Visiting an idyllic German village, Werther, a sensitive and romantic young man, meets and falls in love with sweet-natured Lotte. Although he realizes that Lotte is to marry Albert, he is unable to subdue his passion for her, and his infatuation torments him to the point of absolute despair.
The first great ‘confessional’ novel, ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ draws both on Goethe’s own unrequited love for Charlotte Buff and on the death of his friend Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem.
Goethe’s sensitive exploration of the mind of a young artist at odds with society and ill-equipped to cope with life is now considered the first great tragic novel of European literature.
|Friend||paperback||144||Penguin Classics||Classics||March 30th, 1989|
It appears my work colleague Jozsef has a bloody good taste in books. You may remember Joz from our collab review for HHhH by Binet earlier in the year. Anyway, as we finished reading HHhH, Joz mentioned Werther because of a similarity in how Binet and Werther both progressed from determination and happiness to anxiety and dread. I, of course, hadn’t read about Werther yet. A few days after our Skype chat, postman dropped a parcel on my work desk. Joz had sent me the book.
Die Lieden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther) was first published in 1774… 243 years ago! This fact alone is breaking my mind a bit because not only is this classic immortal due to the content it carries, it also has an interesting backstory which includes the fact that THE Napoleon commended the book while Goethe himself started to realize the negative impact his book could have on those broken hearted. The Sorrows of Young Werther was not only an overnight success bringing about a fashion movement, it was also influential to the romantic movement in literature AND can be blamed for the first instances of copycat suicides. With a mixed bag of reviews (which is normal), a whole ton of criticism since the book saw daylight (naturally), of course I was going to be super excited to read this!
[I’m going to give you a moment to digest this information]
Show me the man who has the courage to hide his ill-humour, who bears the whole burden himself, without disturbing the peace of those around him. No: ill-humour arises from an inward consciousness of our own want of merit, from a discontent which ever accompanies that envy which foolish vanity engenders. We see people happy, whom we have not made so, and cannot endure the sight.
To summarize, folks- that’s 134 pages (the extra 10 pages for the edition I read include the Introduction and notes) of a bomb! The Sorrows of Young Werther will either:
*leave you cold
*make you feel like you’ve read something with ton of substance to discuss and think about.
Me? The book made me as much content as it made me feel heavy and sad. What a powerful book to toy with me like this… I love it!
Must it ever be thus-that the source of our happiness must also be the fountain of our misery?
The story itself is about something which many of us have experienced: unrequited love. To super simplify, it’s about a happy Werther’s meeting Lotte–> happy Werther loving Lotter from afar–> hopeless Werther becoming obsessed–> very unhappy Werther taking his own life.
Now, the suicide part is something that gets the most criticism over- naturally!- because even though Werther IS completely and totally crushed, he truly has no right to serve it to Lotte and Albert (Lotte’s intended&husband) the way he does. Werther, having know all along that Lotte was to marry Albert, was entirely incapable of cutting his losses due to his overly hopeful and romantic heart and yet he let his obsession grow into a demon that not only took away his life-light, but also his life. Now, I am no one to decide for Werther whether what he did was right or wrong by taking his own life and NO, I don’t agree with how he made himself into the very suffering victim, BUT… here’s a BUT…
I am proud of my heart alone, it is the sole source of everything, all our strength, happiness and misery. All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own.
I stand by this above quote- we can never, ever truly know or judge what is in someone else’s heart. Yes, the young man was possessed by this idea of Lotte- but this idea started by something which he saw- he saw the beauty and wished it for himself. One is to never know how such desires affect our wellbeing. Sometimes, they turn into a happy ending… sometimes they turn into misery, and how any individual deals with misery, is entirely up to them, dependent on their personality and views…
The question, therefore, is, not whether a man is strong or weak, but whether he is able to endure the measure of his sufferings.
I don’t know what saddens me more… the fact that Werther, a peaceful, lovely chap, ambassador of loving the simple joys of life crumbled because of love OF ALL THINGS! Or that he was so consumed by this idea of Lotte that turned the feelings which should only ever represent happiness into poison… I’ll need to think on that for a while longer…
Think of you! I do not think of you; you are always before my soul.
But Goethe’s prose… *hand on heart* The way Werther expresses his feelings and observations of Lotte in each letter to his friend, Wilhelm (oh, yes, this is an epistolary novel!)… pffft… All those modern day romance novels trying to give male POVs a romantic voice? They got nothing on Werther! I can totally understand how this novel influenced the romantic literature.
She loves me!- And I have grown in stature in my own eyes, – I can tell you this, you who understand such things- I worship myself, ever since she loves me!
There is a debate in between Werther and Albert regarding life and death and suicide… It could be considered a normal discussion in between two people who don’t believe in the same things. It is heated with two sides of the coin presented. I would like to think, that their debate also demonstrates two types of personalities: one approaching life with all passion unleashed, drawing life power from all things living and breathing to experience, experience, experience. The other type is more cautious, always holding a piece of their heart and soul at bay to always stay one step ahead of fear, hurt and shame. Nothing wrong with either types… as I like to say, the Lord’s Zoo is colourful indeed 🙂
Werther is me, you and everyone… Maybe not fully, but parts of him exists in us all… He is not a bad fellow, not at all. He is very opinionated and passionate… And who is to blame really, for the fact that he is a victim of his own soul? You would not condemn your friend with labels of foolishness, naivety or madness if they came to you with hearts ready to burst with awe and ache. It could happen to anyone of us. Yes, some reviewers would never let themselves become Werther, but that’s because they’re Albert! The sensible, collected and calm.
Truly, my own bosom contains the source of all my pleasure. Am I not the same being who once enjoyed an excess of happiness, who at every step saw paradise open before him, and whose heart was ever expanded towards the whole world? And this heart is now dead; no sentiment can revive it. My eyes are dry; and my senses, no more refreshed by the influence of soft tears, wither and consume my brain. I suffer much, for I have lost the only charm of life: that active, sacred power which created worlds around me,—it is no more.
One thing I know for sure… This classic sits with the rest of my favorite reads. I have highlighted so many quotes that I haven’t included here and I fully intend to read this copy until it falls apart. Will I interpret it differently a year from now? Maybe… All I know, is that it did something to me and what it did, I enjoyed… I still feel like there is so much more to discuss about it, but perhaps I will leave it for the future…
Have you read The Sorrows of Young Werther? What did you think?
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