The Sorrows of Young Werther

The Sorrows of Young Werther

by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, David Constantine

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Overview

One of the world's first best-sellers, this tragic masterpiece attained an instant and lasting success upon its 1774 publication. A sensitive exploration of the mind of a young artist, the tale addresses age-old questions--the meaning of love, of death, and the possibility of redemption--in the form of Werther's alternately joyful and despairing letters about his unrequited love. Goethe's portrayal of a character who struggles to reconcile his artistic sensibilities with the demands of the objective world proved tremendously influential to subsequent writers and continues to speak to modern readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780199583027
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date: 05/04/2012
Series: Oxford World's Classics Series
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 234,342
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Goethe (1749 – 1832) was one of the greatest German writers and the leader of the Weimar Classicism movement. Most famous for his seminal poetic drama, Faust, and his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, Goethe was also a poet, theologian, philosopher and scientist – one of the world’s last great polymaths.

Read an Excerpt

May 4, 1771

How glad I am to have come away! Dearest friend, what is the human heart! To leave you to whom I was so attached, from whom I was inseparable, and to be happy! I know you will forgive me. Did not fate seek out my other attachments just to trouble a heart like mine? Poor Leonore! And yet I was innocent. Could I help it that while I found her sister's willful charms pleasantly diverting, a passion was forming in the poor girl's heart? And yet—am I wholly innocent? Didn't I nourish her feelings? Didn't I make fun of those entirely genuine expressions of nature that so often made us laugh, as little to be laughed about as they were? Didn't I— Oh, what is man, that he can grumble about himself! I will, dear friend, I promise you, change for the better, will no longer, as I have always done, chew on the cud of the little bit of unpleasantness that fate puts in our way; I will enjoy the present, and the past will be past for me. Of course you are right, my friend, people would have fewer pains if—God knows why they are made this way—their imaginations were not so busily engaged in recalling past trials rather than bearing an indifferent present.

Be so good as to tell my mother that I'm devoting myself wholeheartedly to her business and will send her news of it very soon. I have spoken to my aunt, and found that she is by no means the evil person we made her out to be at home. She is a cheerful, impetuous woman with an excellent heart. I explained to her my mother's complaints about the part of the inheritance that has been withheld; she explained the reasons, causes, and the conditions under which she would be prepared to release it,and more than we were asking.—In short, I don't want to write about it now; tell my mother that everything will turn out all right. And, dear friend, in this little transaction I have again discovered that misunderstandings and lethargy cause perhaps more confusion in the world than cunning and malice. At least, the last two are certainly more rare.

Otherwise I am quite happy here, the solitude in this paradisiacal region is a precious balm to my heart, and the youthful season in all its fullness warms my often shivering heart. Every tree, every hedge, is a bouquet of blossoms, and one would like to be a mayfly drifting about in the sea of heady aromas, able to find in it all one's nourishment.

The town itself is unpleasant, but round about it an inexpressible natural beauty. This moved the late Count von M . . . to lay out his garden on one of the hills that intersect with the most appealing variety and form the loveliest valleys. The garden is simple, and you feel the moment you enter that its plan was not drawn up by some calculating gardener but by a feeling heart that sought its own enjoyment here. I have already wept many a tear for the deceased in the small, dilapidated summerhouse that was his favorite spot and is also mine. Soon I will be master of the garden: the gardener has taken a liking to me even in these few days, and he won't be the worse off for it.

May 10

A wonderful cheerfulness has taken possession of my soul, like the sweet spring mornings I delight in with all my heart. I am alone and enjoying my life in this region, which is made for souls like mine. I am so happy, dear friend, so immersed in the feeling of quiet, calm existence, that my art suffers from it. I couldn't draw now, not a line, but I have never been a greater painter than in these moments. When the dear valley mists around me and the high sun rests on the tops of the impenetrable darkness of my woods and only isolated rays steal into the inner sanctum as I lie in the high grass by the falling brook, and closer to the earth a thousand different blades of grass become astonishing to me; when I feel closer to my heart the teeming of the small world among the stems, the innumerable, unfathomable forms of the little worms, the tiny gnats, and feel the hovering presence of the Almighty who created us in His image, the breeze of the All-Loving One who hoveringly bears and preserves us in eternal bliss; my friend, when the world around me grows dim to my eyes, and world and sky rest entirely in my soul like the form of a beloved, then I often yearn and think: Oh, could you express this, could you breathe onto paper what lives in you so fully and warmly that it would become the mirror of your soul, as your soul is the mirror of infinite God!—My friend!—But it is destroying me, I am succumbing to the power of the gloriousness of these apparitions.

May 12

I don't know whether deceiving spirits hover over this region or if it is the warm heavenly fantasy in my heart that makes everything around seem like paradise to me. Right outside the village is a well, a well to which I am spellbound like Melusine with her sisters.—You walk down a small hill and find yourself facing a vault from which some twenty steps go down to where the clearest water bubbles forth from marble rocks. The low wall above, which forms the surrounding enclosure, the high trees that shade the place all around, the coolness of the spot, it all has something enticing, something uncanny about it. Not a day passes without my sitting there for an hour. Girls come from the town and fetch water, the most harmless task and the most necessary, which in former times the daughters of kings would perform themselves. When I sit there the patriarchal idea comes so vividly to life around me, how they all, the elders, make acquaintance and court at the well, and how around the well and the springs benevolent spirits hover. Oh, whoever cannot feel that must never have refreshed himself in the well's coolness after a strenuous walk on a summer day.

May 13

You ask whether you should send my books.—My friend, I beg you, for God's sake, don't bother me with them! I no longer want to be led on, cheered up, spurred on, my heart surges enough by itself; I need a lullaby, and that I have found in abundance in my Homer. How often do I lull my agitated blood to rest; for you have never seen anything so changeable, so restless as my heart. My friend, do I need to tell you that, you who have so often borne the burden of seeing me swing from grief to excess, and from sweet melancholy to ruinous passion? I treat my little heart like a sick child: whatever it wishes for is granted. Don't spread this about; there are people who would hold it against me.

May 15

The ordinary people of the place already know and love me, especially the children. When at the beginning I first went to join them, asking them amiably about this and that, some thought I was trying to make fun of them and told me off quite rudely. I didn't let it bother me, but felt most vividly something I have often noted: people of some standing will always remain at a chilly distance from the common people, as if they thought they would demean themselves by approaching them; and then there are flighty people and nasty jokers who seem to lower themselves in order to flaunt their own high spirits before the poor.

Of course I know that we are not all equal, nor can be; but I am of the opinion that he who thinks it necessary to distance himself from the so-called rabble in order to preserve respect is just as blameworthy as a coward who hides from his enemy because he fears defeat.

Recently I went to the well and found a young servant girl, who had placed her jug on the lowest step and was looking around for some friend to come help her lift it up onto her head. I climbed down and looked at her.—Shall I help you, my girl? I said.—She blushed all red.—Oh no, sir!—she said. With no fuss.—She arranged the ring on her head, and I helped her. She thanked me and climbed up.

May 17

I have made all sorts of acquaintances, company I have not found. I don't know what it is about me that attracts people; so many like and attach themselves to me, and it pains me when our paths coincide for only a short stretch. If you ask what people are like here, I have to say: like everywhere! The human race is a monotonous thing. Most people work most of the time in order to live, and the little freedom they have left over frightens them so, that they will do anything to get rid of it. Oh, the regimentation of mankind!

But a quite good sort of people! When I sometimes forget myself, sometimes enjoy with them pleasures that people are still allowed, joking around a table with good company in frankness and good fellowship, taking a long walk, arranging a dance at the proper time, and such things, it has a quite favorable effect on me; but I must avoid thinking that so many other energies that I must carefully conceal still lie within me, all decaying unused. Oh, it so constricts the heart.—And yet, to be misunderstood is the fate of people like us.

Alas, that the friend of my youth is gone! Alas that I ever knew her!—I would say you are a fool, you seek what is not to be found here below; but I had her, I felt that heart, that great soul in whose presence I felt myself to be more than I was because I was everything I could be. Good God! Was there a single power of my soul unused? Could I not unfold before her all the miraculous feeling with which my heart embraces nature? Was not our relation an eternal weaving of the finest feelings, the sharpest sallies, whose variations even to mischievousness were all marked by the stamp of genius? And now!—Alas, the years she was ahead of me led her earlier to the grave. I will never forget her, never forget her steady mind and divine patience.

A few days ago I made the acquaintance of young V . . . , a frank youth with a pleasantly formed face. He has just come from academies, doesn't think of himself as wise, but still believes he knows more than other people. He was also studious, as I gather from everything he said; in short, he knows a good deal. When he heard that I sketched a lot and knew Greek (two meteors in this region), he turned to me and displayed quite a bit of knowledge, from Batteaux to Wood, from de Piles to Winckelmann, and assured me that he had read Sulzer's Theory, the first part, all the way through, and that he owned a manuscript of Heynen on the study of Greece and Rome. I left it at that.

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The Sorrows Of Young Werther 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Anonymous 12 months ago
haven't read it, seems like a cool book cover art is a bit lacking but yea i couldnt get into it but not sure cause i havent read it but goethe seems like a g so yea i guess i could get behind it
Yung_dog_werther_dog 12 months ago
I fownd this very sad... to sad actually. I’ve red 3/19ths of it tho. Sometimes I wunder wat it’s like to be a yung werther. Was he popular at school and is that why he decided to... well you know.... yikes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
J.W. Von Goethe's the sorrows of young werther is a prime example of classic romantic poetry. Anyone with compassion or Passion of any kind will certainly enjoy this piece.
JohnZelazny More than 1 year ago
Before I was halfway through this book I had already connected with it on a deep level. I didn’t know what was going to happen in the end but I knew Goethe was telling my story and the opposite of my story at the same time. Ten years later I published my first novel, The Sorrows of Young Mike, which is a parody of this great tale. I can only be grateful to Goethe and encourage everyone to read The Sorrows of Young Werther. Also, if you like it enough or even if you hate it — you should check out my parody.
Francesca_frolicking More than 1 year ago
Anyone with a heart will love Werther. I did not(could not)put down the book, once I began reading it. Some moments are so thrilling and others so heart breaking... I hope more people could discover and enjoy this story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't even know where to start. This book is so well written that you no longer feel like a reader but a part of Werther. All the way through the book I felt as Goethe intendended me too. This was an amezing experience... I walked around for two days hardly saying a word after I finished it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When Werther meets Lotte, she is already unattainable, so readers will never know if his drive came from its intangibility. Yet, Goethe feeds the idea that Werther's life became Lotte because he finally found 'something to live for.' When a lover possesses both, it can only be excitingly dangerous, and unshakeable. Expectations have screwed up everyone's lives at one time or another; only here, I believe the passionate Romantic can not be ultimately understood unless the reader has also felt that the sun only shines when a certain someone is around. So, wrestle and escape it all with Kawika.
sfisk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best tales of unrequited love I've ever readTruly a masterpiece and often overlooked
Katie_H on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For being written in 1774, this German novella is a timeless classic. It is often described as a romance or tragic love story, but I'd have to disagree with that description. What I experienced was a case study in severe depression and angst, not "love." But that's just semantics. Goethe wrote the book as a series of letters from Werther to his friend Wilhelm. Werther finds himself "in love" (obsessed) with a girl, Charlotte, who is engaged to another man, Albert. He is consumed with complex and extreme emotions, loneliness, frustration, and constant thoughts of death. The majority of the time, he comes across as overly dramatic and extremely whiny, and the reader finds herself wishing that he would just "get a grip." Forshadowing of the climax begins on the first page and continues frequently throughout the text. Even though Werther comes across as pathological, anyone who has ever experienced a broken heart or a situation of unrequited love will be able to relate to his experience. This is one of the must read fictional masterpieces, but be warned that it is very dark and very disturbing and probably isn't a good choice post break-up.
joririchardson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I couldn't quite bring myself to enjoy this short tragedy by Goethe. It wasn't even 200 pages, but it took me longer than I had been expecting to get through it.It is the story of a young man in 1700's Germany named Werther. He falls in love with a young woman named Lotte, but she is already engaged to another man. Even after she is married, Werther continues to love her, and they form a friendship, which is both heavenly and torturous to the despairing Werther. The main thing that I disliked here was that I just wanted Werther to grow up and get over it. Reading the paragraph above, I must admit it is relatively sad, but really now. It doesn't even sound like the plot of a tragedy, just perhaps an unfortunate sub-plot. Werther sees negativity in everything, and is constantly wishing he was dead and dwelling on suicide and weeping over his letters / journal. I have to admit that sometimes, the idea of a tragic, heartbroken man braving the sorrows of life can be appealing in some strange way. But rather than suffer in silence and gather his strength, Werther suffers loudly and wants everyone to know it. Rather than gathering strength from his ordeals, he lets them weaken him into a weepy fool. I couldn't like him or feel any sympathy for him.This book would have been utterly atrocious if not for Goethe's skillful brilliance. He is, of course, one of the greatest writers of all time, and even in a book I can't particularly say I liked, he still manages to write beautifully and evocatively. His prose is majestically awe inspiring at times, though it does tend to ramble on a bit and sometimes wander and become pointless. I noticed while looking for quotes to collect here that I found plenty of gorgeous paragraphs, but couldn't seem to spot a single sentence or short phrase that caught my eye. And I'm not writing down a whole paragraph on my bookmark.I wasn't familiar with the story of "Sorrows of Young Werther" at all coming into it, and as I tend to start imagining possible directions a book could go as I'm reading it, it somehow became set in my mind that Werther should become a poet.Goethe's beautiful writing is here attributed to his character, since the book is Werther narrating in the form of letters he is writing. So the man's letters prove he can write, and I can certainly imagine him turning his sorrows into great material. He even loves poetry, and is a fan of Ossian (who is mentioned quite a few times). Just a thought.I couldn't say I liked this book, despite the author.
AustereAdam on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Summary:Johann Wolfgang von Goethe¿s The Sorrows of Young Werther is not so much a tale of love and romance, as it is a chronicle of mental health; specifically, it seems, Goethe is tackling the idea of depression and even (though the term would not have existed then) bi-polar depression. Werther spends his days feeling everything in extremes. When he is happy in something, even something seemingly miniscule, he is overjoyed by it. His ¿cup overfloweth¿ and he radiates a sun-like magnitude of warmth and well-being to everyone around him. When he is saddened by something (or someone), he is inconsolable. Each disappointment pushes him nearer and nearer to the edge, of which Werther himself seems to be aware and almost welcoming. The crux of Werther¿s Joys and Sorrows is, of course, a woman ¿ a love which cannot be reconciled. Ultimately, each encounter with Werther¿s love-interest, Lotte, becomes more detrimental to Werther¿s fragile state-of-mind and, with one final visit (one which Lotte had expressly forbidden), Werther reaches his limit. The Good:Though this has been criticized by some, I appreciate the epistolary structure of this novel. I also like that to each of Werther¿s letters, a response must be guessed or imagined, because none of the letters Werther received are included. I have a difficult time deciding why I like that we only get access to Werther¿s side of the conversation but, I think, it is because ¿ really ¿ no other character has much to do with what is going on inside Werther¿s head. In fact, even Lotte, the reason Werther ¿sacrifices¿ himself in the end, is only an excuse for the sacrifice and not the actual, root cause of Werther¿s sorrow. Also, something I found particularly irksome throughout the first half of the novel, but which ultimately I find pleasing, is the lack of any type of characterization, even for those characters who play a larger role, such as Lotte and her husband Albert. At first, I found it difficult to engage with the novel because of this but, upon reflection, I realize the necessity. After all, this novel is about Werther¿s state of mind, so the development of any other character would largely detract from the work¿s purpose. In addition to this distraction, one must also realize that Werther is a rather arrogant, self-centered person, who is not very concerned about anybody else (even Lotte, when it comes down to it). Werther is entirely engrossed in his own pleasures, his own happiness, and his own despairs; thus, to focus even for a moment on anyone else¿s personality or achievements would decrease the importance that Goethe had been placing on Werther¿s own self-involvement. The Bad:The novel closes by introducing a rather omniscient ¿Narrator,¿ who is not to be mistaken for Goethe¿s narrator (this can also be a bit tricky throughout the novel, when ¿narrator comments¿ are footnoted). The Narrator seems to be viewing things from the outside, to be evaluating Werther¿s life and letters as a bystander, a researcher; however, he does also seem to have some connection to the characters, some insight into their emotions and actions. Does this make him unreliable? Perhaps. I also find the act of introducing a portion of the book as belonging to the Narrator, and including that Narrator suddenly into the plot-line not just unreliable but also distracting. While having the Narrator there to explain some of Werther¿s actions and emotions, to guide the reader through Werther¿s final days, rather than have Werther write them in letters per usual (and this may have seemed more appropriate to Werther as, when one is ending one¿s life, does one really write a letter about all the actions he is taking, all the steps covered, tasks completed? ) is probably necessary, I found it a harsh break from the rest of the novel and, at the point where I would most liked to have been connecting with the main character, I felt most separated. I did also find the many pages devote
theokester on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I went into this book knowing virtually nothing about it. I remembered a vague reference to it from reading Frankenstein last year (the monster discovers and reads this book and relates strongly to Werther) but beyond that, and the general "sorrow" of the central character, I hopped in blind.The book is written in epistolary style with each letter being sent from Werther to his friend Wilhelm (a couple of the letters seemed addressed to his brother as well?). We never read any responses written to Werther but can sometimes infer the reactions from Wilhelm. Still, the core of the story is told in Werther's letters themselves.Because of the epistolary style, the narrative is a little 'jumpy' as it skips over time in between letters¿sometimes a day or two, sometimes weeks or more. Some of the letters are very lengthy and pour out large segments of plot and action. Others are very short segments of exclamation or emotion. Sometimes even the longer letters don't advance the "plot" so much as provide insight into the thoughts and emotions of Werther.Through the letters, we follow Werther as he moves to the country and encounters a young girl named Lotte. He is immediately transfixed by her and professes undying love. She coyly allows his advances and it seems as though a romance may appear between them. Quickly we learn that Lotte is betrothed to another man named Albert. Werther is taken aback by this, but still persists in being close to Lotte with the hope of perhaps persuading her to love him. When the time comes, Lotte does marry Albert, much to Werther's dismay, but the three of them remain friendly. Werther visits them frequently and seems to hover incessantly over Lotte. He grows more and more jealous of Albert, which creates some tension in the group and Albert begins to leave the room when Werther comes to visit.Werther's obsession with Lotte grows more and more intense as time goes on. He battles with himself over the emotions he feels and writes his friend for advice, although it is very clear that Werther does not feel able to (nor does he desire to) make a break from Lotte and strive to love another. He does finally move away from Lotte and spends some time trying to move on with his life. He becomes more and more discontent in his work and more and more obsessed with returning to her. He finally does move back to live by them again. Albert is more offstandish and put off by Werther's presence. Werther continues to be insistent in his own mind (and sometimes to Lotte or Wilhelm) that there must be a way for her to love him. At the same time, he is emotionally conflicted because he knows she "belongs" to another man and he does not feel it is right to try and take her from him. She eventually tells Werther that he needs to stop coming around so often (he'd been visiting almost daily) but says that he's still a friend and should come by for Christmas as she's made him a gift.*** SPOILER ***Shortly after (the day after) Lotte tells Werther to back off a bit, he finds Lotte alone one night and again professes his love and pushes on her and kisses her passionately. She forces him off and tells him how wrong he's behaving. He's again in turmoil but does leave, though he announces (somewhat veiled) that she won't see him again¿ever. He returns home and writes a few more notes in preparation of his suicide. He sends a note to Lotte and Albert to borrow their pistols for "a trip he's taking." Lotte realizes what's going on, but sends the pistols anyway. He shoots himself in the middle of the night and dies the next morning. He's buried without clergy, graveyard or cemetery.*** END SPOILER ***The presentation of love versus obsession is very interesting here and is very well done. You get a very good sense of the turmoil that Werther's going through¿of the pain he's feeling as well as the desire he has but cannot fulfill. After reading the book, I looked up some info on
lesserlady on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is spectacular. The prose of Goethe is stunning and the depth of emotion is amazing. Do not read this book if you are in a melancholy mood; it will intensify those emotions and may pull you from melancholy to despair. Despite that negativity it is a stellar exploration of human love, affection, friendship and emotion.
proteus147 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've read this book being aware of the fact that immediately after it was published in 1774 a "Werther" crisis began.Suicidal acts,broken hearts,painting,dressing styles.Everything was pointing toward Goethe's novel.It was very exiting to go through a such harrowing love story written in a masterfully style.Like all other classical texts it made me anxious and eager to find out what the next page had to offer.I remember even crying out loud a couple of times so in my case it was by no means a boring lecture.I'd recommend this book to anyone who thinks loving is easy and "pink".Take a look at love from a other(probably disturbing) point of view.
DavidHenry on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I feel a little phoney writing a review for a classic. But anyway...I first read Werther when I was about seventeen and I have to say that it went completely over my head. Alas, I thought it was dull. I reread it recently and thought it was brilliant!Werther is a love and loss story. The odd thing about it is that the main protagonist (Werther) falls in and out of love with life, whilst the relationship with the love interest, Lotte, remains constant. The novel takes the form of a briefmarken, allowing the reader acquaint his or herself with Werther's ruminations (predominantly ethical and aesthetic), which become increasingly despairing as the novel progresses, and the development of his affections toward Lotte.Werther is a disaffected youth, lofty and sincere - a romantic - who struggles to come to terms with the rather uninspired world of petite-bourgeois aspirations and conventions he encounters throughout the novel. Goethe's depiction of Werther's descent from a loftly-minded pollyanna to a disaffected outsider is subtle, poignant and thought provoking.
Staramber on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I find it hard to properly review a book that says `classics¿ on the cover so I¿ll only add that I liked reading about the destructive nature of passionate, one-sided love. It¿s a perfect remedy to love can conquer all writing when you can see the pain and violence that often goes hand in hand with love.
soylentgreen23 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I did not enjoy 'The Sorrows' as much as, I believe, the likes of Byron did. It is a romantic book, but so over-the-top by modern standards that I couldn't really get to grips with it very well. I'm just glad it didn't go on too long, or I might have struggled with a narrator obsessed with himself and with his passionate feelings.
joshrothman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I didn't love this - until the end, when it becomes amazing. Advice: don't read this translation, get a newer one. And read Trilling's Sincerity and Authenticity.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book, Goethe is a master. Definitely worth studyig to understand the romanticism of the period, even though Goethe later disowned the book. Highly recommended.
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