Poor tragic sensitive Werther. He’s always at emotional extremes. When he’s happy, heavenly raptures fill his heart with delight and he will kiss everybody a thousand times. When he’s sad, the deepest darkest despair rends his soul into jagged pieces and he becomes suicidal. The clue to this story is in the title.
This is a Romantic book with a capital R. Although I hadn’t read it before, I could recognise its influence in the literature that came after. For a thin book (under 200 pages) it causes a big impact, like a small meteor creating a large crater in the earth. I can’t say I enjoyed the book. It’s too sad for that. However, I liked the straightforward writing style and passionate voice of young Werther. There are a lot of human truths in the book, too. It’s epistolary (narrated through letters), a common device in the 18th century. Werther tells of his love for Lotte, a young woman engaged to a man who is Werther’s opposite in character. The engagement was a wish of Lotte’s dying mother. Now the angelic Lotte is a mother to her own siblings, which charms Werther’s heart. As his obsession develops, so does his depression as he realises he can never be more than a friend to Lotte.
I would recommend this book if you’re looking for a shorter classic, particularly a translated one. Just be prepared for the tragedy.
First published in 1774. This edition is a Penguin Red Classic, 2006, translated from the German by Michael Hulse.