German Literary History

I (Cathy) make a point of reading a novel either about or from a country I am about to visit. As Germany is my next destination, Goethe became my author of choice. I was familiar with his now famous work, Faust, but the book I selected is known as The Sorrows of Young Werther. In all honesty, it was not the plot or the style, but the details about the book that enticed me to read it. This novel had an enormous cultural impact on Germany and surrounding countries.

Written in just six short weeks by a young Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (only 24), it was largely autobiographical. In the book, the hero, Werther, through a series of letters, describes his over-infatuation with a young woman named Charlotte. This novel was an immediate success and sold so many copies it became the first block buster novel. It even had merchandizing to support it: perfume, Werther dolls and Werther clothes. The book launched an entire literary genre, Sturm und Drang(Storm and Stress), inspired an opera, and instigated the romanticism movement. Sadly, the book was also banned in four countries because many young men imitated the tragic fate of the hero. I am intrigued that this book had such an extensive affect, long before the age of computers or mass marketing. This book was written in 1774. Such is the incredible power of literature. I am excited about going to Weimar, Germany to appreciate the monuments and museums dedicated to the work of Goethe. I may even buy a Werther doll.

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