The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1784, 100 pages)
"A German Narcissist, How Attractive"
I have always been kind of nervous or intimidated from trying to read anything by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 to 1832-German-I have seen him listed with his first name as Wolfgang also) because his master work is a very long poem, Faust. By and large the only long poems I have read in translation are the Greeks, Ovid, Virgil, and Dante.
I just completed through Dailylit.com Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I like reading things via dailylit so I was looking for something else to read. I saw that The Sorrows of Young Werther was only 48 episodes long (you can customize your experience to make the installments longer and get a new one as soon as you want) and I knew the basic gist of the work so I decided to read subscribe to the feed. I read it over the course of five days and I am very glad I did.
The Sorrows of Young Werther is a very famous, very influential work about a young man who examines his feelings and reactions to everything around him in great detail. It is in theory a love story but it is really about depression and romantic anguish. The story line is not complex. A young man falls hopelessly in love with being in love with an unobtainable woman. The narrative is in the form of a series of letters by Young Werther to his friend about his horrible feelings of sadness. There are many exquisite descriptions of the beauty of nature and of his feelings. As anyone who will read this book will know in advance, he kills himself in the end. His death has been seen by some as being glorified. To me it seems a horribly stupid action by a selfish young man. Werther came from an affluent family and was in the process of being educated. I do not wish to offend anyone, but I wished his friend had drug him, kicking and screaming if need be, for a week at the best brothel in Berlin. If he had been born a few years latter Flaubert or de Maupassant could have taken him!
I think one of the ways we can look at this work is that it is not a celebration of the creation of romance out of false feelings but an exhibition of the negative effects of fixating on our sensations only. I have seen posts and articles that say The Sorrows of Young Werther is a great romance era work. Maybe this is totally wrong and it is an anti-romantic work. Generations of readers have swooned over the romantic notions of Young Werther. To me he is an idiot and I think Goethe means us to see it that way. I am kind of over stating my case and simplifying my reaction to see if others will take off on me for this.
This work is for sure in the category of "High Art" and should be on all life time reading lists. It is not hard to read or difficult to follow.
Nicole of bibliographing has an excellent post on this work as does Amateur Reader of Wuthering Expectations