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The Sorrows of Young Werther (Dover Thrift Editions) Paperback – October 29, 2002
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About the Author
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) was a German civil servant, philosopher, statesman, public reformist, and prolific man of letters. As acting director of the theater at Weimar, Goethe was an early participant in the Sturm und Drang movement—one that encouraged extremes of emotion in the arts. But it was Goethe’s work as a writer that made him an ennobled celebrity by the time he was twenty-four. His wide-ranging career encompassed playwriting, epic and lyric poetry, prose and verse dramas, memoirs, novels, literary criticism, and notable scientific treatises. Goethe’s tragedy Faust is considered his magnum opus.
R. D. Boylan’s translation of The Sorrows of Young Werther was one of the first to bring international attention to the sensational cult novel. Boylan’s grasp of the language and its idioms, his commitment to accuracy, and his admiration for Goethe’s work resulted in a translation that is world renowned for capturing the unique spirit in which the book was written. Boylan’s other translations of Goethe’s work include The Elective Affinities, The Recreations of the German Emigrants, and The Good Women.
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A short, accessible read on the emotions of a young man whose love decides to be with another man. I was going to give this book 3 stars, but as I'm writing this review, there are so many things to discuss! ...I'll give it another star! ...This is my second book by Goethe, and I continue to be amazed at the respect literature scholars give him (the German Shakespeare?!) and the accessibility of his writing...nothing near the difficulty of Shakespeare!
I picked it up because Thoreau and Emerson drew heavily from the idea of "Bildungsroman" (self culture/self development/coming of age/discovering who you are) of which Goethe was apparently initially the most prominent author.
Thomas Carlyle (who appears to be the summarizer of the literature of his day) said it introduces Goethe's genius work released 31 years later: "Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship" He said, 'Werther' introduced the problems, but gave no answer, 'Wilhelm Meister' gave the perspective and remedy to 'Werther's' problem. I'm excited to read Wilhelm Meister!
Goethe wrote this when he was 24 and it launched him into worldwide fame (as his "Italian Journey" reveals--he was known there by his "Werther"). Napoleon actually met Goethe and told him he had read this book 7 times and carried it in his shirt pocket on a few of his campaigns. This part is highly intriguing to me, I wonder what part of this story was so compelling to Napoleon.
The book is primarily about Werther's love for Lotte (or Charlotta, depending on your translation) and how even though it seems perfect to him, it is not meant to be. He often returns to agonizing over this impossibility and his mind tries to figure out ways the relationship could work out. Lotte has, of course, married another man, Albert.
I wouldn't be surprised if this is where Chris Corraba from Dashboard Confessional gets his inspiration. Some reviewers I read said if you had any lingering sentiment of a missed love connection this book would amplify it...as a single guy, it (mostly) did the opposite for me. I thought it might be a good one to recommend to anyone in that state, to see how absurd Werther's sorrows were over that one woman. I did have some of the missed connection sympathy with him, but I wanted to tell him the whole time, "you're bigger than that!" also "there was never a chance anyways! She was engaged!"
I imagine what attracted most to this book was it's honesty in dealing with emotions. Perhaps before this time period people ignored their emotions and pushed on with what was practical. Goethe opened up the "Sturm and Drang" movement and gave his characters' emotions validity.
I think this is perhaps the big question of my generation...how much validity do you give to your emotions? Certainly some, but is it all about how we feel? We know when prodded it isn't "all about" that, but what drives our actions? A cold self-determination? That doesn't seem right. I hope Thomas Carlyle is right in that Wilhelm Meister gives a good response to Werther's pain.
There is a bit more to the book than Werther's unavailable love...he shares beautifully on Nature, in one chapter the incredible meaning and beauty inherent in it, and then in another, the cold disregard for itself. I loved the parts where he talks about the nature in children.
Thoreau I'm sure loved his notes on life's true joys. Goethe has the same theme of why work all day at something you don't enjoy so that you can do it again the next day and the next...what is real joy? What do you actually need and want?
I will discuss the ending below, but beware, SPOILER ALERT!
I think this is the first book I have read that imagines suicide. The suicide of Werther is interesting. I wondered if that was how it would end. I wonder if Napoleon was interested in this part of the book or not. Apparently it inspired some acts of suicide in Goethe's day. I think it would have been controversial to not demonize it and Goethe does not. There's a lot to be considered between the acceptance of suicide in this novel and Goethe's Christianity, and between the Christianity many of us know in our day. I wonder why Goethe didn't let the character die immediately, but let him live almost another 24 hours. . . . the lingering questions work well with the subject. It seems nature doesn't often allow the bow to be tied on at the end of a life.
Again, excited for Wilhelm Meister. Thomas Carlyle, I hope you're right.
This thing was awesome, hilarious, and probably not -supposed- to be hilarious.
Most recent customer reviews
The Dover thrift edition has a low level translation but the worst part really is that they feel "obliged" to censor parts of the...Read more