First Lines: Die Leiden des jungen Werther

In a 1975 review, Gerrit Komrij characterizes Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werther as that novel about a lovestruck zealot that blows himself to bits because the object of his affection has been engaged elsewhere. And that sums it up pretty well: young Werther meets Lotte, and falls truly, madly, deeply in love with her. Only: she’s been engaged, and, well, she doesn’t love him back. Which drives poor, young Werther to madness and suicide.

Back in 1774, when this epistolary novel was first published, it was all the rage. To me it came across as the melodramatic whining of a pedantic snob. His constant wallowing in self-pity is unbearable, and makes it hard to feel any sympathy for him. Just to illustrate his sorrows, his letter from August 21 (German version here):

In vain do I stretch out my arms toward her when I awaken in the morning from my weary slumbers. In vain do I seek for her at night in my bed, when some innocent dream has happily deceived me, and placed her near me in the fields, when I have seized her hand and covered it with countless kisses. And when I feel for her in the half confusion of sleep, with the happy sense that she is near, tears flow from my oppressed heart; and, bereft of all comfort, I weep over my future woes.

I mean, nowadays you can get the same pathos in a nice three-and-a-half minute dose.

Book read
Johann Wolfgang Goethe — Het lijden van de jonge Werther (Die Leiden des jungen Werther translated by Thérèse Cornips)
First line
Wat ben ik blij dat ik weg ben!