Die Leiden des Jungen Werther
, an epistolary
novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
, written in 1774
The novel consists of letters written by an impressionable
young artist (Werther) who is hopelessly and pathetically in love
with a friend's wife. In the end, he commits suicide
by borrowing the friend's pistols, and shooting himself in the head.
The novel is part autobiography
, as the young Goethe went through a similar love situation, with one salient
difference: Goethe did not blow his brains out.
Werther is the type specimen
of the German Sturm und Drang
movement. This type of artist relies solely on his sensibilities
and feelings, in a reaction against the Enlightenment cult of reason
in which he was brought up. The ultimate triumph of feeling over reason is manifested in the artist's suicide, since he determines life is unliveable if he cannot obtain the sole object of his passion
(the friend's wife).
The novel was a huge success, inspiring many copycat
Werthers, and for a time, quite a few young European men were shooting themselves in the head, while wearing Werther's trademark blue coat and yellow vest. Napoleon
is said to have carried a copy of Werther in his pocket throughout his Egyptian
campaign. And strangely, Mary Shelley
wrote that Werther was one of the three books Frankenstein's
monster used to educate himself (the others being Plutarch's Lives
and Milton's Paradise Lost