Synopsis and Final Scenes from Goethe’s
Stella. Ein Schauspiel für Liebende (Berlin 1776)
Caroline writes to Luise Gotter from Jena on 12 December 1796 (letter 174):
Madam Schütz has revealed to me that she, too, intends to set one [an amateur theater] up in her house. She offered me a role, albeit — or so it seemed — without much confidence. The first piece is to be The Miser by Molière . . . We spoke about other pieces one might be able to perform, and when I hinted that I thought I could handle the role of Cäcilie in Stella, she seized on it with both hands, since she would like to take on the role of Stella. And now only imagine! Who, in that case, would not feel a more affectionate inclination for the abandoned Cäcilie than is usually the case?
Concerning the character of the two women whose roles Madame Schütz and Caroline are proposing to play — Stella and Cäcilie — see the editorial afterword to the play in Goethes Werke, Hamburger Ausgabe in 14 Bänden, ed. Erich Trunz, vol. 4, Dramatische Dichtungen II, ed. Wolfgang Kayser (Munich 1968), 573–74:
Fernando is a sensitive, imaginative man who, however, lacks the inclination and energy to take control of his own life. Although we hear that he was an officer in the military, even he himself makes fun of the meaninglessness of such a career; he is instead portrayed solely in his relationship with the two women. . . . [abandons both women out of restlessness] When he finds his wife and daughter again [albeit only again out of restlessness], his sense for his inviolable obligation as a spouse and father reawakens, as inviolable, that is, as is that toward his beloved Stella. He sees no way out of this conflict than to reach for his pistol. . . .
Cecile [Caroline], the wife whom he abandons, has lost all that gave her joy in life with the disappearance of her spouse. She lives in the past, whatever pleasant experiences the present brings inevitably remind her of the singular, full joy of that earlier time. She overcomes her initial despair through activity aimed at securing a means of support and through her daughter [Lucy]. Although nothing can fill the void, she has at least managed to gain some distance. In her spouse’s disappearance she sees not his guilt, but merely the yearning for freedom in every man. She has matured through suffering and is now capable of renunciation. In his guiding remarks concerning the character of Cecile, Goethe remarks that “Cecile quickly casts off what initially seem like the weaker, oppressed elements of her personality and appears before us in grand radiance as a free heroine of both feeling and understanding.”
Goethe then asks that the actress portraying Stella [Henriette Schütz] “not only portray elements of indestructible affection, passionate love, and ardent enthusiasm, but also bring all her emotions to expression in sweeping us forth with her.” Stella is wholly a woman who loves, who, not yet knowing the world, blossomed forth for the first time only through love . . . Her activities with household matters and the village girls lack emotional commitment. Her sensitive heart beats solely in time with nature and at the grave of her child, experiences which, however, merely cause her to feel even more keenly her loneliness.
In the light of these remarks and the remarks about Anna Henriette Schütz in Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter in October/November 1796 (letter 173), note 8, see the following synopsis and translation into English from 1798, that is, shortly after Caroline is here writing, which provides the reader with a vivid illustration of the personality of the characters with whom Caroline and Madam Schütz so closely identify: 
Cecilia, under the name of Mrs. Summers, and Lucy, her daughter, stop at a post-house on the road, near the mansion of Stella, who, since her husband, to whom she is most passionately attached, went from home about three years since, has secluded herself from society, and indulged her melancholy in solitude.
Lucy is engaged to be the companion of Stella, and her mother, whose husband deserted her, and is supposed to have been shipwrecked, is conducting her to the new habitation. They determine, however, to dine at the inn: Ferdinand, in an officer’s uniform, arrives in his carriage, just as they are sitting down, and joins the party. [Conversation with Lucy in Cecile’s absence ] After dinner, Mrs. Summers and her daughter proceed to the hall, and are introduced to Stella. The first interview is so extremely foreign to english manners at least, that to many it may appear, as it did to us, unnatural and absurd. Stella, and the mother of Lucy, total strangers to each other, immediately commence a very rapturous conversation about “the days, the early days of love!”
These enchanting visions, however, it seems, are not without their use: they forward the plot; for Stella, in the moment of ecstasy, shows the picture of her husband to the ladies: Lucy immediately recognizes it’s [sic] resemblance to the officer with whom she had just been dining at the inn, and Stella, all tumult and impatience, instantaneously sends to the inn for the officer, who returns with the messenger. The third act opens with the interview.
(Stella enters full of joy with Ferdinand.)
Stella. (Turning to the walls of the room, and advancing towards a little statue of Venus.) Here he is! Do you behold him! Here he is! How often have I lamented, and wept, and walked up and down in despair, within these walls! — he is here again! — I cannot believe my senses! — dearest, dearest Ferdinand! — You were long away! — But you are returned to me — (Falling upon his neck.) You are returned! — I will hear of nothing, think of nothing, know nothing, but that you are here again.
Ferdinand. My Stella! My dear Stella! (Embracing her.) O heaven, you have repaid me for all my sufferings!
Stella. Thou only one!
Ferdinand. Stella, let me again drink thy dear breath! thy breath! in comparison of which, the air of Paradise would be joyless and insipid.
Stella. Dearest Ferdinand!
Ferdinand. Pour into this disturb’d, tempestuous bosom, new love, new delight, from the fullness of thy own heart. (He hangs upon her.)
Stella. My beloved Ferdinand!
Ferdinand. O transport, ecstasy! — Here, where you breathe, every object floats before me in the charm of life and youth — Love and eternal truth, would here fix the wildest wanderer.
Stella. Thou dear enthusiast!
Ferdinand. Do you not know that your bosom is like the dew of heaven to the parch’d traveller, who returns to you from the barren deserts of the wor!d?
Stella. And what delight to the poor Stella, to press her Ferdinand, her wandering, her lost, her only Ferdinand, again to her bosom!
Ferdinand. (Falling at her feet.) My Stella!
Stella. Rise, my dear Ferdinand — I cannot see you kneel.
Ferdinand. Yes, let me! let me kneel before you! Does not my heart incessantly adore you? — everlasting goodness and love.
Stella. I have you again! I do not know myself! — I do not know what I say or do — and what matters it?
Ferdinand. To me it is again as the first moments of our happiness — I hold you in my arms — I imbibe from your lips, the certainty of your love! I tremble, and ask myself whether I am awake, or in a dream.
Stella. But, Ferdinand, as I perceive, you are not grown better.
Ferdinand. Yes, surely I am — these moments of delight in your arms must make me good — I could pray, Stella, and then surely I should be happy.
Stella. God forgive thee, that thou art so good for nothing, and so good! — So versatile, and yet so constant! — As soon as I hear thy voice, I say to myself, “That is Ferdinand, who loves nothing in the world but me.”
Ferdinand. And when I look at your sweet blue eyes, till I lose myself in them — I think, that during the whole time of my absence, no image has dwelt in them but mine.
Stella. And you are not mistaken.
Stella. No, or I would confess it to you! — Did I not in the first months of my entire love for you, unfold all the inmost recesses of my heart? And did you not love me the better for it?
Ferdinand. Thou angel!
Stella. Why do you look at me so? — You think I am altered — Sorrow has faded my cheek — Is it not so?
Ferdinand. Roses! Sweetest bloom! — Stella, why do you shake your head?
Stella. To think that I so love you! that I cannot accuse you for the sorrows you have brought upon me!
Ferdinand. What, is your hair grey, Stella? Fortunately it was always light! — You have not, however, lost any of it, I perceive. (He takes out the comb, and her long hair falls down.)
Stella. (With a fond smile.) Foolery!
Ferdinand. (Wrapping her hair round his arm.) Rinaldo again in his former chains!
Stella. What is the matter? — Why do you come with a distressed countenance? It is death to me, when I am so happy.
Servant. But, madam, the two ladies are going.
Stella. Going? Oh no!
Servant. Yes, madam. I saw the daughter go to the inn, and then return; again to consult with her mother. I enquired at the house, and heard that they had hired horses, as the post-waggon was already gone. I went to them — the mother, all in tears, desired me to carry back her clothes privately, and wishing you all possible happiness, said she could not stay.
Ferdinand. Is it the woman who came to-day with her daughter?
Stella. Yes; I wish’d to take the daughter into my service, and the mother had agreed to it — That they should give me this disturbance, just at this time, Ferdinand!
Ferdinand. What can they mean?
Stella. Heaven knows! I cannot tell; and I do not wish now to enquire. I would not willingly lose her. If you were not with me, Ferdinand, it would give me pain. Pray speak to them, Ferdinand. You, William, must do what they desire of you — they must: be left at liberty to do as they please. Ferdinand, I will wait for you in the arbour — You will soon follow me — Come soon — Ye nightingales, ye will again welcome him!
Ferdinand. My dearest love!
Stella. (Hanging upon him.) You will come soon!
Ferdinand. In a few moments — immediately. (Exit Stella.)
This officer is not unknown to Mrs. Summers, whose pecuniary distress had driven her to the necessity of placing her daughter in the humble capacity of a companion. Mrs. Summers (or Cecilia) recognizes in the person of count Ferdinand her long-lost husband! She makes herself known to him, but upbraids not his desertion; the distress which ensues is readily to be conceived. She proposes to depart secretly with her daughter, and leave Ferdinand in the enjoyment of his mistress, the unfortunate Stella, who imagines herself to be his wife. Stung with remorse, however, and feeling the flame re-animated of merited love, he determines to escape with his wife, and desert his Stella. While preparations are making, Ferdinand, according to appointment, retires to the hermitage in Stella’s garden: the interview is enchanting. Goethe has infused infinite pathos into this dialogue: the overflowing love of Stella, and her melting artless eloquence; the confusion and agony of Ferdinand, are drawn by the hand of a master.
The intended escape of Ferdinand is discovered by a maid-servant, who enters the hermitage, and tells him — that the ladies are waiting! Stella is distracted; Cecilia returns; and the following scene contains the catastrophe of the drama:
Cecilia. I do not reproach you — and think not that I make too great a sacrifice. In your absence I was absorbed by grief. I was lost in vain lamentations. I find you again — and your presence inspires me with new strength. Ferdinand, my love for you is not selfish — ‘Tis not the passion of a mistress; it is the affection of a wife, who can resign her own happiness for your’s.
Ferdinand. Never! never!
Cecilia. Are you angry?
Ferdinand. You distress me!
Cecilia. I wish you to be happy — I have my daughter — and in you I have a friend — we will part without being disunited — I will live at a distance from you; but I shall know that you are happy. I will be a confidential friend — you shall impart to me your joys and sorrows. Your letters will be all my existence, and mine will be to you as friendly visitors. You need not, therefore, retire with Stella to a remote corner of the world. We shall love one another — take an interest in each other — and so, Ferdinand, give me your hand upon it.
Ferdinand. As raillery, this is too much — as serious, it is inconceivable — Be it as it will, my best friend, cold reasoning will not extricate us. What you say is generous and noble — but you deceive yourself — The heart accepts not these imaginary consolations. No, Cecilia — my wife — No — no! you are mine — I am your’s — Why should I say more? I am your’s — or —
Cecilia. But Stella! — (Ferdinand starts up, aud walks wildly backwards and forwards.) Which of us is deceived? — which of us, from cold reasoning, endeavours to find a momentary consolation? — Yes, yes — men know themselves!
Ferdinand. Depend not too much upon your calmness! — the unhappy Stella will weep and linger out her life, far from me and you. Think not of her — think not of me!
Cecilia. Yes, I am convinced, that in her solitude, the thought of our re-union would be a solace to her angelic mind — Cruel reproaches now embitter her moments. And she would suppose me far more unhappy than I should be, were I to leave you, for she would judge by herself. She would not live in peace — the angel would not live at all, if she thought her happiness were a robbery. It were better for her —
Ferdinand. Let her retire to a cloister!
Cecilia. But why should she be immured? Of what has she been guilty, that in her most blooming years, with all her rising hopes before her, she should be sent to waste her days in loneliness and despair? Separated from every object that is dear to her — from the man she so passionately loves — from the man who so — Is it not true, Ferdinand, you love her?
Ferdinand. (Starts back.) Ha? What mean you? are you an evil spirit in the form of my wife? Why do you seek to turn me thus at pleasure? why do you rend what is already torn? Am I not distracted enough? Leave me! consign me to my fate; — and heaven have pity on you! (He throws himself into a chair.)
Cecilia. (Goes to him and takes his hand.) There was once a count — (Ferdinand would spring from her — she holds him) a german count, who from a sense of religious duty, left his wife and country to go to the holy land. He travelled through many kingdoms, and was at length taken captive — his slavery excited the compassion of his master’s daughter, she loosened his chains, they escaped together: she accompanied him through all the perils of war as his page. Crowned with victory, he returned to his noble wife — But the dear girl — (For he thought humanely) he did not desert. His high born consort hastened to meet him, and thought all her faith and love rewarded, by folding him again in her arms. And when the knight proudly threw himself from his horse upon his native soil, and the spoils were laid at her feet — “My wife,” said he, “the greatest prize is still behind.” — A gentle damsel appeared veiled amidst the croud [sic]; he took her by the hand, and presented her to his wife, saying, “Here is my deliverer — she freed me from captivity — she made the winds propitious — she attended upon me — fought by me — nursed me. What do I not owe her? here she is — do you reward her.” The generous wife embraced her, wept on her neck, and cried, “Take all that I can give. Let him too be your’s, he of right belongs to you — he of right belongs to me — let us not part — let us all remain together. Then falling into her husband’s arms — “We are your’s!” she exclaimed. “We are both your’s,” they cried with one voice — “We are your’s for ever!” and heaven smiled propitious on their love — the holy vicar pronounced his benediction over them! and they had but one dwelling, and one grave.
Ferdinand. Great God! — thou who sendest angels to us in our extremities, grant us strength to support their presence! Oh, my wife! (He sinks with his face on the table.)
Cecilia. (Opens a door, and calls) Stella! (Stella enters, looks wildly at the pistols, at Cecilia, and Ferdinand. Then clasping Cecilia in her arms —)
Stella. Father of mercies! what is this? (Ferdinand starts up, and is running distractedly from them; Cecilia holds him.)
Cecilia. Divide with me that heart, Stella, the whole of which belongs to you —
You have saved my husband — saved him from himself, and you restore him to me again.
Ferdinand. (Approaches Stella.) My Stella!
Stella. I comprehend it not.
Cecilia. You will know all — even now your heart explains it!
Stella. (Falling on Ferdinand’s neck.) — And may I trust that heart!
Cecilia. Do you thank me for arresting the fugitive?
Stella. (Taking Cecilia in her arms.) O Cecilia!
Ferdinand. (Embracing both.) Mine! mine!
Stella. (Taking hold of his hands and hanging upon him.) I am thine!
Cecilia. We are both thine!
 Anonymous, “Art. xiii: Stella . . . ,” The Analytical Review or History of Literature, Domestic and Foreign 28 (July–December 1798), August 1798, 270–75. Illustrations by Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki: frontispiece and title vignette (concluding scene) to Goethe’s Schriften, vol. 4 (Leipzig 1787), there Stella: 1–102; and initial illustration of final scene (Stella, nimm die Helfte des, der ganz dein gehört ; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki-Kopie Z AB 3.2). Remaining illustrations from Goethe’s Works, vol. 3, trans. George Barrie (New York 1885). Back.
Translation © 2019 Doug Stott