Book #41

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Written in diary form, The Sorrows of Young Werther tells the tale of an unhappy, passionate young man hopelessly in love with Charlotte, the wife of a friend - a man who he alternately admires and detests. 

You’d be forgiven for thinking this novel deals with unrequited love, but really it deals in obsession, in idealisation, and in the dangers of pinning the entirety of your hopes on another person.

Werther is pitiable, yes, but in him we see a character who is longing for something which perhaps cannot be gained. He believes all he wants is this woman he’s deeply fallen for, but his pursuit of her, and his subsequent obsession, seem to point to something larger lacking in his life. It’s easy to put people on pedestals, to believe them to be our ultimate saviour, our solution, our path leading out from the woods. In reality, the way we perceive people, whether as high above or far below us, is often incorrect.

I did struggle in places; there’s a great deal of misery, and I felt (probably as Werther did) that I was getting nowhere, but Goethe’s prose is poetic, and the parallels Werther’s life have with his own are interesting. I wonder if writing this provided Goethe with some form of solace.

Having finished this I’m reminded of the importance of seeking my happiness in different places; not in one person, not in one tenuous future event, not in possessions. We are, each of us, complicated, and so must care for ourselves in complicated and multi-faceted ways.