Tag: Romantic

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 Romantic Bond With Nature

Posted March 4, 2011 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Poetry / 0 Comments

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich 1818

During the birth of the industrial age, the art world draw great inspiration from the changing world, so why were the Romantics focused on Nature? So what made the Romantics so interested in Nature? Their quest for liberty seemed to draw a lot from their natural surroundings. What did Blake, Wordsworth, Lord Byron & Mary Shelley draw from the natural world?

Blake

As a boy William Blake dreamed of a different type of world; claiming he had a vision of angels while staring at the sunlight shining through the trees.

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Auguries of Innocence (1803)

Blake never forgot his vision and like most Romantics, often drew inspirations from his childhood imagination. While the industrial age was taking a toll on child innocents with the use of child labour, Blake wrote a collection of poems called Songs of Innocence in which he dreamed of a world of innocent children again, included poems like The Chimney Sweeper, in while he hopes to save four and five child chimney sweepers.  But his desire for innocents was shattered when he lost his brother, this lead to a new collection of poems called Songs of Experience, which included a darker version of The Chimney Sweeper. William Blake considered the industrial age the works of the devil, having left the city to live on the outskirts to be closer to nature.

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
And did those feet in ancient time (1808)

Wordsworth

Wordsworth grew up in the Lake District and was heavenly influenced by this. William Wordsworth had a love/hate relationship with nature. While he loved his childhood growing up in the Lake District, he also lost both parents due to the acts of Nature and had been educated by the natural forces all around him. One night he was stuck in a situation similar to what caused his father’s death, but instead of fear, Wordsworth discovered an awe of the power of nature, it could render him small and insignificant but it also could connect him to the world.

Was blowing on my body, felt within
A correspondent breeze, that gently moved
With quickening virtue, but is now become
A tempest, a redundant energy,
Vexing its own creation. Thanks to both
The Prelude, Book One (1799)

Byron

1816 was known as the year without a summer, as a result of a volcanic winter event. Lord Byron thought this to be the beginning of the apocalypse. While he didn’t spend much time in nature, this fear and respect for nature brought a group of intellectuals together. The fear of darkness and nature brought together a group of new Romantics.

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went -and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation
Darkness (1816)

Shelley

During the year without summer, Mary Shelley was hidden indoors with Lord Byron, her lover and future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley. During these nights they would write poetry and gothic stories and during this time was the birth of one of the greatest horror novels of all time. Frankenstein was a cautionary tale that expresses the dangers of messing with nature and a great source of the romantic ideal. Frankenstein’s message was clear, respect and revere nature.

The Romantics were the first to express a desire for the sublime in nature. Their longing for nature was not just the discovery of beauty but the terror that nature can bring. The key to the sublime was the ability to lose themselves, with no restraints or confinement. Weather they feared or loved nature, or just feared the modern world; nature played a big part of the Romantic Period.


Learnt from Literature: Multiple Viewpoints

Posted December 28, 2009 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Writing / 0 Comments

Frankenstein is my all time favourite book and it is the subject of my first of hopefully many ‘Learnt from Literature’ topics. This book is a shining example of multiple view points. It did this flawlessly and managed to draw the reader in on both sides of the story. At the beginning the villain seems clear ‘Monster Frankenstein’ is the problem, but then you read it from the monsters view point you understand that maybe he isn’t a villain but a victim.

When I do write I think back on this story and wonder if I could replicate a similar scenario, I want to blur the lines and challenge the reader. I believe that’s the makings of a good writer.