The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I don’t know why it has taken me so long to finally read Goethe’s famous novella, The Sorrows of Young Werther. This work is short and can easily be read in one or two sittings. In fact, I recommend reading it straight through; if you take this approach, in my opinion, it is easier to “witness” Werther’s obsession with Charlotte and his eventual decision to end his own life (sorry for no spoiler alert but this work is infamous and besides, it was published in 1774).

The novella is somewhat autobiographical. What I find really interesting about the structure is that the majority of the novel is composed of letters written by Werther to his close friend, Wilhelm. The epistles are interrupted occasionally by a first person narrator who is collecting the letters and other evidence into a chronology leading to Werther’s death.

Legend has it, that around the time of original publication, many youth were emulating Werther’s suicide. This has become known as the Werther Effectimitative suicide. Besides this bit of information, it is always a pleasure to see when such a classic work has crept up in other places whether it be directly or inspirationally.

“We are happiest under the influence of innocent delusions.” –The Sorrows of Young Werther

post script, Recently, a woman on the street was giving away books. She had so many! I took a few including Die neuen Leiden des jungen W. (The New Sorrows of Young W.) by Ulrich Plenzdorf. I thanked her for the books and she replied, “Thank you for adopting these books.”

post post script, Both Goethe and Plenzdorf studied in Leipzig–a prominent city in the history and culture of the arts. It is quite beautiful and on my next trip, I’ll try to take better photos and share them. Right now, I have very few and they’re nothing to write home about.

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5 comments

  1. What a timely post! Watching Melancholia last night made me think of Goethe, Schiller, etc, and I ordered Sorrows of Young Werther last night and it should arrive tomorrow. For some reason it had slipped my reading, too. Funny how these things happen 🙂

    1. I think we just had total literary kismet! I hope you like it. The structure is quite interesting and I’ve always been taken with how authors write progressive/snowballing obsession.

  2. How wonderful, that woman giving out books for adoption. I haven’t read Goethe either, so perhaps I should add him to my big list? Nice and short at any rate…

    1. You should. This novella really won’t take long to read. Besides books for “adoption,” she also was offering CDs. When I went to look in the box, she only had a handful of Bush albums from the 90s. Fantastic!

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