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Die Leiden des jungen Werther
Johann Wolfgang Goethe
publisher: Weygandschen Buchhandlung, Leipzig, 1774

translated as:
The Sorrows of Young Werther
publisher: Querido, Amsterdam, 1989

refered to by:
Knut Hamsun

Max Havelaar or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company

Emilio's Carnival, or 'Senilità'
Italo Svevo

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He doesn’t lift a finger, he’s a fanatic and a snob, he wallows in self-pity and moans about everyone and everything. Werther, the surname-less protagonist of Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s first novel, is basically an unbearable guy. In love with Lotte, who is already engaged to someone else, he makes life miserable for both her and her fiancé. He writes her rapturous letters, visits her nearly every day, and continues to visit her even after she’s married. At the end of the book, when he shoots a bullet through his head, it’s actually quite a relief – not only for the people in Werther’s vicinity, but also for the readers of The Sorrows of Young Werther.
‘To his spirit and character you cannot refuse your admiration and love: to his fate you will not deny your tears,’ writes the narrator of this epistolary novel. That was probably true in the decade after its publication (1774), when Romanticism and Sturm und Drang were in fashion; but nowadays Werther seems like a creature from another planet. It’s hard to believe that unrequited lovers once took their lives in Werther’s favorite attire (blue frock coat, buff waist-coat and breeches) – an early example of ‘copycat’ behavior that, incidentally, appears to have been less common than the myth (created in no small part by Goethe himself) would have us believe.
The Sorrows of Young Werther is regarded as one of the first cult books, the Book of a Generation. Young Europeans recognized themselves in the hypersensitive, rebellious Werther and his deliciously
adolescent idolization of simple but noble young girls. Even more alluring was the scandal provoked by the novel. Here was a book that decried social relationships, extolled suicide, and incurred the wrath of the Church: it was a Passion play, with a Christ-like figure in the leading role.
The popularity of The Sorrows of Young Werther was phenomenal. The novel, which was read by hordes of people, grew to be the showpiece of early Romantic literature, and was even one of the books with which the inquisitive Monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) familiarized himself with modern culture. Portraits of Werther and Lotte adorned porcelain and furniture, a visionary entrepreneur launched Werther perfume. And the poet-novelist-scientist Goethe, who, with The Sorrows of Young Werther, had written his own hopeless love for Lotte Buff out of his system (in four weeks’ time!), would be associated with his ‘first-born’ for the rest of his long life.
By now, The Sorrows of Young Werther is slightly dated, though the novel can certainly be read as a warning against romantic excess and unrestrained submission to melancholy. And Goethe’s description of a youthful and all-consuming love is still worthwhile. The myth of romantic love, after Werther and Lotte, was forever entrenched in the collective consciousness. Hundreds of writers, from Stendhal and Emily Brontë to Daphne du Maurier, and very recently, Sebastian Faulks (Charlotte Gray) would turn it to their advantage.

bookweb from:
Lezen&Cetera, Pieter Steinz

William Shakespeare, 1609 (first published 1623)
On of Shakespeare's 'romances', in which human emotion and free expression have room to flourish. In Cymbeline, the King of Britain, enraged by his daughter's disobedience in marrying against his wishes, banishes his new son-in-law. Having fled to Rome, the exiled husband makes a foolish wager with a villain he encounters there gambling on the fidelity of his abandoned wife.

The Tempest
William Shakespeare, 1611 (first published 1623)
One of Shakespeare's 'romances': Prospero, the duke of Milan and a powerful magician, is banished from Italy and cast to sea by his usurping brother, Antonio, and Alonso, the king of Naples. As the play begins, Antonio and Alonso come under Prospero’s magic power as they sail past his island. Prospero seeks to use his magic to make these lords repent and restore him to his rightful place.

William Shakespeare, 1607 (first published 1609)
One of Shakespeare's 'romances', about Pericles, the prince of Tyre, and his quest for love. The plot is a series of setbacks and frustrations in his life: he loses everything, but it is eventually restored to him.

The Winter's Tale
William Shakespeare, 1610 (first published 1623)
One of Shakespeare's 'romances': Leontes, the king of Sicilia, is a happy man, blessed with a noble queen, Hermione, an affectionate childhood friend, Polixenes, a promising child Prince, Mamillius and loyal courtiers. Yet he becomes unduly possessed by overwhelming jealousy as he suspects an illicit relationship between his friend and his wife.

Julie, or The New Heloise
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1761
A sentimental romance in letters.

Pia desideria
Jakob Spener, 1632
This classic work, first published in 1675, inaugurated the movement in Germany called Pietism. In it a young pastor, born and raised during the devstating Thirty Years War, voiced a plea for reform of the church which made the author and his proposals famous.

The History of Agathon
Christoph Wieland, 1766-1767
Wieland's Agathon (1766-1767; The History of Agathon, 1773), situated in ancient Greece, is considered the earliest psychological novel in German literature.

Ossian: The Epics of Fingal and Temora
James MacPherson, 1998 (originally published in 1765)
James McPherson's Works of Ossian appeared in 1765, claiming to be a translation from a Celtic original. Although it was immediately denounced as a forgery, its influence was profound. For the Romantics, the idea of a primitive, bardic utterance had particular relevance.


The Sorrows of Young Werther
Werther, a sensitive young man, falls in love with Lotte, knowing she is to marry another. Unable to subdue his passion, Werther's infatuation torments him to the point of despair.

Henry Fielding, 1741
Hilarious parody of Pamela (1740), Samuel Richardson’s novel about a (servant)girl who successfully defends her virtue.

Dangerous Liasons
Pierre Ambroise Choderlos de Laclos, 1779
Immoral, aristocratic duo enters into combat with virtuousness.

[Sara Burgerhart]
Betje Wolff / Aagje Deken, 1782
Orphan girl weathers storms and finds a husband.

The Nun
Denis Diderot, 1760
A young nun tries, in vain, to keep her virginity.

Knut Hamsun, 1892
19th-century Werther commits suicide out of love and hate.

Hermann Hesse, 1910
Love triangle between girl and two bosom friends ends in misery.

Lotte in Weimar
Thomas Mann, 1939
The model for Werther’s beloved meets up with Goethe in his latter years.

The New Sufferings of Young W.
Ulrich Plenzdorf, 1973
The life of a 17-year-old boy in the GDR.

[Faustinas Küsse]
Hanns-Josef Ortheil, 1998
Goethe and his secret Italian love.

Tales of Mystery and Imagination
Edgar Allan Poe, 1833-1849
Horror stories about doomed heroes in a black-romantic world.

The Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger, 1951
Struggling New York 'Werther' comes out on top.

Wuthering Heights
Emily Brontë, 1847
Impoverished waif grows up and takes revenge for a hopeless love.

The Red and the Black
Stendhal, 1830
Ruthlessly charming provincial falls on the sword of his own ambition.

[Hölderlins toren]
Kester Freriks, 1981
A young man identifies with the romantic German poet.

Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship
Bildungsroman about a merchant’s son, whose character is formed by love and the theater.
Elective Affinities
Immoral novel about a four-way love affair between a married couple and two of their friends.
1808 / 1832
The first part, in particular, of this unpredictable, philosophical tragedy-in-rhyme - about a scientist who sells his soul to the devil - reads like a novel.
Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years: Or, the Renunciants (1821-1829)
Slapdash sequel to the Apprenticeship; Wilhelm finds his calling as a surgeon.
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The Ledge
editor-in-chief: Stacey Knecht,
Thanks to: De digitale pioniers and
Het Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
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Copyright: Pieter Steinz, Stacey Knecht
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