Catching up on Classics (and lots more!) discussion

The Sorrows of Young Werther
This topic is about The Sorrows of Young Werther
75 views
Old School Classics, Pre-1900 > The Sorrows of Young Werther - SPOILERS

Comments Showing 1-50 of 65 (65 new)    post a comment »
« previous 1

message 1: by Pink (new)

Pink | 6554 comments This is the discussion thread for The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, our Old School Classic Group Read for August 2018.

Spoilers allowed here.

Please feel free to discuss anything you wish, relating to the book and let us know what you thought :)


Terris | 2615 comments Poor Werther! He really went off the deep end! I just have a few pages left, but I feel so sorry that he didn't have a good therapist to help him through this!

I did enjoy reading the book though. I had never read Goethe and was kind of daunted to start it. But it was an easy read and very well written! I would never have read it but for this group! :)


message 3: by Rosemarie (new) - added it

Rosemarie | 1574 comments This book was very popular when it was first published, and even Napoleon was a fan of the book.


Terris | 2615 comments Rosemarie wrote: "This book was very popular when it was first published, and even Napoleon was a fan of the book."

That is so interesting!! I love to know stuff like that :)


message 5: by Terris (last edited Jul 31, 2018 06:40PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Terris | 2615 comments Well, I just finished the last few pages -- wow! he really layed it on Charlotte! She basically handed Werther the pistols to kill himself! And that letter from him just put the icing on the funeral cake for blaming her. And, the part about him waiting up in heaven for her was kind of creepy -- I don't think I'd look forward to that if I was her. Also, I wonder if her marriage will survive this!
What do you think?


Jerome (tnjed01) | 55 comments From the first page, a summary of Goethe's Sturm und Drang philosophy:

"I will enjoy the present, and the past shall be for me the past."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The Sorrows of Young Werther (Kindle Location 25).


message 7: by ALLEN (last edited Aug 01, 2018 05:37AM) (new)

ALLEN | 622 comments It's worth mentioning that the "Sturm und Drang" (Storm and Stress) movement was a kind of mini-rebellion of Romanticism toward the end of the Enlightenment. It wasn't until some years later that what we now call the Romantic Movement or Romanticism seriously kicked in. As is not unusual for human beings, even geniuses, Goethe became more conservative in later life -- and wrote at greater length, as in FAUST and FAUST II.

I won't say SORROWS OF YOUNG WERTHER (*Die Leiden des jungen Werther*) is a huge fave of mine, but it is interesting, even fun if approached in the right spirit. Part of that spirit is realizing that Goethe at this time was "Young Goethe" -- he was all of 25 when WERTHER was published.


message 8: by Cynda (new) - added it

Cynda | 3043 comments Question: Does Werther inherit the garden from the late Count M?


message 9: by Cynda (last edited Aug 11, 2018 06:27PM) (new) - added it

Cynda | 3043 comments How human Werther is. When he is "too polite" to Frederike and her suitor Herr Schmidt sulks, Werther says:

Now, nothing makes me more angry that people who torment one another, particularly if young people in the prime of their lives, when they should be most receptive of all p,assures, mutually spoil their few good days by putting on moody faces, realizing when it is too late that they have wasted something irrecoverable.

Then Albert shows, away sulks Werther

(How could Geothe be so wise and still so young?)


message 10: by Jerome (last edited Aug 11, 2018 07:19PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Jerome (tnjed01) | 55 comments One thing I love about Goethe is that he is there, with what is now considered "flowery" language or excessive emotionality.

I am reading a biography of Alexander von Humboldt The Invention of Nature Alexander von Humboldt's New World by Andrea Wulf by Andrea Wulf. Humboldt was a close friend of the older Goethe and was inspired by him.

A good example of the passionate young Goethe (writing at age 25) comes early in The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe :

Every tree, every bush, is full of flowers; and one might wish himself transformed into a butterfly, to float about in this ocean of perfume, and find his whole existence in it.



message 11: by Rosemarie (new) - added it

Rosemarie | 1574 comments Jerome, I recently read the book about Humboldt. It was fascinating.

I studied The Sorrows of Werther in university, in a third year German course. Even though I was much younger then, I always thought that Werther really felt way too sorry for himself. Now that I am older, I can see that he probably lived in the moment and couldn't see that his feelings could change as he grew older and the suffering would lessen.


message 12: by Cynda (last edited Aug 11, 2018 08:31PM) (new) - added it

Cynda | 3043 comments Thanks for sharing that Rosemary :-)


message 13: by Cynda (last edited Aug 11, 2018 11:54PM) (new) - added it

Cynda | 3043 comments I know that Wilhelm is seriously concerned about his friend. Yet I found this retort lol snarky funny when I read it:

It is true, I am a wanderer, a pilgrim on this earth! But are you more?


message 14: by ALLEN (last edited Aug 12, 2018 04:05AM) (new)

ALLEN | 622 comments Hi, Rosemarie and others!
The man who taught my survey of German lit for German majors (i.e., everything in German but nothing terribly long) taught us that WERTHER was a "mini-romantic rebellion" in the middle of Classicism. Another way of looking at it is as kind of a "beta test" for the age of Romanticism to come. Name for this brief bit of outburst: "Sturm und Drang," which means "Storm and Stress." I do agree that Werther can be tiring at times. He was, as has been said above, young Goethe's age, 25. This gives Werther close to ten years over Holden Caulfield, so although he can come across preoccupied with self, his concerns are those of the adult life to come, rather than getting through adolescence.

Goethe was considered a genius. There were no standardized tests in the mid-eighteenth century, but it is know that when he was 11 and in what we'd call fourth grade, he devised on his own a sum-of-all-numbers equation to greatly simplify the teacher's demand that the children in his class manually add up all numbers between 1 and 100.

WERTHER is not my favorite novella, but in Germany it is considered not a dead classic, but a vital document in their literature.


message 15: by Cynda (last edited Aug 12, 2018 03:51AM) (new) - added it

Cynda | 3043 comments People tell me their stories, their zaniness. So I am used to hearing stuff like what Werther says in Part1. This Part 2 is seriously not-right-in-head. I am trying to read it at a clip so I don't get emotionally involved. I read and say "ego" or "obsession and move on. I recognize Weather's pain and feel some of it. I am also recognizing the strum and drang. I am recognizing the proto-Romanticism. If I do not keep moving through the book, I could easily get frustrated that I can't even give any basic guidance. If Wilhelm can't do it, I surely can't.


Gabrielle Dubois (gabrielle-dubois) | 126 comments Terris wrote: "Poor Werther! ... I feel so sorry that he didn't have a good therapist to help him through this! ..."
You're right, that's an important point of the book:
Goethe was of great clairvoyance: here’s what he had understood, well before psychoanalysis, psychology and all the recent notions about the mind:
"It is in vain that a man of sound mind and cool temper understands the condition of such a wretched being, in vain he counsels him. He can no more communicate his own wisdom to him than a healthy man can instil his strength into the invalid, by whose bedside he is seated."


Gabrielle Dubois (gabrielle-dubois) | 126 comments Rosemarie wrote: "This book was very popular when it was first published, and even Napoleon was a fan of the book."
Maybe because Napoleon, whatever one can think of him, was a very intelligent man and recognized intelligent authors, like Chateaubriand, even if they hated one another, and Chateaubriand wrote bad things about Napoleon, Napoleon never put him in jail.
Well, I'm not Napoleon neither Chateaubriand, but I'm a fan of this book too!


Gabrielle Dubois (gabrielle-dubois) | 126 comments Terris wrote: "... Charlotte! She basically handed Werther the pistols to kill himself! ..."
That's one of the brillant part of the book! By telling Charlotte to give the pistols, Albert tells her: now it's time you choose: it's Werther or me! And Charlotte chooses reason instead of love. And there's no surprise, all the characters of the book, and us the readers, knew what she would choose, because we know her character, and because she has not really the choice.
And in a way, this minimize Werther's suicide: it's like if it was Charlotte who had killed him, by love and by giving him the pistols.


Gabrielle Dubois (gabrielle-dubois) | 126 comments ALLEN ..."

There are many interesting thoughts in this book, like this one about the destiny of Men:
“The human race is but a monotonous affair. Most of them labour the greater part of their time for mere subsistence; and the scanty portion of freedom which remains to them so troubles them that they use every exertion to get rid of it.”


Gabrielle Dubois (gabrielle-dubois) | 126 comments Cynda wrote: "How could Geothe be so wise and still so young? ..."

He was intelligent! :)
I like when I read an author I can admire, don't you?


Gabrielle Dubois (gabrielle-dubois) | 126 comments Jerome wrote: "A good example of the passionate young Goethe..."

Another example of Goethe’s beautiful writing:

“Content and peace of mind are valuable things: I could wish, my dear friend, that these precious jewels were less transitory. Content and peace of mind are valuable things: I could wish, my dear friend, that these precious jewels were less transitory.”


Melanti | 2384 comments I enjoyed the writing, but Werther was such a dick, especially towards the end.


message 23: by ALLEN (new)

ALLEN | 622 comments ....and he had nearly ten years over Holden Caulfield; no argument there.

But wasn't it a readable book anyway??


Melanti | 2384 comments Readable- yes. I did enjoy his writing style.


message 25: by Bob, Short Story Classics (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bob | 4959 comments Mod
Am I callous for not having sympathy for Werther’s poor lovesick heart? His whining and crying over his unrequited love of another man’s wife, was just a little over the top. Albert should have been grabbed him by his collar, hustled him to the door and soundly put his boot in his ass as he kicked him out in the street. It might have saved his life. By the way I thought the writing was great, especially the parts that aggravated the most, the descriptions of his emotional anguish. Excellent work.


message 26: by ALLEN (new)

ALLEN | 622 comments Goethe had an active love life, far from monogamous.
I do not know if he committed adultery per se, but he stayed "busy."


Christopher (Donut) | 179 comments ALLEN wrote: "Goethe had an active love life, far from monogamous.
I do not know if he committed adultery per se, but he stayed "busy.""


Uh, actually Goethe did not have sex until he was in his thirties, Allen.


message 28: by Cynda (last edited Aug 22, 2018 03:43PM) (new) - added it

Cynda | 3043 comments Still once Goethe let lose, we don't know how free he became.
Just a reminder. We neve really know the privatest stuff.


message 29: by Cynda (last edited Aug 22, 2018 03:44PM) (new) - added it

Cynda | 3043 comments Gabrielle wrote: "Terris wrote: "... Charlotte! She basically handed Werther the pistols to kill himself! ..."
That's one of the brillant part of the book! By telling Charlotte to give the pistols, Albert tells her:..."


So agree. Shocking though. My jaw dropped even though I knew to expect it.


message 30: by ALLEN (new)

ALLEN | 622 comments Christopher wrote: "ALLEN wrote: "Goethe had an active love life, far from monogamous.
I do not know if he committed adultery per se, but he stayed "busy.""

Uh, actually Goethe did not have sex until he was in his t..."


Well, if he WAS a virgin at age 25, when WERTHER was published, he made up for it. One of his poems (don't recall which) mentions "Swift Mercurius," an allusion to the only known treatment for syphillis at that time, prostate massage with mercury (aka quicksilver).

Of course, if Goethe in his young adulthood was as self-obsessed as his Werther, I can understand his being slow to get into the saddle.


message 31: by Cynda (new) - added it

Cynda | 3043 comments That says alot already ☹


Melanti | 2384 comments Bob wrote: "Am I callous for not having sympathy for Werther’s poor lovesick heart? His whining and crying over his unrequited love of another man’s wife, was just a little over the top. Albert should have bee..."

Same. Very, very little sympathy on my end either.

And then he tops off that whining with a creepy stalker letter to his obsession. How's Lotte going to feel when she reads that little goodbye note?


message 33: by Cynda (new) - added it

Cynda | 3043 comments No wonder neither she or Albert attend the funeral service. Not even his mom. No matter how estranged families are, I always see them show up.


Tammy | 391 comments Melanti wrote: "I enjoyed the writing, but Werther was such a dick, especially towards the end."

I have to agree with Melanti and Bob. The book was totally readable but I could not relate to Werther at all.


Cindy  | 58 comments At first I thought Werther was just lazy and whinny. When he really started to fall apart mentally, I felt sorry for him. I think it was sad Charlotte never showed up for the funeral service. I wonder if she loved Werther. She let him hang around her house. I knew what the ending would be and it came as a shock to me. Felt like the finality when someone close passes away.


message 36: by Cynda (new) - added it

Cynda | 3043 comments Bob wrote: "Am I callous for not having sympathy for Werther’s poor lovesick heart? His whining and crying over his unrequited love of another man’s wife, was just a little over the top. Albert should have bee..."

Yes. And Lotte should have shown Wertherthe door when Albert showed up, after Werther met Albert, when Lotte married Albert, when Albert became uncomfortable. She just had various opportunities.


Melanti | 2384 comments Cynda wrote: "No wonder neither she or Albert attend the funeral service. Not even his mom. No matter how estranged families are, I always see them show up."

Charlotte doesn't attend because she's very ill and Albert is staying with her. I'm not sure they would have gone if circumstances had been different, but as it was, her illness prevented the two of them from going.


message 38: by ALLEN (new)

ALLEN | 622 comments Guys, if you want a hero out of Goethe, there's always FAUST.


message 39: by Bob, Short Story Classics (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bob | 4959 comments Mod
I’ll risk of being disagreeable. For me comparing Sorrows to Faust is no contest, I detested Faust. I also don’t see any heroism in the story. Faust making a deal with the devil and his treatment of Gretchen are not the acts of a hero.


message 40: by ALLEN (last edited Aug 23, 2018 09:10AM) (new)

ALLEN | 622 comments Bob, the circle doesn't close until FAUST TWO but yes, you make a good point about Faust's character -- he gets Gretchen pregnant and seems not to care.

Don't know if it's available in English, but Goethe's play devoted to the life of the Italian poet TORQUATO TASSO does indeed portray an admirable character who happens to be an artist.


Christopher (Donut) | 179 comments Melanti wrote: "Cynda wrote: "No wonder neither she or Albert attend the funeral service. Not even his mom. No matter how estranged families are, I always see them show up."

Charlotte doesn't attend because she's..."

Now, it's been awhile since I read the ending, but I have the feeling that, at that time and place, the burial of a suicide was a low key affair to say the least, far from obligatory to anyone but the minister and the sexton.


message 42: by ALLEN (new)

ALLEN | 622 comments You're probably right, Chris. Saxony was Protestant by then, of course, but some rituals carried over from before the Reformation.


Melanti | 2384 comments Christopher wrote: "I have the feeling that, at that time and place, the burial of a suicide was a low key affair to say the least, far from obligatory to anyone but the minister and the sexton. ..."

Very low key. Werther was buried the same day he died and there was no religious ceremony to it.

I don't know how that typically turned out in terms of attendance of family & close friends but I'm sure it was far less attended by people with more tenuous ties.


message 44: by ALLEN (last edited Aug 23, 2018 09:34AM) (new)

ALLEN | 622 comments @ TORQUATO TASSO, play by Goethe:
https://www.amazon.com/Torquato-Tasso...

Tasso hisownself's best-known work is probably GERUSALEMME LIBERATA, usually translated as "Jerusalem Delivered" or "Jerusalem Liberated":
https://www.amazon.com/Jerusalem-Deli...


Jerome (tnjed01) | 55 comments At first I enjoyed the flowery language and emotional intensity, but I quickly grew weary of the lack of plot. It surprises me that this novel was so popular in its time and had been blamed for a rash of suicide as the suicide was largely described from an impersonal third person perspective. There is the tangent of Ossian's poetry near the end as well. Finally, since many of you are also mentioning Faust, I was put off by the level of narcissism in the character of Werther, his lack of empathy for the impact his act would have on Charlotte or the children, as well as the narcissism of Faust, his attitude and behavior toward Gretchen, and the narcissism that seems to have been evident in Goethe's life.


Christopher (Donut) | 179 comments ALLEN wrote: "Bob, the circle doesn't close until FAUST TWO but yes, you make a good point about Faust's character -- he gets Gretchen pregnant and seems not to care.

Don't know if it's available in English, b..."


I'm reading Torquato Tasso now (the play, not the poet), and it is pretty dull.

But the theme seems to be that the poet is so dissociated from 'ordinary mortals' that he is in danger of becoming completely untethered at any moment.


message 47: by ALLEN (last edited Aug 23, 2018 12:12PM) (new)

ALLEN | 622 comments Another fun Goethe *Theaterstück* is "Götz von Berlichingen (mit dem eisernen Faust)" - 1773 - about a German folk hero. Like Shakespeare, Goethe liked to emulate earlier writers or adapt earlier works. Goethe lived in Italy prior to writing Tasso; for Götz; he went back to a native German source.

Götz is (or was) of some notoriety because when the title character is good and pissed off, he shouts the line "Er kann mir am Arsch lecken!" -- which as every good student of German knows, it means "He can kiss (or lick) my ass." For those who did want to utter that very nasty (and, until recently) taboo line, one spoke of the "Goetz von Berlichingen line").

Here's a bit about Herr Berlichingen, from Wikipedia:
Gottfried "Götz" von Berlichingen (1480 – 23 July 1562), also known as Götz of the Iron Hand, was a German (Franconian) Imperial Knight (Reichsritter), mercenary, and poet. He was born around 1480 into the noble family of Berlichingen in modern-day Baden-Württemberg. Götz bought Hornberg Castle (Neckarzimmern) in 1517, and lived there until his death in 1562.

I'm thinking maybe Dennis Franz for the movie?
Image result for goetz von berlichingen


message 48: by Amy (new) - added it

Amy | 13 comments Late on this because I just finished the book yesterday, but I thought I'd add my thoughts, too.

Sturm und drang indeed...

I have mixed feelings about Werther. Towards the end of the book I kind of found myself railing at him for his self-absorption and a few creepy, stalker moments . Sometimes I had to remind myself that if he had a good psychiatrist, he would be diagnosed as clinically depressed. But at the same time he was also manipulative.

And if Goethe was Werther, then that would mean Goethe was depressed, too. Perhaps writing the novel was Goethe's therapy - his way to pull himself out of the depths of his despair and explore what would happen if he did end it all and a chance to rethink that path. He never gave Werther that kind of outlet. The one time he did separate himself from his obsession, he began to improve. Then he dove right back into it after experiencing rejection at the hands of his "friend" the count and his ilk.

I highlighted a passage at the beginning of the story:

No doubt you are right, my best of friends, there would be far less suffering amongst mankind, if men—and God knows why they are so fashioned—did not employ their imaginations so assiduously in recalling the memory of past sorrow, instead of bearing their present lot with equanimity.

When I recalled the passage later while I was reading, I thought Werther himself had said it and that he had made a complete 180. Now I see he was quoting his friend - but he doesn't seem to have ever truly agreed with him. And maybe that's where I lose some of my abilty to identify with him. Sometimes it seems that Werther seemed to enjoy dwelling in his misery - that he preferred to rehash (now) sad memories of/with Charlotte than get out and try to make new memories without her.

I will say he seems very young. Maybe 15 is the new 25 - what he went through seems very much like a teenager's unrequited first love. Then he even experienced social bullying similar to what kids experience in school and on social media. Despite all our technology, things haven't really changed much, have they?

And Charlotte...at first I felt sympathy for her. It seemed like maybe Werther had built up this romance of whole cloth on his part, that he took the friendship she felt for him and imagined that she returned his love wholeheartedly, that they were kindred spirits and star-crossed lovers. And perhaps that was true to some extent. But in the last part of the book, where she was wishing he would feel more like a brother towards her and she could match him up with one of her friends - she admitted to herself that she wanted him to herself and didn't want to give him up to a friend. I didn't empathize with her as much after that.

The book certainly made me pause and think at places. People are often frustrated with those who are depressed because we can't understand why they just can't snap out of it. Even today we haven't found a cure for a "condition" like Werther's - not sure if that's even possible - only symptom treatment.


message 49: by ALLEN (last edited Sep 02, 2018 09:44AM) (new)

ALLEN | 622 comments A psychiatrist friend of mine once said, "ALL fifteen-year-olds are depressed." But I agree, when one is 25 and has the equivalent of a university education-plus, no addictions, "good" bourgeois family and so on . . . one must wonder. Let's say that German parents wanted German youth to remain young and ignorant as long as possible re love and sex.

Traditionally, the cure for German Werther-ism is a grand tour of their Continent. The curious are advised to consult Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre and Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre, which are clearly autobiographical in nature. I do not know how easy it is to find English translations.


message 50: by Amy (new) - added it

Amy | 13 comments Allen, I've heard that about fifteen-year-olds before. It definitely applied to me at times.

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/36483

Would that be the book(s) you referred to? If so, I think I may add it to the TBR - but I'm happy to move on to something else for the time being! Thanks for the info.


« previous 1
back to top