Tag: John Milton

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Posted April 24, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 1 Comment

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von GoetheTitle: The Sorrows of Young Werther (Goodreads)
Author: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Translator: David Constantine
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1771
Pages: 160
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The Sorrows of Young Werther is an epistolary novel that has influenced the Romantic Movement. Often known as the original ‘emo’, a term that I hate, this novel is a semi-autobiographical novel that brought huge success to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The novel is a collection of letters written by Werther to his friend Wilhelm. These letters are an intimate account of his attraction towards the beautiful Lotte; a young woman he meets in the village of Wahlheim. Despite knowing that she is already engaged to a man 11 years her senior, Werther falls for her and attempts to develop a friendship between the two in an effort to get closer to Lotte.

You can probably guess how this story goes; Werther, an artist of highly sensitive and passionate nature heading down a road that can only lead to heartbreak. I’m not one to enjoy a novel that revolves around a love triangle but when it is done properly it can be an effective plot device; I’m thinking of books like those mentioned in this post. There is no denying the cultural impact The Sorrows of Young Werther has had on the world; unfortunately the ‘Werther effect’ is the most common reference to the novel nowadays.

I’ll be honest, I wanted to read this novel because Frankenstein’s monster finds this book in a leather portmanteau along with Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost which gives you an interesting insight into FrankensteinLives of the Noble Greeks and Romans is a series of biographies of famous men to illustrate their common moral virtues or failings, while Paradise Lost is an epic poem on creationism and the fall of man. The Sorrows of Young Werther embodies the Romantic ideals; Werther being a sensitive intellect with an obsession of nature and values emotion over reasoning. All three novels represent different themes that Shelley wants the reader to explore when reading Frankenstein.

While this may sound like a morbid and depressing novel, Goethe shows the beauty behind the tragedy. One thing I loved about this book is the wording, and permit me to post a few quotes from the book to just show you the beauty in the novel.

 “Sometimes I don’t understand how another can love her, is allowed to love her, since I love her so completely myself, so intensely, so fully, grasp nothing, know nothing, have nothing but her!” 

The major theme obviously is love; a look in how it can defy all logic. Werther can’t stop his heart from falling for Lotte, even if he knew it would lead to pain. The idea that the heart has more control over someone’s actions than their head is often evident in life and The Sorrows of Young Werther captures it perfectly. For me, that is what makes this novel spectacular and significant.

“I am proud of my heart alone, it is the sole source of everything, all our strength, happiness & misery. All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own” 

However, you can look at this novel as something other than love; the idea that Goethe is portraying the decline in Werther’s mental health is also a vital angle that needs to be considered. The reason I hate the term ‘emo’ I won’t go into at this time but Werther’s overly emotional journey could also be symptoms of a bi-polar depression, though not a known diagnosis of the time. We have to consider the idea that his joy and sorrow is not just unrequited love but a deeper issue. The love triangle would have added fuel to his depression and we cannot ignore that this could be the root cause of Werther’s sorrow.

For such a small novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther packs a huge punch. This is the type of book I can see myself reading again and again, not just because of the Romantic ideas but what it has to say about love and mental illness. I can’t help but think that The Sorrows of Young Werther is just a better version of The Catcher in the Ryein the sense that is a journey of a self-absorbed protagonist, but maybe too difficult for high-school student. The Sorrows of Young Werther is an important book, not only did it influence the greatest literary movement we’ve seen but it still relevant today, almost 250 years later.


My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey

Posted February 16, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

My Life as a Fake by Peter CareyTitle: My Life as a Fake (Goodreads)
Author: Peter Carey
Published: Random House, 2003
Pages: 320
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In 1943 two conservative classicists set out to expose the absurdity of modernist poetry. Both James McAuley and Harold Stewart were classical trained poets, who didn’t think much about modernism; it didn’t rhyme, didn’t make sense and it just didn’t look right, it was fake poetry. If an everyman can abandon technique and rhythm and create poetry, what was the point of high art? They created this everyman, Ern Malley and submitted poetry under this name to the literary magazine Angry Penguins. The Ern Malley hoax has become one of the biggest literary scandals in Australian history. While the hoax crippled modernist poetry within Australia, ultimately this parody backfired on McAuley and Stewart. The poetry, which was written in a day and full of word plays and puns became a sensation in the 1970’s. Their attempt to parody modern poetry and create something fake turned into something real, beyond their control and is now celebrated as fine examples of surrealist poetry.

Peter Carey’s My Life is a Fake explores the idea of fakery while paying homage to the Ern Malley hoax. Knowledge of this hoax is the backbone of this post-modernist novel, so much so that he covers his thoughts on it in the back of the book. Thinking about this novel I get the idea that this is a book that demands the reader to think about the purpose of reading. While this is considered contemporary fiction, it really demands a lot from the read and it wants to address a number of literary issues. Editor for Monthly Review Sarah Wode-Douglass, while traveling to Kuala Lumpur, encounters the perpetrator of the hoax after many years. The novel goes on to explore the literate mystery of forgeries but I won’t go into too much detail, it is quite a ride.

“I still believe in Ern Malley. (…) For me Ern Malley embodies the true sorrow and pathos of our time. One had felt that somewhere in the streets of every city was an Ern Malley (…) a living person, alone, outside literary cliques, outside print, dying, outside humanity but of it. (…) As I imagined him Ern Malley had something of the soft staring brilliance of Franz Kafka; something of Rilke’s anguished solitude; something of Wilfred Owen’s angry fatalism. And I believe he really walked down Princess Street somewhere in Melbourne. (…) I can still close my eyes and conjure up such a person in our streets. A young person. A person without the protection of the world that comes from living in it. A man outside.” Max Harris, editor of Angry Penguins.

While this book is told in a first person narrative, from the perspective of Sarah, as a reader I wrestled with the perspective. The novel explored the life of Sarah, her traveling partner John Slater who she describes as an unapologetically narcissist. Also we learn about Christopher Chubb and his monster, the non-existent Bob McCorkle. My mind wrested with questions like, whose life was I reading about? Whose words am I reading? Whose mythology do I accept? Personally I think these are the questions Carey wants us to ask, also I have to wonder what type of fakery are we talking about in the title?

Now I called the fictional poet Bob McCorkle a monster because this novel is influenced by a lot of literature but the most obvious is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Like McAuley and Stewart’s hoax, Bob McCorkle was a monster in the eyes of its creator and takes on a life of its own. There are also references to Paradise Lost (which can be connected to Frankenstein) and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. An understanding of Greek mythology is helpful as well, especially Orpheus. This is a tricky book to read, and it took me a while to get the hang of it. Once I got into the rhythm of the novel, I think understanding and progress was a lot easier, though I do think a better understanding of literature would be helpful.

My Life as a Fake explores the power of creation, sometimes it just takes a life on its own with no way of stopping it. We must wrestle with the question of whether the man claiming to be Bob McCorkle is a fanatic; someone with an identity delusion, a hoaxer’s hoaxer, an accident, or an illusion called into being by its creator. As My Life as a Fake is an Australian novel, I can’t help but wonder if this is exploring the idea that Australia doesn’t produce Art, rather parodies and fakeries. The misconception that Australian artist must trade in masquerades to get noticed, a slightly old point of view but one that might have been still relevant in the time of the hoax.

I had to read this book for a university course so I also had to think about post-colonialism (a common theme in the subject). I’m not sure how this works as a post-colonial novel but I have to ask, as a colonized nation is this book viewing Australia as Frankenstein’s monster. Whose country are we in? Why does it matter? Are we the bastard spawn of a powerful creator (England)? Are we just fakes in the eyes of Europeans? Did we start off as fakes that took on a life of its own? Not really important questions for the book but interesting enough to share in this review.

Given that Frankenstein heavily influences My Life as a Fake, does this make this a modern gothic novel? They do invoke similar themes, interesting that this novel is meant to be popular fiction and yet it still explores high art in a complex, post modern way. Makes me wonder just how successful this novel was for Peter Carey. For me, while it was a difficult read, I found pleasure in studying this book, makes me want to read all of Carey’s books, maybe I’ll try The True History of the Ned Kelly Gang next.


Spirituality and The Arts

Posted May 21, 2010 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Culture / 0 Comments

I just read an article from Time-Online called ‘The Spiritual History of English’, which talks about a book by Andrew Thornton-Norris of the same name. The book bases its arguments on the T.S Eliot’s premise that “culture of a people as an incarnation of its religion”. According to Thornton-Norris, literature is the result of liberalism in politics. He also claimed that previously “tradition prevented art or the individual – and relativism in belief” and as for modern art “Now almost every word that is written is a manifesto, a statement, a theology or anti-theology, rather than an unselfconscious work of art, a contribution to the tradition or communal enterprise, as it was in the Latin Classical tradition.”

I know spirituality has played a huge part in the Arts (eg. Caravaggio or any painter back then, John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Divine Comedy) in the past but does it play much of a part now?