Goethe: The Sorrows of Young Werther (Landmarks of World by Martin Swales

By Martin Swales

The culture of the German novel, prior to the emergence of its 'classic' writers within the first half the 20th century (Thomas Mann, Kafka, Hesse, Musil), doesn't have an guaranteed position within the canon of ecu literature. now not that it has sought after for lively advocates; yet, regardless of all efforts, it has remained firmly at the outer edge. the single sign exception is Goethe's novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers often rendered as 'The Sorrows of younger Werther'. Werther was once a rare and quick bestseller either in Germany and overseas.

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Goethe: The Sorrows of Young Werther (Landmarks of World Literature)

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The novel is remarkable for the many and varied ways in which it sustains a view of the main character which never lets us forget that we are witnessing a process of irreversible psychological and spiritual decline. And the point must be made that, despite his frequent attempts at selfjustification, Werther has constant flashes of perception and honesty in which he sees the doom that irrevocably threatens him. In the letter of 13 May (Book One) he pictures himself cradling his heart 'like a sick child' - and the motif of sickness recurs throughout the letters.

And Werther's lament for his failure to find adequate expression for his perceptions vibrates with larger implications: what is at stake here is not only his ability or inability as a creative artist, but an imbalance between the experiencing and reflective self. As I hope to show later, Werther is not only a man of spontaneous and sincere feeling: he is also someone who is unremittingly self-conscious: he knows that he feels; and he knows that he knows. Yet we must be on our guard against bringing too much hindsight to bear: we must not reduce the ecstatic early letters to mere prefigurative symptoms of his catastrophic end.

If only she could have married him to one of her friends, she could have hoped to restore his relationship with Albert! We note, in the veryfirstsentence, the quickening of emotion in the little intensifying particle 'so precious', 'so beautifully'. On a first reading, we might expect a consecutive clause - 'so precious that . ' But there is no following 'that' clause. The 'so' celebrates intensity of experience, pure and simple. We note also the strength of the language: the imprint on Lotte's heart is 'indelible', to be deprived of him would be to 'tear a hole in her whole being'.

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