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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 28 July 2010
Two true stories woven together so as to provide a tragic love story and a direct insight into Goethe's mind. Simple, poetic, tragic and thoughtful. A journey alongside genius.

When Napoleon met Goethe he is reported to have said, "There is a Man!" Napoleon was a big fan of Goethe and read this book no less than seven times. Perhaps not surprisingly, because its semi-autobiographical nature makes it an almost direct insight into Goethe's genius.

The story is based on two separate but related true stories. First Goethe's own stay in the village of Wetzlar in 1771 when he was 23. He met Charlotte Buff who was engaged to Christian Kestner and seems to have fallen in love with her and possibly her with him, but neither acted on their feelings out of respect and possibly love for Kestner. The second concerns a mutual friend, Wilhelm Jerusalem, who shot himself over his love for Elisabeth Herd, a married woman. Much is known of the actual facts of these two stories and Goethe's synthesis of himself and Jerusalem into the fictional Werther follows the facts remarkably closely so that it seems when he talks about Werther's feelings he is describing his own.

Goethe has that clarity and simplicity of thought that defines genius and he has sufficient self-confidence in his own abilities so as not to need to display his cleverness. Instead he plainly and simply sets out the story and his/Werther's thoughts and emotions about what is happening. He tries to be a fine human being against the tide of his emotions, and there is much to appreciate in his relationships with others and in his observations about the simple pleasures in life. The reader is left with the strong impression that Goethe would have been a good and interesting friend; and the fact of his having a powerful and creative mind would never have interfered with that position.

As Werther falls further in love with Charlotte his situation becomes hopeless and, like Jerusalem, he decides to shoot himself using Albert's (Christian's) guns. The ending is gory and ghastly but, in Werther's mind, glorious because in death he will get to wait for Charlotte who he is certain loves him and not Albert.

The book was a sensation on publication and Werther mania swept Europe, including guided tours of Wetzlar and Jerusalem's grave. Suicide was said to have become a fashion amongst the young and they adopted Werther's (Jerusalem's) trademark dress of blue frock-coat, buff leather waistcoat and breeches.

For modern readers it is a remarkable and poignant love story, but also a chance to spend some hours in the company of a great and gentle mind.
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on 1 December 2002
We tend to think of our era as unique when we descry the impact that the media has on our young people's behavior. Well the same thing happened 200 years ago when this book was first published. Impressionable young readers who identified so completely with Werther went out and committed suicide by the droves.
Werther is the prototypical Romantic male, who "feels" more deeply than the rest of humanity. Unlike Heathcliffe, who settles on revenge as an answer to his thwarted designs, Werther takes it out on himself. Of course, there's a great deal of self-destruction at work in Heathcliffe's persona too.
I would recommend this to a reader who is just getting to know Goethe. I read it when I was about eighteen and it definitely struck a nerve with me at that time. It made me want to read everything by Goethe I could find in translation.
Read it, and if you like it, as I am sure you will, go on to Goethe's two great Romantic novels, Elective Affinities and Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship. I found in my earlier readings that I never went wrong with Penguin Classics translations. They're normally all top-notch, whether Greek, Latin, French, German, Russian, etc. PS: If you're a young reader, please don't take Werther too much to heart. It's only a novel, ok?
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 22 August 2009
The sorrows of young Werther is, in my humble opinion, one of the best stories I have read.

The majority of the narrative is written in the words of Werther himself in the form of letters to his brother Wilhelm and it starts slowly but I would urge the reader to be patient as the story blossoms.

I found myself sympathising with Werther and his unrequieted love for Lotte having been there more than once in my life and feeling the same pain and elation in the same heart beat, the uncertainty and the joy. I found Goethe's text mirroring real life, I later discovered that it is based on his own unrequieted love and so was an out pouring of his feelings.

On the whole I really enjoyed this book and it was my first Goethe and I am looking forward to reading more and would urge anyone who has felt the same pain or has an interest in classic literature to read this.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 31 December 2012
Werther was an important and influential novel of the Sturm und Drang period. Goethe was 26 when he wrote it. It was his first novel and brought him instant fame. It is something of a young person's novel, overbrimming with emotional drama. In later life, Goethe distanced himself from it somewhat.

I found the early part too overheated for my taste (a bit too much of a Sturm in a teacup) but Werther's obsessive passion becomes more authentic and compelling later in the story. And, some way through the book, there are very fine descriptive passages. The ending is extraordinary - dark, dramatic, disturbing. It is difficult now to understand the impact the novel had at the time, as it was so perfectly suited to the zeitgeist, so different from our own.

I read the Modern Library Classics edition, translated and introduced by Burton Pike. I have not read other editions, so cannot compare them, but I can tell you that this one is excellent. Werther presents a particular challenge to the English translator, because it includes a sizeable extract from The Songs of Ossian, by James Macpherson, translated into German. So does the translator attempt a translation of Goethe's German version, which is rather more passionate and free-flowing than the original, or is it better to simply revert to the original English version? Pike chooses the latter course, wisely in my opinion, and adds an explanatory footnote. He also discusses the issue in the Introduction.

If you want to get to know Goethe's work (and if you enjoy good literature, you should) then this first novel is a logical place to start, but be assured that his more mature work is far better.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 27 August 2012
I would not purchase this item, even for such a small amount of money.
You can not read one page without having to interpret many occasions of 2 or 3 words that have been joined together.
This is definitely faulty, but the classic itself is wonderful. Buy a better copy and enjoy.
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Johanne Wolfgang von Goethe is one of the giants of German literature. He lived between 1749 and 1832. His influence on numerous writers was significant. His most famous work is Faust, which was first published in 1808, with an operatic version produced in 1814. It has been an essential part of the repertoire of many an opera company ever since. It is also a most useful metaphor for many of the dilemmas of life: making a deal with the "devil" for short-term gratification. The "Sorrows of Young Werther" was first published in 1774. It was Goethe's first novel, and was widely acclaimed, an early "best seller."

The actual novella is only a hundred pages; thus publishers tend to provide additional material to "fill out" their offering. The version that I read was published in 1982, by "Signet Classic," translated by Catherine Hutter, and with a forward by Hermann Weigand. Included in this publication is a 20 page work entitled "Reflections on Werther" which I found of much value, as Goethe explained the themes of his novella, as well as his concept of the German word "Dichtang" which he uses to mean "revelation of higher truths." I also enjoyed "Goethe in Sesenheim" which underscored his admiration for Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield. (Note: when I first read Goldsmith's work, some 45 years ago, I felt it was rather "pollyannish" since everything turned out wonderful in the end: the proverbial "happy ending" that good teachers of literature warn us is NOT good literature. Goethe admiration for the work has placed it on my re-read list.) The last two works I found a much lesser value. They are "The New Melusina" which is a tale involving German folk myths concerning the small people who were the original creation: pixies. The last work, "The Fairy Tale," I had difficulty finishing.

As for "Sorrows", it involves a young man's infatuation with a charming woman, Lotte, which turns into a deadly obsession (for him.) A lot of us might have been there in our youths, and this was one of the reasons for its immense popularity when it was first published. It reminded me of W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage (Vintage Classics). As Goethe describes it, ever since Werther's first waltz with Lotte, "heaven and earth have changed places." There is a major rub: Lotte is engaged to another, Albert, and the two of them eventually marry. Albert is depicted as a "very fine chap," who is openly friendly to Werther. But as time goes on, Albert understandably finds Werther's obsession with his wife more than annoying, and he grows much more distant. Lotte also finds it quite irritating, as Werther cannot "move on," and find another, as so many of us have done. In the "Reflections" Goethe notes that after publication, numerous women became "obsessed" with the idea that they were the one upon whom "Lotte" was modeled. Goethe states that his character is a composite of several women.

In addition to the central theme, there are the incidentals of life in the latter part of 18th century Germany. An educated man like Werther is enthralled with the Greek classics, and normally carries around a copy of the works of Homer. Being of a certain class, he does not appear to have to work, and his one brief fling into a field in which he receives some remuneration ends fairly quickly. And there is that admiration for the joys of the natural world, taking pleasure in eating the peas and cabbage that one has grown, much of which can still be observed in the Europe of today.

Unlike "Wakefield," there is no happy ending, contrived or otherwise, and the one that is provided could edge towards the melodramatic. Still, overall, 5-stars, for a valuable historical novel that has influenced many other writers (and readers).
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on 26 February 2012
The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, is an exciting read for anyone interested in the Romantic period. Written in 1774, some critics have considered the publishing of the short novel as the beginning of Romanticism. Although academics vary on the dates they attribute to the period, it is undeniable that Werther is fundamental to fundamental aspects of it, particularly its influence in the cult of sensibility and the European cult of celebrity. Following its release, the novel was banned in Italy due to the numerous suicides of young men who felt they identified with Werther. In this story of unrequited love, one finds some of the most hyperbolic and lyrical writing of the period. It anticipates the confessional thread which ran through later Romantic works, and provides a study of obsessive manic love of which an elevated mind of reason has no control. In this sense, it is not unlike Hazlitt's Liber Amoris. Madame de Stael widened readings of Werther, politicizing it, suggesting that Werther would not have become suicidal if it wasn't for his occupational failings. All in all, The Sorrows of Young Werther is an under-appreciated book. Its influences on the Romantic period were far-reaching and it should be delved into by those with a love of Romanticism.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 24 December 2012
Buyer beware.

Dozens of transcription errors make reading this edition far more of a chore than it ought to be. Wrongly digitised letters, whole incorrect words, and occasional meaningless repetitions, as well as footnotes which do not reflow when the font is scaled, but are truncated.

Very poor quality from such a reliable publisher. Choose any other edition.
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on 21 April 2015
This is a review for the e-book, not the literary work. A shamefully poor effort by Penguin. 'The' is regularly transcribed as 'die', and numerous other irritating errors. The footnotes are useless as the line ends all go off the page and there is no way of getting them to display properly.
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on 5 February 2011
the sorrows of young werther is a story of deep love and how it can affect a person in the most terrible ways if the feeling is not mutual. i cant really do the book much justice by writing a review all i can say is that it is a book that you wont regret reading!
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