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Johann Wolfgang Goethe
The Sorrowful Sorrows of Young Werther

The reviews are in for The Sorrows of Young Werther, at least among the academic crowd. For myself, I can’t explain how this has remained a classic for for well over a century. Here we have the very definition of a callow youth lost in the throes of unrequited love. Not only is his affection unrequited, but the object of it is unattainable and determined to remain so. She’s married and wants nothing to do with leaving her husband. Nevertheless, Werther persists in the most pitiable manner.

He persists not only in the face of certain defeat, but he wails about it day after miserable day. Wails and wallows. Even allowing for the filagreed excesses of the prose of the time, it is hard to imagine working up sympathy for someone who can shed uncountable tears over a ribbon that his beloved once touched.

Nor is that all. Goethe tells the story via letters and ruminations Werther has written to and about poor Lotta in his diary. Thus, the unfortunate she is treated not only to Werther’s absurd hanging about but to the constant moaning and sobbing and wailing that accompanies it.

But enough. I know it’s a classic, but that obliges me neither to like it nor to spend more time on it.

Farewell, Werther. I’d weep over your grave, but you’ve doubtless already made it muddy with your own tears.

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