Sunday, June 21, 2009


The Sorrows of Young Werther


When Johann Wolfgang Goethe was only 24 years old he wrote this epistolary novel. It quickly became the best-seller of 1774 and swept across Europe inspiring fashion fads and more. I'm not sure what they saw in this novel for it has lost some of its appeal over the years.
It is well-written with some beautiful passages of prose, but it is basically the story of one character, Werther, who writes letters to his friend William, but they seem to be aimed at the reader of the novel.
His interests are often somewhat uninteresting and his passion for Lotte is difficult to appreciate. However, given that he has a passion, he is doomed as she already has a lover and is married to him fairly soon into the story (it only covers about a year and a half of Werther's life). Goethe would go on to write some of the greatest poetry, drama (Faust), and travel literature ever written in German. His complete oeuvre is impressive. So for a twenty-four year old writer, this novel is impressive also.

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe. Trans. by Burton Pike. Modern Library. (1774).

2 comments:

parrish lantern said...

It's amazing, that through this book, you get to see what. Writer he will become, yet has only just started on that Journey, hindsight eh, even though popular it would be interesting to see if they realised, how great he would be perceived as. Also love the picture by Caspar David Friedrich. Penguin classics used part of it on Nietzsche's Ecce Homo, another fantastic book.

James said...

It is impressive, the writer that Goethe became penning great works of Drama, science and poetry. I am partial to the use of his poems by Schubert and others in their lied.
Friedrich's famous painting seemed well-suited for this highly romantic classic.