Tag: love triangle

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.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Posted December 12, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey EugenidesTitle: The Marriage Plot (Goodreads)
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Published: Harper Collins, 2011
Pages: 406
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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

The Marriage Plot is a coming of age novel that explores the pains that comes with life experience. The novel follows three Brown University friends beginning their senior year and then life after graduation. Madeleine Hanna is an English major with an interest in the Victorian novel and the importance of the marriage plot within all the greatest English novels.  Leonard Morten a biologist, who is charismatic and intelligent, but constantly dealing with either unlimited energy or sinking moods. Mitchell Grammaticus studied religion and, while acts strange, has a fascination with Christian mysticism and the idea of Madeleine.

The Marriage Plot finally shows just how a love triangle plot should work. The book shifts between the three protagonists to show the inner thoughts and desires. This is a modern romance; but not in the way you expect. The Marriage Plot asks the reader the question; are the great love stories dead? Did they die off in the nineteenth century? Or does the new world of feminism and sexual freedom offer something completely different. Jeffrey Eugenides explores the ideas of contemporary relationships with such love and care that you feel like you truly know these characters.

As the love triangle between Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell slowly unfolds, I find myself thinking that maybe Mitchell is the better choice but her attraction to Leonard just seems to get stronger. Mitchell is stuck in the friend’s zone but on reflection he never really pursued Madeleine the way she wanted and lost his chance when he had it. When she discovers Leonard’s mental illness I felt that really cemented their relationship. Sure it was going to be hard, but I think Madeleine’s guilt and the feeling of being needed really shaped their relationship.

The whole novel played around with a whole lot of different literary devices, mixing that with all the themes throughout this book really made this book stand out for me. The ideas of love were really explored well here, helping the characters to discover the difference between their fantasies and reality as well as the need for physical, intellectual and emotional satisfaction. Even Mitchell facing the discernment between the seminary and the possibility of romance has an aspect of love that often isn’t explored; do you give up your passion for a chance at romance?

The characters are so real and I feel like I know them so well; this is what made this book at time frustrating but then it was what made this book so great. While there are a lot of ideas of love throughout the book, the one that really worked for me was Jeffrey Eugenides and Madeleine’s love of literature. I finished this book and wanted to go and read A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes just because Madeleine speaks so fondly of it, the kind of fondness that must truly come from the author.

This really feels like a labour of love by the author, I felt such a connection with the characters and the ideas within this book. Even the effort Eugenides put into bring out the beauty of the situations really was awe inspiring. Eugenides writes beautiful prose; well he did in this book, I’m not sure if it is the love he has for the book, or if he has that for all his novels but I’m keen to dive into Middlesex or The Virgin Suicides sometime soon.

Let’s face it, it is rare to find a book that affects you and you feel so passionately about, so finding The Marriage Plot has really made my reading journey feel worth it. I do have a few books that I hold in such high regard; FrankensteinCrime and Punishment and I would like to welcome The Marriage Plot to join them. It just feels different with this novel, I feel like I’ve discovered my softer side. I would love to know if people know of other books similar to this that I might enjoy and I also want to hear about the books that effect you in a deep and wonderful way.