Werther’s Sorrows – They’re Uncommonly Good

I’m going Frankfurt! Home of tall buildings and every kind of convention and show imaginable, from cars to books to tattoos to tractors. I am not lucky enough to be going to a book fair, and will be only be there for two chilly days in February, but in that short time, I am determined to visit Goethe’s birthplace, and only being familiar with his version of Faust, I thought I’d better read some more.


The Sorrows of Young Werther, first published in 1774, is about a cheery as it sounds, and there I was hoping I’d find out all about his sweet-inventing adventures, maybe his struggles with diabetes and tooth decay.


However, it’s semi-autobiographical novel about a young artist who falls in love with an engaged women, and tortures himself and everyone around him with his unrequited passion. His work suffers as he has a head full of toxic obsession. The book is a diary, his days often beginning with whether he would see her or not, chiding her for putting sand on her letters to him to dry the ink, as when he kisses the letters he ends up with grit in his teeth (dude! Exactly how are you kissing them? On second thoughts, never mind.)

He even gets excited about being near a servant when that servant has spoken to her that day, as if her wonder will be transmitted to him like a glorious, radiant, Ready-Brek glow. It’s worth noting that he reads a lot of Homer, and his ideas of reality and romance are touch on the epic side.

It all goes wrong for Werther, hence the title. Most of us have been there, known what it’s like to see the object of your temporary insanity dancing with someone else, and know they can never be yours. I do wish I could sit Werther down, give him a cup of tea and a reality check, and then hit the town, and have him singing along with this on the dance floor. I have seen many people sing this with rather more feeling and recognition than they do other things.


If I feel sorry for anyone it’s the Lotte, the girl he loves. She made it clear she was engaged from the start, she tried to check his enthusiasm for her where possible, and when it all ends horrible you know she’s the one who will be left feeling bad, when she didn’t actually do anything wrong.

And finally, we often like to show the cook covers of the different versions of a book here on HBH, however this time I’ve been drawn to some really horrid things. If Amazon sent me either of these I’d want my money back. I can’t tell if the one on the left has nodded off or about to blow a raspberry.