The first great popular success of Goethe’s career was The Sorrows of Young Werther. It is a sentimental and psychological novel in letter form, influenced by Samuel Richardson, an eighteenth century English novelist famous for his epistolary novels. The letter-writing style is a natural genre for Goethe, whose writings are filled with biographical and autobiographical elements.
The character, Lotte, to whom the protagonist, Werther, is irrevocably drawn was inspired by Goethe’s unhappy infatuation with Charlotte (“Lotte”) Buff, the fiancé of his friend G. C. Kestner. Goethe met Lotte during his summer stay in Wetzlar in 1772. The end of the novel, with Werther pulling the trigger of the gun pointed at his head, was most probably prompted by the tragic fate of Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem, secretary of the Brunswick ambassador, who committed suicide in October, 1772, after a public reprimand and the subsequent ostracism from aristocratic circles for his infatuation with the wife of a colleague.
In the letters to his friend, Goethe’s character, Werther, describes the joy and agony of his love for Lotte. She also feels the attraction but is betrothed to Albert, whom she subsequently marries. Werther befriends Lotte’s husband but is convinced that Albert’s love for Lotte is not as deep as his own. After a passionate embrace with his beloved, the chaos and excruciating turmoil in his heart become unbearable for Werther. He asks...
(The entire section is 425 words.)