Author Biography

Michelle Reyes is a Ph.D. Candidate in Germanic Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The title of her dissertation is “The Spiritual Self in the Age of Reason: Autobiographical Writing, 1700-1800”.


This article examines how Unger’s Confessions of a Beautiful Soul written by Herself creates a new model of moral acquisition. This model finds its place between religious morality and moral performance, calling for the novel’s protagonist, Mirabella, to cultivate a moral self through the spiritual practice of reading. Such a model still revolves around moral transformation, but it is no longer of her soul, but rather her thoughts; that is, Mirabella must first collect various depictions of morality from a wide scope of literature, then choose from these which ones she deems as of greatest importance to her, namely virginity and the control of the passions, and then apply these two concepts in great measure to her self. The proof of her successful cultivation is then evident in her physiognomy. This model is as new as it is radical; first, it provides an alternative to Goethe’s model in his fictional autobiography, Confessions of a Beautiful Soul; second, it contains implications for Mirabella in terms of both gender and class; finally, it allows for a new form of moral authenticity during a time of growing artifice in late eighteenth-century Germany. Foucault’s notions of self-cultivation in The Care of the Self, as well as the commentaries on physiognomy advanced in the works of Lavater and Winckelmann, provide the interpretive lens for this new model.


The "Beautiful Soul", 18th-Century Autobiography, Unger, Goethe, Self-Cultivation, Morality