Lecture 6: Sturm und Drang - Goethe‘s Werther
• Herder‘s Impact
• Frankfurt
• Straßburg - and its impact on the novel
• Werthertracht
• Structure and themes of Werther
• Comments on the novel
• Sturm und Drang Topics in Werther
• Dual structure of the novel
• Homework
Herder‘s impact on the movement
• Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803)
• arrived in Straßburg in September 1770 and stayed there till
April 1771
• his Journal einer Reise im Jahre 1769 describung reflections on
his journey from Riga to France and Germany can be seen as the
first Sturm und Drang writing
• Herder is older than all the other Stürmer und Dränger, served
as a leading figure in stressing the importance of regional and
folk literature and its spiritual powers (versus the ideal of
equanamity, versus the ‚bookish‘ world of the Enlightenment)
• transmitter of Ossianic poems and of Klopstock
Frankfurt (Plan und Ansicht der Freien Reichsstadt, 1749)
Straßburg / Strasbourg (kolorierter Kupferstich, about 1770)
Straßburg / Strasbourg
• enchanting in the beauty of the
surrounding countryside
• dominated by ist superb minster:
the idea of freedom
• more relaxed as a city of
southwestern Alsatian charm - a
place where the French and the
German culture meets
• far less ceremonious than Leipzig
• Herder‘s new reading list: Homer,
Pindar, Shakespeare, Ossian,
Hamann, the English novelists,
Sterne and Goldsmith, folk poetry
• blauer Frack mit Messingknöpfen, gelbe Weste,
englische Reithose aus gelbem Leder, Stiefel mit
aanliegenden Stulpen, runder grauer Filzhut und
lockeres gepudertes Haar
Goethe‘s Werther (first published in 1774)
• excited sensibility, free of all preconceived religious or social
• original subject, invented, biographical material used but
• written within 3 months, Feb - April 1774
• an autonomous individual defines itself in a natural setting (rural
setting vs city vs court)
• original in its narrative structure: mainly 1st person singular
perspective and letter- or diary-style; with a few comments by an
editor-like narrator, who later takes over; epistolary novel
• accounts which convey Werther‘s growing terror of the inescapable
consequences of his belief in total feeling and love - these accounts
become in the course of the narrative more and more oblique and
desperate - reveal Werther‘s Krankheit zum Tode
Illustrations from an early edition of Werther
“To read Werther as a sentimental love story or to interpret it as
primarily a document of social protest is to miss Goethe’s intention.”
(Victor Lange, The Classical Age of German Literature. 1740-1815 [London 1982], p. 74)
Goethe‘s novel reveals “a state of mind of hitherto
unrecorded complexity, of emotions from delicate lyricism to
the agonies of doubt, frustration and despair. (...) Werther is,
above all, a cry for understanding and overwhelmed by an
altogether new kind of serious narrative. For many of its
details the novel draws on Goethe’s own exuberant love for
another Charlotte. But beyond these autobiographical
ingredients, the book conveys the first attempt on the part of
a deeply perceptive but equally self-critical poet who shows
the problematic, even tragic, implications of the discovery of
feeling that had given his generation a new sense of strength.”
(Victor Lange, The Classical Age of German Literature. 1740-1815 [London 1982], pp. 74f.)
Sturm und Drang topics in Werther
• ‘nature’ as a creative source / ‘nature’ as a destructive force =
interest in complex, dialectic structures
• man and ‘his’ total perception: powerful energy, defiant
authenticity, excited sensibility, but also isolation, self-pity and selfdoubt - development towards a complex psychology
• the poet as the supreme example of a ‘genius’
• radical dissolution in form: stress on the inner form of a work of
art; denial of poetic norms
• difficult position of the young generation seeing itself isolated from
the court life and from the (petit) bourgeois life of the older
• closeness to folk life and culture (anti-cultural protest)
Erster Theil
• 4. May 1771 - 10. Sept 1771
• Homer
• ...
Zweyter Theil
• 20. Okt 1771 - 24. Dez 1772
• Ossian
• ...
How to prepare next week‘s seminars?
• Analyse the structure of the letter from August, 12th (pp. 92102) dealing with suicide. Why do you think it was regarded as a
• The novel knows not only Werther‘s narrative voice as
depicted in his letters and diary-like confessions; it also knows
the editor‘s voice.
• A) When does the editor‘s voice appear in the novel?
• B) What is its function?
• C) Do you think the narrative structure can be described as
a stable one throughout the novel?
• Why is a copy of Lessing‘s tragedy Emilia Galotti lying on
Werther‘s desk, when he commits suicide?
• Inform yourself about the (auto)biographical background of
the novel. How does it function as a source of the text?