The Sorrows of Young
Werther (German: Die Leiden des jungen Werthers)
is a loosely autobiographical epistolary novel by Johann Wolfgang von
Goethe, first published in 1774. A revised edition followed in 1787.
It was one of the most important novels in the
Sturm und Drang
Sturm und Drang period
in German literature, and influenced the later Romantic movement.
Goethe, aged 24 at the time, finished
Werther in five-and-a-half weeks
of intensive writing in January–March 1774. The book's
publication instantly placed the author among the foremost
international literary celebrities, and remains the best known of his
works. Towards the end of Goethe's life, a personal visit to
Weimar became a crucial stage in any young man's
Grand Tour of
1 Plot summary
2 Effect on Goethe
3 Cultural impact
4 Alternative versions and appearances
6 See also
8 External links
Charlotte at Werther's grave
Most of The Sorrows of Young
Werther is presented as a collection of
letters written by Werther, a young artist of a sensitive and
passionate temperament, to his friend Wilhelm. These give an intimate
account of his stay in the fictional village of Wahlheim (based on
Garbenheim, near Wetzlar), whose peasants have
enchanted him with their simple ways. There he meets Charlotte, a
beautiful young girl who takes care of her siblings after the death of
Werther falls in love with Charlotte despite knowing
beforehand that she is engaged to a man named Albert, eleven years her
Despite the pain it causes him,
Werther spends the next few months
cultivating a close friendship with them both. His sorrow eventually
becomes so unsupportable that he is forced to leave Wahlheim for
Weimar, where he makes the acquaintance of Fräulein von B. He suffers
great embarrassment when he forgetfully visits a friend and
unexpectedly has to face there the weekly gathering of the entire
aristocratic set. He is not tolerated and asked to leave since he is
not a nobleman. He then returns to Wahlheim, where he suffers still
more than before, partly because Charlotte and Albert are now married.
Every day becomes a torturing reminder that Charlotte will never be
able to requite his love. She, out of pity for her friend and respect
for her husband, decides that
Werther must not visit her so
frequently. He visits her one final time, and they are both overcome
with emotion after he recites to her a passage of his own translation
Even before that incident,
Werther had hinted at the idea that one
member of the love triangle – Charlotte, Albert or
– had to die to resolve the situation. Unable to hurt anyone else or
seriously consider murder,
Werther sees no other choice but to take
his own life. After composing a farewell letter to be found after his
death, he writes to Albert asking for his two pistols, on the pretext
that he is going "on a journey". Charlotte receives the request with
great emotion and sends the pistols.
Werther then shoots himself in
the head, but does not die until twelve hours later. He is buried
under a linden tree that he has mentioned frequently in his letters.
The funeral is not attended by any clergy, or by Albert or Charlotte.
The book ends with an intimation that Charlotte may die of a broken
heart. "I shall say nothing of... Charlotte's grief.... Charlotte's
life was despaired of," etc.
Effect on Goethe
Goethe portrait in profile
Werther was one of Goethe's few works aligned with the aesthetic,
social and philosophical ideals that pervaded the German
proto-Romantic movement known as Sturm und Drang, before he and
Friedrich von Schiller
Friedrich von Schiller moved into
Weimar Classicism. The novel was
published anonymously, and Goethe distanced himself from it in his
later years, regretting the fame it had brought him and the
consequent attention to his own youthful love of Charlotte Buff. He
Werther at the age of twenty-four, and yet this was all that
some of his visitors in his old age knew him for. He even denounced
the Romantic movement as "everything that is sick."
Goethe described the powerful impact the book had on him, writing that
Werther had been a brother of his whom he had killed, he could
not have been more haunted by his vengeful ghost. Yet, Goethe
substantially reworked the book for the 1787 edition and
acknowledged the great personal and emotional influence that The
Sorrows of Young
Werther could exert on forlorn young lovers who
discovered it. As he commented to his secretary in 1821, "It must be
bad, if not everybody was to have a time in his life, when he felt as
Werther had been written exclusively for him." Even fifty years
after the book's publication, Goethe wrote in a conversation with
Eckermann about the emotional turmoil he had gone through while
writing the book: "That was a creation which I, like the pelican, fed
with the blood of my own heart."
The Sorrows of Young
Werther turned Goethe, previously an unknown
author, into a celebrated one almost overnight. Napoleon Bonaparte
considered it one of the great works of European literature, having
written a Goethe-inspired soliloquy in his youth and carried Werther
with him on his campaigning to Egypt. It also started the phenomenon
known as the "
Werther Fever", which caused young men throughout Europe
to dress in the clothing style described for
Werther in the
novel.[self-published source] Items of merchandising such as
Meissen porcelain and even a perfume were
The book reputedly also led to some of the first known examples of
copycat suicide. The men were often dressed in the same clothing "as
Goethe's description of
Werther and using similar pistols." Often the
book was found at the scene of the suicide. This aspect of "Werther
Fever" was watched with concern by the authorities – both the novel
Werther clothing style were banned in
Leipzig in 1775; the
novel was also banned in Denmark and Italy. It was also watched
with fascination by fellow authors. One of these, Friedrich Nicolai,
decided to create a satirical piece with a happy ending, entitled Die
Freuden des jungen Werthers ("The Joys of Young Werther"), in which
Albert, having realized what
Werther is up to, loaded chicken's blood
into the pistol, thereby foiling Werther's suicide, and happily
concedes Lotte to him. After some initial difficulties,
his passionate youthful side and reintegrates himself into society as
a respectable citizen.
Goethe, however, was not pleased with the Freuden and started a
literary war with Nicolai that lasted all his life, writing a poem
titled "Nicolai auf Werthers Grabe" ("Nicolai on Werther's grave"), in
which Nicolai (here a passing nameless pedestrian) defecates on
Werther's grave, so desecrating the memory of a
Werther from which
Goethe had distanced himself in the meantime, as he had from the Sturm
und Drang. This argument was continued in his collection of short and
critical poems, the Xenien, and his play Faust.
Alternative versions and appearances
This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help
improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources.
Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (September 2017)
(Learn how and when to remove this template message)
In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Frankenstein's monster finds the book
in a leather portmanteau, along with two others — Plutarch's Lives
of the Noble Greeks and Romans, and Milton's Paradise Lost. He sees
Werther's case as similar to his own, of one rejected by those he
The book influenced Ugo Foscolo's The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis,
which tells of a young man who commits suicide, out of desperation
caused not only by love, but by the political situation of Italy
before the Unification. This is taken to be the first Italian
Thomas Carlyle, who incidentally translated Goethe's novel Wilhelm
Meister into English, frequently refers to and parodies Werther's
relationship in his 1836 novel Sartor Resartus.
The statistician Karl Pearson's first book was The New Werther.
Goethe's work was the basis for the 1892 opera
Werther by Jules
William Makepeace Thackeray
William Makepeace Thackeray wrote a poem satirizing Goethe's story
entitled Sorrows of Werther.
Thomas Mann's 1939 novel Lotte in
Weimar recounts a fictional reunion
between Goethe and his youthful passion, Charlotte Buff.
An episode of the American television series
History Bites features
the book, with
Bob Bainborough as Goethe.
Ulrich Plenzdorf, a GDR poet, wrote a satirical novel (and play)
Die neuen Leiden des jungen W. ("The New Sorrows of Young W."),
transposing the events into an East German setting, with the
protagonist as an ineffectual teenager rebelling against the
In William Hill Brown's The Power of Sympathy, the novel appears next
to Harrington's unsealed suicide note.
The 2010 German film
Goethe! is a fictional account of the relations
between the young Goethe,
Charlotte Buff and her fiancé Kestner,
which at times draws on that of Werther, Charlotte and Albert.
The 2014 novel The Sorrows of Young Mike by John Zelazny is a loosely
autobiographical parody of Goethe's novel.
The Sorrows of Young Werther, Oxford World's Classics, tr. David
Constantine, Oxford University Press, 2012,
ISBN 978-0199583027 .
The Sorrows of Young Werther, Dover Thrift Editions, tr. Thomas
Carlyle, R. Dillon Boylan, Dover Publications, 2002 ,
ISBN 0-486-42455-3 ; originally publ. by CT Brainard.
The Sufferings of Young Werther, tr. Harry Steinhauer, New York: WW
Norton & Co, 1970, ISBN 0-393-09880-X .
The Sorrows of Young Werther, & Novelle, Classics Edition, tr.
Elizabeth Mayer, Louise Bogan; poems transl. & foreword W. H.
Auden, Vintage Books, June 1990 , ISBN 0-679-72951-8 ;
originally publ. by Random House.
The Sorrows of Young Werther, Classics Library Complete Collection,
tr. Michael Hulse, Penguin Books, 1989, ISBN 0-14-044503-X .
The Sorrows of Young Werther, Modern Library, tr. Burton Pike, Random
House, 2004, ISBN 0-8129-6990-1 .
Hebrew translation יסורי ורתר הצעיר was
popular among youths in the Zionist pioneer communities in British
Mandate of Palestine in the 1930s and 1940s and blamed for the suicide
of several young men considered to have emulated Werther.
^ a b c d e f Wellbery, David E; Ryan, Judith; Gumbrecht, Hans Ulrich
(2004), A New History of German Literature, pp. 386–387,
^ a b c d e Appelbaum, Stanley (2004-06-04), Introduction to The
Sorrows of Young Werther, pp. VII–VIII,
^ Robertson, JG, A History of German Literature, William Blackwood
& Sons, p. 268
^ Hunt, Lynn. The Makings of the West: Peoples and Cultures.
Bedford/St. Martins Press
^ Will Durant (1967). The Story of Civilization Volume 10: Rousseau
and Revolution. Simon&Schuster. p. 563.
^ Stephen Payne, Carrying the Torch (Xlibris, 2010), p. 170.
^ A. Alvarez, The Savage God: A Story of Suicide (Norton, 1990), p.
^ a b Furedi, Frank (2015). "The Media's First Moral Panic". History
Today. 65 (11).
^ Devitt, Patrick. "13 Reasons Why and Suicide Contagion". Scientific
American. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
^ Friedrich Nicolai: Freuden des jungen Werthers. Leiden und Freuden
Werthers des Mannes. Voran und zuletzt ein Gespräch. Klett, Stuttgart
1980, ISBN 3-12-353600-9
^ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, David Luke (1964), Goethe: with plain
prose translations of each poem (in German), ISBN 9780140420746,
retrieved 1 December 2010
^ Ulrich Plensdorf, tr. Romy Fursland: The New Sorrows of Young W.
(London: Pushkin Press, 2015).
^ Andrew Travers, "In Aspenite's debut novel, a Goethe hero lost at
sea," The Aspen Times, October 3, 2014.
Auden, Wystan Hugh (1971), Foreword, Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Random
House, Inc .
Herold, J. Christopher (1963). The Age of Napoleon. American Heritage
Wilkinson, William Cleaver (1887), Classic German Course in English,
Chautauqua Press, retrieved 2007-03-16
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Die Leiden des jungen Werthers.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: The Sorrows of Young Werther
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
The Sorrows of Young Werther
Die Leiden des jungen Werthers
The Sorrows of Young
Werther at Project Gutenberg
Free Audiobook from LibriVox (in German)
The Sorrows of Young
Werther Free Audio in English
Werther Went Through (21st-century update, published in
"real-time" online and via personalised emails)
William Makepeace Thackeray's poem "Sorrows of Werther"
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Hermann and Dorothea
Der König in Thule
Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Welcome and Farewell
Erwin und Elmire
Götz von Berlichingen
Iphigenia in Tauris
The Natural Daughter
The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily
The Sorrows of Young Werther
Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship
Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years
Dichtung und Wahrheit
Metamorphosis of Plants
Theory of Colours
Gespräche mit Goethe
Christine Vulpius (wife)
Katharina Elisabeth Goethe
Katharina Elisabeth Goethe (mother)
Goethe House in Weimar
House and museum (Frankfurt)
Goethe Monument (Berlin)
Goethe–Schiller Monument (Weimar)
Goethe–Schiller Monument (Milwaukee)
Goethe Society of North America
Young Goethe in Love
Young Goethe in Love (2010 film)
The Sorrows of Young
Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The Novel of
Young Goethe in Love
Young Goethe in Love (2010)
Die neuen Leiden des jungen W.
Lotte in Weimar: The Beloved Returns
Sorrows of Werther