The Sorrows of Young Werther

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The Sorrows of Young Werther (German: Die Leiden des jungen Werthers) is a 1774 epistolary novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which appeared as a revised edition in 1787. It was one of the main novels in the Sturm und Drang period in German literature and influenced the later Romantic movement. Goethe finished Werther in five and a half weeks of intensive writing in January to March 1774. It instantly placed him among the foremost international literary celebrities and was among the best known of his works.

Plot Summary

Most of The Sorrows of Young Werther, a story about a young man's extreme response to unrequited love, is presented as a collection of letters written by Werther, a young artist of a sensitive and passionate temperament, to his friend Wilhelm. These give an intimate account of his stay in the fictional village of Wahlheim (based on Garbenheim, near Wetzlar), whose peasants have enchanted him with their simple ways. There he meets Charlotte, a beautiful young girl who takes care of her siblings after the death of their mother. Werther falls in love with her, but she is engaged to a respectable young man named Albert. Werther's love for Charlotte becomes increasingly obsessive and destructive, and he eventually commits suicide.


The Sorrows of Young Werther explores a number of themes, including:

  • Unrequited Love: The novel is a classic story of unrequited love. Werther's love for Charlotte is passionate and intense, but she does not reciprocate his feelings. This unrequited love leads Werther to despair and eventually to suicide.

  • The Individual vs. Society: Werther is an individualist who feels alienated from society. He believes that society is corrupt and that it stifles the human spirit. Werther's alienation from society contributes to his despair and eventual suicide.

  • The Artist vs. the World: Werther is an artist who is hypersensitive to the world around him. He sees the beauty and the ugliness of the world, and he is deeply affected by both. Werther's sensitivity to the world contributes to his despair and eventual suicide.

  • The Sublime: The novel explores the concept of the sublime, which is a feeling of awe and wonder that is mixed with fear and terror. Werther is drawn to the sublime, and he often seeks out experiences that evoke this feeling. The sublime plays a role in Werther's despair and eventual suicide.


The Sorrows of Young Werther was a groundbreaking novel that had a profound impact on literature and culture. It was one of the first novels to explore the inner life of the individual, and it introduced a new level of emotional intensity to literature. The novel was also one of the first to explore the theme of unrequited love, and it helped to popularize the Romantic ideal of the sensitive artist.

The Sorrows of Young Werther is still widely read and studied today. It is considered a classic of German literature, and it has been translated into over 100 languages. The novel continues to be relevant to contemporary society, and it can be read as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unrequited love, alienation, and obsession.


  • "The heart is an abyss, and one never knows where it will lead you."
  • "Life is a tragedy when it's felt, a comedy when it's thought."
  • "The more I know, the more I despair."
  • "One does not love with the mind, but with the heart."
  • "I am tired of everything."


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