“The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.”
If you thought Holden Caufield from J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye was overbearing, self-absorbed and melodramatic, he's got nothing on Goethe's young Werner who makes the former seem like a normal reticent teenager, prone to the occasional solipsistic diatribe. So, this is what being emo might have been like in the 18th century. Instead of being prone to cutting one's wrists, often wearing tight jeans, black square rimmed glasses with heavy eye-shadow and side-bangs; listening to 'The Cure' on repeat, obsessed with death and posting depressing status updates on Facebook--the depressed emo kid from the enlightenment period would present internal suffering in a more intellectual and distinguished manner. One way would be through magniloquent letters to the few friends who would rather not having anything to do with them, which we get here in this short epistolary novel--a torturous affair to get through that would have been more effective as a short post-script: "Love is a bitch. Goodbye cruel world." Their incessant whining and histrionics still make for such unbearable company. It is nearly impossible to have a normal conversation with this distraught individual without them falling on their knees, looking skyward and bursting into tears for no apparent reason. The reader is only given Werner's perspective through his various letters sent mostly to his friend Wilhelm with an unnamed narrator interjecting intermittently to fill in the narrative gaps of the young man's tragic fate, which is supposed to come across as some profound declaration of love but is really just the senseless act of a delusional and emotionally disturbed sociopath.
It would have been a lot more interesting if Wilhelm's correspondence with Werner was provided but Goethe leaves it up to the reader to infer through context. Here is my take on Wilhelm's mindset after receiving one of Werner's final letters:
Great, another letter from Werner. I really need to change my mailing address or move to a new continent. Let's see what he has to say now about his relationship with Charlotte. Stubborn knave! I told him time and time again that someone of his status and intelligence could have his choice of any girl in the village but no, he has to focus his attentions on a married woman. For goodness sakes Werner, leave the couple alone, you're only making matters worse. Can't you see the fool you are making of yourself? It's obvious to everyone else but you continue to interfere in their privacy. In fact, you're slowly turning into a stalker. And why are you so affectionate towards her young siblings? It's very creepy and seems like a devious ruse to get closer to Charlotte. Knock it off. This is not the way a proper gentleman should conduct himself! Pull yourself together man. On another note, why must you weep over the most trivial things? Charlotte brushed your hand absentmindedly and you break down in tears. I can only imagine what would happen if she let you see her naked. You'd probably die of a heart-attack. Ok, he seems to declare his love for nature again and goes on to expound upon some moral philosophy. See, this isn't so bad. I can tolerate these philosophical musings. Darn, that was short lived. Back to obsessing over Charlotte again. Shut up Werner. Seriously, shut the hell up. Stop rambling about nonsense. I don't give a damn about your heavy heart or wretched soul. You bring this misery upon yourself. You're a masochist who craves attention; just one step away from becoming a murdering psychopath. Now you speak of wanting to kill yourself and all because a married woman rejects your romantic advances. You ignorant fool! Learn some self-respect. Unrequited look is indeed painful and I understand what you are going through but such woes will pass, given enough time. Surely you will meet another fine lady who will reciprocate your tender affections. I implore you with all that is good in this world to put aside these juvenile antics, go back under the shade of your favorite tree and collect yourself. Wait, what is this: Will you not heed my advice as your only friend in the entire world? Everyone else has abandoned you because you are an embarrassment to society, a complete disgrace; but I, Wilhelm, have stuck by you through it all despite my better judgment. Does your selfishness know no bounds? It pains me to say this but I relinquish my faith in you. I can no longer offer any sympathy or pity towards your plight. Go ahead and get it over with; follow through with what you say, step into the void. Stop delaying and just go through it already! May God have mercy on your soul.
|This novel also counts towards my Classics Club Challenge.|