Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The Sorrows of Young Werther
Original Title: Die Leiden des jungen Werther
Goethe’s first novel, which brought the then 25-year-old fame, describes how a young person creates his own love suffering.
The young Werther sees (Char)Lotte for the first time as she is preparing dinner for her sisters and brothers. Their mother had recently died. On her deathbed, Lotte had promised to look after her eight younger siblings and her father.
For Werther, it’s love at first sight. He is completely smitten by Lotte’s nature and appearance and in further conversations with her over the next few weeks he gets the feeling that the two of them could share similar interests.
He becomes more and more intoxicated by his feelings until the young man is all-consumed by his infatuation. At first, he rejoices to high heaven, then plunges to the depths of despair, finally he becomes obsessed with a single idea: I can’t live without her …
When he learns that she has married her fiancé Albert, he begins to believe that he can understand Lotte better than her husband, that the two are kindred souls and that he is therefore more suitable for her.
What begins as an initially pure affection turns into a boisterous “Sturm und Drang,” which degenerates into an uncontrolled desire, selfish, without any consideration for Lotte and Albert. Werther, who was initially idealistic and enthusiastic, begins to lose his grip.
The young couple tries to help their friend out of his “depression.” But Werther’s rapture of feelings, his fantasies with unbridled thoughts of jealousy and passion cause suffering and sorrows, not only for him, but also for the object of his desire.
This book is considered to be the first German-language “cult novel,” but it was also vehemently rejected by many critics. Its English and French translations were also very successful.
Though it was written over two centuries ago, the feelings and thoughts described in it are exactly the same today.
To imagine Charlotte’s noble person as you read this book is a beautiful thing. But Goethe’s precise descriptions of the inner narrative of this enraptured young man who falls into emotional misery and pathological melancholy, also make for passages that are difficult to digest. Whether you think this novel is good or not, it does not leave you feeling indifferent. Goethe vividly describes how feelings and thoughts become words and deeds, how a well-disposed person turns himself into a human catastrophe through selfish infatuation.