Once in your lifetime, there would be a moment when everything seems smooth and feels right, that you know you are producing something bigger than anything you have done so far; The Sorrows of Young Werther might have been that of Goethe! In Chinese philosophy, there is a concept called Wu Wei, which literally means non-action or non-doing. The Chinese believes that there will be times when we don’t have to fight so hard to achieve something. All you have to do is to wait for that perfect moment to come, when you don’t have to work so hard, yet everything complies with your wish, then voila….your masterpiece! Goethe wrote Werther after being acquainted with a young man named Jerusalem, whose faith had similarity with his own. He finished the book in four weeks without making any preliminary plans or putting it down on notes before. And from the result (especially the ending) I could see how much Goethe has poured out his emotion into it. So intense and powerful was it, that I have lost my mood to read the rest of his writings for several days.
Werther is a young man with passionate temperament who was staying on a village. He wrote letters to his friend William, telling him all about what he has done and how his feeling was from day to day. These letters were woven into this epistolary novel. Most of the letters were about Werther’s infatuation with a peasant girl named Charlotte (he called her Lotte). They had a lot in common, and although Lotte didn’t return his feeling but engaged and married to another man, they became intimate friends. But Werther could not get rid of Lotte from his life; his love for her was too strong. The last letters he wrote to William showed how much his mental was disturbed. It affected his artistic mind too, that he was unable to paint, or even do, anything.
Werther should be a perfect reading for those who have interest in psychology; a bit similar with the troubled Philip in Of Human Bondage, though Philip’s sorrows were more complex, as the root of his problems did not come from passionate love, but from the lack of universal love. From Werther I learned to always have control and balance of our own life. Sometimes we need to follow our feelings, but at other time, when you do not feel happy, there must be something wrong in what you are doing. Your rational side must take over to make yourself balanced. The art of life is in the balancing our two poles to drive our lives to happiness.
Looking at the style, Goethe might be more suitable to Romanticism than Enlightenment. The melancholy atmosphere and his flowery sentences in Werther were very romantic. However, his regard over life (and particularly in suicides) gave him a little credit to be in the Enlightenment too, in his reasoning against traditional values praised in the Renaissance. In fact, Goethe was one of the proponents of the new movement called Sturm und Drang (=Storm and Drive) in German, which succeeded The Enlightenment, and prepared the coming of Romanticism. Its uniqueness was in the extreme emotional expression, which you can undoubtedly find in Werther.
Five stars for Goethe and his almost autobiographical story of the young Werther!
I read Signet Classics paperback
This book is counted as:
4th book for Literary Movement Reading Challenge:Enlightenment
89th book for The Classics Club Project