Literature: The Sorrows of Young Werther

Werther had a love for Charlotte
Such as words could never utter;
Would you know how first he met her?
She was cutting bread and butter...

Charlotte, having seen his body
Borne before her on a shutter,
Like a well-conducted person
Went on cutting bread and butter.
William Makepeace Thackeray, Sorrows of Werther

The Sorrows of Young Werther (Die Leiden des jungen Werthers) is a 1774 novel (revised in 1787) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe about an emotional young man named Werther who falls madly in love with an young woman named Lotte, who is engaged to someone else. Werther gradually becomes more emotional and less mentally stable...

The novel was very popular in its day, for what were probably the wrong reasons. It was later adapted into a popular opera (written 1887, first performed 1892) by the French composer Jules Massenet. Note that some of these tropes seem like they should be in YMMV, but even Goethe straight-out said that most of them applied; he was horrified, for example, that people were killing themselves in imitation of Werther.

This work provides examples of:

  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Almost certainly averted by Werther.
  • And That's Terrible: Werther's criticism on Albert's shocked reaction at his pointing a (not loaded) gun at his head can be seen as an aversion of this trope.
    "But why should any one,” said I, “in speaking of an action, venture to pronounce it mad or wise, or good or bad? What is the meaning of all this? Have you carefully studied the secret motives of our actions? Do you understand — can you explain the causes which occasion them, and make them inevitable?"
  • Boom, Headshot: The manner in which Werther chooses to go. Strangely, he lingers for several hours after the deed.
  • Brilliant but Lazy: Apparently Werther is a great artist, but once describes himself as greater than he could ever be when not painting and just observing.
  • Chekhov's Gun: With a literal gun.
  • Creator Backlash: Goethe's Faust is in part an attack on philosophical trends associated with the Werther fandom.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Werther crosses it after the crime of passion.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Sorry Werther, no Lotte for you.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Goethe intended for this work to discourage people from killing themselves over matters of love. It backfired spectacularly.
  • Downer Ending: Due to the protagonist killing himself because of Unrequited Love.
  • Empathic Environment: The weather tends to be in tune with Werther's feelings. When he feels turmoil, a storm starts. When he's beyond despair in the second book, there's a flood in Walheim.
  • Epistolary Novel: Takes the form of letters by Werther to his friend Wilhelm.
  • Fan Dumb: invoked In the words of Werther: "I need fans like these the way I need a hole in the head!"
    • But no, seriously, people killed themselves in imitation/emulation of Werther.
  • Forbidden Fruit: Late in the book, Charlotte suggests that this is why Werther wants her.
    "Why must you love me, me only, who belong to another? I fear, I much fear, that it is only the impossibility of possessing me which makes your desire for me so strong."
  • Hanlon's Razor: Discussed. Even before Hanlon himself codified the modern formulation of this trope, Goethe had some words to say on the matter:
    Misunderstandings and neglect occasion more mischief in the world than even malice and wickedness. At all events, the two latter are of less frequent occurrence.
  • Hot-Blooded: Werther, that hopeless romantic.
  • Hypocrite: There's nothing Werther hates more than ill humour. Yet his letters are filled with suicidal despair and bemoaning of the ways of the world.
    • He's also accepting of the class system, but rants about it when it works against him (the party at the Count's house).
  • If I Can't Have You: The servant who was in love with his mistress gets fired and ends up murdering his replacement.
    "No one will now marry her, and she will marry no one."
  • Infant Immortality: Averted with Hans.
  • It's All About Me: Werther's letters are all about how the events in the story make him feel, and he doesn't really seem interested in understanding things from Charlotte's or anyone else's point of view. He also never asks how Wilhelm is going.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Heinrich, a character from late in the book who once worked for Charlotte's father, fell in love with her, and was driven mad by it to the point of having to be placed in an asylum.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Charlotte has 8 siblings. This was normal at the time though.
  • Misaimed Fandom: invoked Many 18th-century readers admired Werther. An alarming number admired him so much that they committed suicide too.
  • Moral Guardians: Authorities were concerned over the "Werther effect" in which people started committing suicides based on the novel.
  • Multiple Endings: Friedrich Nicolai, an author, wrote an alternate ending to the novel called The Joys of Young Werther in which Werther's suicide is foiled, Lotte chooses him over Albert, and Werther eventually becomes a productive member of society. Goethe was not happy.
  • Promotion to Parent: Charlotte became the mother figure to her siblings after their mother passed away.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The exceedingly passionate Werther is red to his rival in love Albert, who's very rational. Werther also contrasts with his correspondent Wilhelm; while we never see him, he tries to appease Werther's enthusiasm towards Charlotte.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Lotte's fiancé Albert has typical Enlightenment attitudes. Werther is very Romantic, although the Romantic movement barely existed yet when the book was written.
  • Scrapbook Story: Mostly, it's letters from Werther to his unnamed friend, but near the end, as Werther's mental state starts to deteriorate, an 'editor' steps in to clarify a few points.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The nascent Romantic movement in literature arguably received its greatest impetus out of the aforementioned Misaimed Fandom.
  • Together in Death: Werther kills himself to achieve this with Charlotte, or so he claims.
  • Yandere: The servant in love with his mistress at first seems to be a very sweet, undemanding, honourable character. Later he tries to rape her and later yet, he murders the servant who replaced him in his position.

Alternative Title(s):

The Sorrows Of Young Werther