustus is damned long before he meets the devil. This is because the true pact occurred ‘in the form of an amorous union with a diseased whore called Esmeralda’, it shares similar qualities to the blood pact in the other versions of the myth as the result of the pact is that Adrian contracts syphilis, s an illness that ends after 24 years. So when Adrian encounters the Devil several years after he contracts the disease, it is during one of his migraine attacks which symbolises ‘psychological aberration.’
Ressentiment is the hostility and anger towards something that is the cause for the feelings of one’s frustration. It is the tool that one’s ego creates to insulate oneself from culpability. It is often viewed as reassignment of pain that emanates from a sense of inferiority. Allen puts forward the idea that there is a sense of ressentiment in Adrian is in regard to the inferiority he feels when studying Beethoven’s genius. Adrian feels that it was the freedom of Beethoven’s time that enabled him to create such beauty and that such freedom is no longer available.
‘The falsification of values is, in essence, the internal, spiritual Faustian reversal. By abandoning theology for music, Adrian becomes the apostate, committed not to a new faith but to the negation of the old. He will abdicate his freedom and independence to form a pact with the Devil. Beethoven’s divine inspiration becomes in Adrian demonic frenzy.’
In the latter part of the novel, Adrian returns to his childhood home which symbolises the Faustian reversal. His childhood memories are alive again yet they now stand for something tainted with psychological suffering. By giving himself to the devil, Adrian hopes paradoxically to achieve ‘by means of the dialectical reversal described by Kleiste, a new innocence in music.’


The devil and his representatives in political power have an infinite number of possible entrapments for the momentarily weak.

The mimetic element in literature confronts us with the world as we know it, while the formulaic element reflects the construction of an ideal world without the disorder, the ambiguity, the uncertainty, and the limitations of the world of our experience.
Thus, formulaic works necessarily stress intense and immediate kinds of excitement and gratification as opposed to the more complex and ambiguous analyses of the character and motivation that characterize mimetic literature. (John Cawelti)

A considerable number of studies have accumulated which deal with Mann’s use of the Spies Faustbuch as a source for his novel, his creative borrowing of structural, thematic, and stylistic elements, what Mann called his “Montage Technik.” Mann came to view montage as an integral part of the Faust theme. 

In the Faustbuch, irony is, at the most, covert as is the Faustian inversion of the saint’s life and its polemical intent against the Roman Catholic Church. They are not meant to be perceived for fear of censorship. By having Zeitblom openly discuss the reversal in the Faustbuch and the possibility of ambivalence as to Faustus’s fate, Mann adds a new ironical dimension to the issue. The effect is created of an author multiplying reflection as if in an infinite series of mirrors.

What distinguishes Mann’s Faustus from other Faust figures and reminds us most forcefully of the Faustbuch Faustus is, of course, Adrian’s conscious imitation of him.

It is the rejection of the theology in favor of the forbidden that constitutes the beginning of the Faustian inversion and Adrian’s imitation of Faustus.

Adrian’s odd manner of speaking betray his emotional reaction to Beethoven’s Fidelio. Zeitblom’s phrase is a verbal depiction of repressed envy. Adrian’sresponse to Beethoven’s brilliant achievement is not love and resignation, but the intense perception of his own sense of inadequacy. This tension between desire and impotence is then reduced by the subtle depreciation of the desirable object.

When will she reach the bottom of the abyss? When, out of uttermost hopelessness — a miracle beyond the power of belief — will the light of hope dawn? A lonely man folds his hands and speaks: “God be merciful to thy poor soul, my friend, my Fatherland!” (Thomas Mann Doktor Faustus)