Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Werther Effect

This cover is fantastic but a little inappropriate for a book which is essentially about the sorrows and torments of unrequited love! I think the guys at modern library understood this and that's why they changed the cover for the paperback edition. While not perfect (it doesn't fit with the aritstocratic image of Werther), it is at least closer to the content of the book. Personally, I wouldn't like to get caught in public reading any of those two editions. For me, the rather staid penguin classics edition is the best.

Also, two discoveries: First, there is a technical term called Werther Effect, which is used to designate copycat suicides, specially among teenagers and youth. When the book was published in the late eighteenth century, there was a wave of similar copycat suicides among hundreds of young men, who were apparently "inspired" by this tragic tale of unrequited love. (In the book Werther shoots himself in the head after he is rejected by the object of his passions and thus dramatically ends his "sorrows").

Now the second discovery: the great English poet W.H. Auden called Werther "a horrid little monster", "incapable of love because he cares for nobody and nothing but himself". Hmmm. I remember getting very impressed by the book when I had read it. Though I did find the character of Werther a little foolish (aren't all over-sensitive, romantic people foolish?) but truthful and authentic. On the other hand I admired greatly the character of woman he lusts after. She is kind, intelligent, practical and totally down-to-earth. But "narcissist" and "monster" are definitely strong words to describe Werther. I think I will have to read the book again.

An excellent essay on the book here.

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