Die Leiden des jungen Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
OK, so the story is trite. I get it. Werther is the original emo. Check. Books that end in suicide are no longer PC. Alright.
Put that all aside and read the work in German. I can't even say if the book is good or not in English, as I've never read it in English. In its Muttersprache it is beautiful and poetic. Beutler, in his afterword to the 1987 Reclam edition, claims that Die Leiden des jungen Werther is the first modern novel. I'm not enough of an expert on literary history to know if his claim is true, but it is, along with Tristram Shandy, seminal to the novel form.
Werther was also famous, or infamous, for influencing popular culture among young men at the time it was published. Young men changed their dress to reflect that of the main character and, sadly, the unfortunate end of Werther was emulated by several copycat suicides. When is the last time a book had that powerful of an effect on a society? The Hunger Games? Hardly. Harry Potter? Not so much. Rowling has nothing on Goethe.
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