31 March, 2012

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"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!"
Read when you've reached The Edge. 

When I started on this slim book (a mere 88 pages long!), the prose seemed unwieldly, too ornate for my taste. I grew apprehensive, perhaps I'd been reading too much 'new age literature', perhaps it was my waning patience? Thankfully, it was neither, and slowly, Young Werther grasped.

Goethe was only 24 (!) when he wrote this semi-autobiographical book, applauded as one of the most important milestones in his career. The preface states "it rose like a literary meteor in the world and carries his name on its blazing wings."

Narrated in the form of letters Werther writes to his friend, the story charts the spiral of wrenching emotions he faces and finally bows down to. For all the weaknesses of his character, Werther is strong in his love, something he nourishes and fans till there is nothing left for himself. With an almost morbid fascination, I watched him rise, on the ecstacy of finding love, even if unrequited, and then his fall into the Abyss of No Return. His introspective letters are exquisite pieces of prose and I watched Werther wade through anxieties that I have often had at different turns of my life. He too holds an immense fascination for Nature. He too echoes the feelings of jealousy and pain I have ridden. And that, for me, is Goethe's triumph. He transcends time. Werther is a young man in 18th century Germany. I, a girl in 21st century India. Our contexts could not be further removed and yet he manages to build a story that resonates.
"This confirmed me in my resolution of adhering, for the future, entirely to nature. She alone is inexhaustible, and capable of forming the greatest masters."


  1. You read it when you reached The Edge?

    What other anxieties did the book transcend?

    1. I read it when rather far away from The Edge. Which was good but I think reading it near the tipping point would be interesting too.

      What anxieties did it transcend? None. Instead, the story resonated because some insights were familiar, some reflections about Nature or Society could've been mine. Sometimes, there is comfort in familiarity.



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