January 17, 2023

#08-277: The Sorrows of Young Werther

Lotte and Werther (Wikipedia)

Note: A young man falls in love with a woman pledged to another. This is just the beginning of Werther's "sorrows."

Get Ready: In later years, Goethe himself felt that Werther was overly sentimental. Do you like "sappy" stories? Why or why not?

Today, Johann Wolfgang Goethe is best known for his magnum opus, Faust. But for much of his life, an earlier work--written in just 5-1/2 weeks when he was only 24 years old--brought him fame. That novel was The Sorrows of Young Werther.

It was written in a style known as Sturm und Drang, or "Storm and Stress," works of intense emotional expression, a style which Goethe later abandoned for the Romantic school. Indeed, in later years, he tried to distance himself from Werther.

In fact, the story has too much pathos for some readers' tastes. It tells of the sensitive young artist Werther--no other name is given--who has moved to the village of Wahlheim. There he meets and falls in love with a beautiful girl named Charlotte, who cares for her siblings after their mother has died.

Charlotte, however, is engaged to Albert, a man eleven years her senior. While honoring their status, Werther nevertheless pursues a close friendship with the couple.

But the pain of his unrequited love becomes unbearable, and he leaves Wahlheim to live in Weimar. There, too, he fails to fit in. In one embarrassing episode he visits a friend, forgetting that a weekly gathering of aristocrats is happening at the time. Because he is not a nobleman himself, he is asked to leave.

Such slights cause him to return to Wahlheim, where he learns that Charlotte and Albert have married. To lessen his sorrow, Charlotte discourages him from visiting. On his final visit, he recites for her his own translation of the poems of Ossian, passages which treat of death and the complexity of love.

He had already determined that the love triangle could only be resolved if one of its members were dead. Unable to see himself as a murderer, he comes to the obvious solution that it is he who must die.

He writes a final letter--most of the novel has been epistolary--and borrows two pistols from Albert because he is going "on a journey." He shoots himself in the head, taking twelve hours to die.

He is buried between two trees he had admired. No one attends his funeral, but it is intimated that Charlotte may die of a broken heart.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. aristocrats
  2. epistolary
  3. intimated
  4. love triangle
  5. magnum opus
  6. nobleman
  7. pathos
  8. siblings
  9. slights
  10. unrequited

  1. people of the highest social class
  2. greatest work
  3. not returned
  4. a romantic situation in which two people love one, or one loves two
  5. person of the highest social class
  6. in the form of letters
  7. small insults or offenses
  8. something that attracts our pity
  9. brothers and sisters
  10. hinted

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 17, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. a; 2. f; 3. j; 4. d; 5. b; 6. e; 7. h; 8. i; 9. g; 10. c