Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: The Sorrows of Young Werther

(1774)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

Werther is a young bureaucrat in a town near Wetzlar who falls in love with a woman already engaged to another man. He befriends the couple and endures greater and greater pain and suffering from being unable to express his desires. After several months (and the couple's marriage), Werther borrows a set of dueling pistols from the husband and shoots himself. The novel is epistolary in form, told entirely through letters written by Werther to an unnamed friend except for the details of the suicide, which are supplied in a notice written by the fictitious editor of the letter collection.

Although Goethe soon rejected the Sturm und Drang technique in favor of his new approach, known as Weimar classicism, and grew to dislike the celebrity brought him by what he considered a youthful experiment, he said that every young man ought have the chance of feeling that The Sorrows of Young Werther was written about him, meaning that the book...

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Portrait of Goethe by Eugène Delacroix (Yale University Art Gallery)

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