Places: The Sorrows of Young Werther

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, 1774 (English translation, 1780)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Bildungsroman

Time of work: 1770’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedWalheim

Walheim Sorrows of Young Werther, The (vahl-HIM). Small town in Germany’s Rhineland-Pfalz region. Near this town is an idyllic country village that enables the novel’s young protagonist, Werther, to forget his romantic disappointments. There, he can languish in the hills, amid streams and flowers, and enjoy the Godliness of peasant life, which he extols in the letters that make up this epistolary novel. Werther expresses his passion for nature, his admiration of natural country folk and simplistic living, and his overflowing emotions for his new obsession, Lotte, about whose selfless nature he raves. This edenic setting is, however, spoiled by the entry of a rival for Lotte’s affections, Albert–a rational, stable young man, who is the antithesis of Werther, who follows the lovers on walks, reads Ossian’s love poetry with Lotte, and weeps for her daily.

When a more melancholic Werther returns to Walheim to renew his pursuit of Lotte after a year’s absence, he finds her married to Albert. In this peaceful domain, he makes his ultimate tragic decision to end his life, his misery, and his ties to bourgeois society.


*Weimar (VI-mar). City in Thuringia in central Germany where Werther takes a position in the government civil service. However, his inability to shake off his gloom about his romantic disappointment combines with his repugnance at his superior’s class snobbery, and he resigns after only five months.

Werther’s hometown

Werther’s hometown. Unnamed town to which Werther returns after leaving Weimar. As he nears the town, he recollects pleasant boyhood experiences in the surrounding mountains, under the linden tree, and over the valley. As Weimar represents conventionality and artificiality, Werther’s hometown signifies naturalism and individualism. Werther later wanders to a rich young prince’s hunting lodge, where he stays for a short period before deciding to return to Walheim.

BibliographyDieckmann, Liselotte. Johann Wolfgang Goethe. New York: Twayne, 1974. Discusses the versatility Goethe displayed in his poetry, drama, novels, and tales, and includes a longer discussion of his masterwork, Faust. Places the writer’s oeuvre within its historical framework, particularly with regard to the impact of the French Revolution and the influence of Goethe’s friendship with Friedrich Schiller.Hatfield, Henry. Goethe: A Critical Introduction. New York: New Directions, 1963. Discusses Goethe’s influence on later writers. Includes focus on the epistolary novel and the sociological impact of The Sorrows of Young Werther.Reiss, Hans. Goethe’s Novels. Coral Gables, Fla.: University of Miami Press, 1969. In-depth review of Goethe’s earlier novels, with a comprehensive discussion of The Sorrows of Young Werther as being representative of Goethe’s involvement in the so-called storm-and-stress movement. Compares the novels thematically.Schweitzer, Albert. Goethe: Four Studies. Translated by Charles R. Joy. Boston: Beacon Press, 1949. Of interest because the book reveals parallels between Goethe and Schweitzer, who admired Goethe’s simple philosophy of nature and his views on natural science and ethics.Trevelyan, Humphrey. Goethe and the Greeks. New York: Octagon, 1972. Reveals the enormous influence of classical and neoclassical thought and mythology on the work of Goethe. Includes in particular a discussion of the importance of Homer’s work for the character of Werther.
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