Romanticism pp 285-293 | Cite as

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: The Sorrows of Young Werther

  • John B. Halsted
Part of the The Documentary History of Western Civilization book series (DHWC)


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) helped initiate the Sturm und Drang period of German letters with his play Götz von Berlichingen, and through the 1770’s he promoted the building of a German literature no longer dependent upon the French. Well before the Romantic school took shape at the Schlegels’ behest, Goethe had become a dominant figure in German and European letters, and had contributed to a number of the themes and tendencies that came to be identified with Romanticism, such as a medieval setting, a more sensitively apprehended Hellas, and the need for a national literature. His Sorrows of Young Werther, portions of which appear below, was published in 1774. The artistic hero, his hopeless love, and his suicide appear in the context that touches major Romantic themes: the glorification of children, the emotional impact of contact with nature, the artist’s sense of separation from his society. Like the Rousseau of the Confessions, like Chateaubriand’s René, like the Byronic hero, a model was established that is said to have been influential in contributing to a fad of suicides by young people who considered themselves insufficiently understood.


Personal Ideal Good Friend Physical Infirmity National Literature Universal Love 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1969

Authors and Affiliations

  • John B. Halsted

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