Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Sorrows of Young Werther

There's a lot of books that I love. Usually when someone asks me for my absolute favourite I go for The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, because it sort of has everything I love (well-written, nerdy, murder mystery, crazy-ass church things, mentions of Abelard etc), but that's not the book I want to talk about today. I was thinking about how all art forms can make the world a more beautiful place, and there are certainly some books that have done this for me. One of the first books that really wowed me because of the beauty of language is Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther (Die Leiden des jungen Werther).

The book is a series of letters that Werther sends to his friend Wilhelm, he mainly talks about the village he is staying at and about the girl he falls in love with, Lotte. And really, nothing much happens in the book at all but you don't even notice, because Goethe was such an extraordinary writer. You get dragged into the story and into the emotions and the love, and for me the book was nearly impossible to put down. The language is very colourful and I know there will be plenty of people who find it overly flamboyant but well, that just sucks for them.

I know that the book promted copycat suicides (Werther effect anyone?) and the story is incredibly sad, Werther is a miserable young man, but still, I find the book to be of almost unparalleled beauty. Here are some passages that I love (difficult to pick any, every page is quotable!):

In other respects I am very well off here. Solitude in this terrestrial paradise is a genial balm to my mind, and the young spring cheers with its bounteous promises my oftentimes misgiving heart. 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.


In vain do I stretch out my arms toward her when I awaken in the morning from my weary slumbers. In vain do I seek for her at night in my bed, when some innocent dream has happily deceived me, and placed her near me in the fields, when I have seized her hand and covered it with countless kisses. And when I feel for her in the half confusion of sleep, with the happy sense that she is near, tears flow from my oppressed heart; and, bereft of all comfort, I weep over my future woes.


Oh, the brilliant wretchedness, the weariness, that one is doomed to witness among the silly people whom we meet in society here! The ambition of rank! How they watch, how they toil, to gain precedence! What poor and contemptible passions are displayed in their utter nakedness! We have a woman here, for example, who never ceases to entertain the company with accounts of her family and her estates. Any stranger would consider her a silly being, whose head was turned by her pretensions to rank and property; but she is in reality even more ridiculous, the daughter of a mere magistrate's clerk from this neighbourhood. I cannot understand how human beings can so debase themselves.


I turned my sorrowful eyes toward a favourite spot, where I was accustomed to sit with Charlotte beneath a willow after a fatiguing walk. Alas! it was covered with water, and with difficulty I found even the meadow. And the fields around the hunting-lodge, thought I. Has our dear bower been destroyed by this unpitying storm? And a beam of past happiness streamed upon me, as the mind of a captive is illumined by dreams of flocks and herds and bygone joys of home! But I am free from blame. I have courage to die! Perhaps I have,—but I still sit here, like a wretched pauper, who collects fagots, and begs her bread from door to door, that she may prolong for a few days a miserable existence which she is unwilling to resign.

If you're interested in reading it, you can actually find it online at the Project Gutenburg here.

1 comment:

  1. Een prachtig boek inderdaad. Ik las het toen ik voor het eerst echt verliefd was, voor m'n mondeling Duits. Het lijden van Werther + de hormonale verwarring aan mijn zijde heeft tot meerdere hysterische huilbuien geleid *giggle* Heerlijk.