Author: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
First published: Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, 1774 (English translation, 1780)
Time: Mid-eighteenth century
Werther, a well-educated young man who, corresponding with his friend Wilhelm, tells his story. He loves, but cannot marry, the woman of his choice because she is promised to another man. He talks with her, walks with her, and accompanies her to call on the parson but fails to win her. He tries to forget her by taking a government post away from Walheim. It is useless. He returns to her—now living with her husband—and, finally, forces his attentions on her. Crushed and humiliated by his erratic behavior, he shoots himself and dies. Werther's heart invariably rules his head, and he is the victim of unrequited love who uses Nature as a model for peace of mind.
Albert, Werther's rival in love, a respectable and well-mannered young man who sympathizes with Werther but can do little to help him. It is, ironically, Albert who supplies the pistol with which Werther commits suicide.
Charlotte (Lotte) S., Werther's beloved, a German eighteenth century study in femininity. She is faithful, she is kind, and she does good work among the sick and the poor. Her conduct is a model of deportment for wives. She is compassionate but not passionate. She is genteel: When confronted by a distraught, practically incoherent Werther who one night stumbles into her house while her husband is away, to profess his absolute love for her, she asks the wild hero to read to her from the poems of Ossian. Her reaction to the news of Werther's suicide is predictable: She falls into a swoon so profound she nearly dies.