Literature Word of the Week – Wertherism

26 Weeks to a Better Understanding of Literature

I’m aiming to improve my knowledge around all things English literature, and to help me do this I thought I’d start by learning a new literary word every week,  A-Z.  Although knowing me it might not be in any alphabetic order.  I might treat this more like a list on random shuffle.

So, I find a word that relates to literature and research the following on it:

  • How does it sound?
  • What does it mean?
  • Who invented it (if known)
  • When did the word come about?
  • Example to be used in a sentence (preferable in spoken form).
A B C D E F G H I J K L M
N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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Week 6:

Wertherism

This week is something altogether a bit different.

It’s an ‘ism’ that sprung up as a result of a rather famous novel called Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrow of Young Werther) which was printed in 1774.

What a great sounding word – werherism.  When I first spotted it I presumed it must be something to do with a particular brand of butter sweets but it is far from that description instead the proper meaning of the word is as follows:

A cultural phenomenon resulting from the fame throughout Europe of Goethe’s early novel Die Leiden des Jugen Werthers.  This was semi-autobiographical work about a sensitive artist, melancholy, at odds with society, and hopelessly in love with a girl, who was engaged to someone else.  Its combination of the hero’s sense of ill-ease with the world, and dissatisfaction with his self, together with the scandalous suicide of Werther, made the work a huge success.  Young men wore blue coats and yellow breeches in imitation of Werther, china tea-sets were produced with scenes from the novel depicted on them, and perfumes names after Werther were sold. – The Oxford Companion to English Literature

What an amazing story.  Two things really strike me about this word.  The fact that you could even get an ‘ism’ as early as the 17thC, and the fact that the story is as fresh as it was then.  Love, passion, disillusion with life – those themes are found repeatedly in many literature forms, even today.

Although I have read a few novels which have been translated from their native language I hadn’t come across this before so once again I’ve hit upon a new name and novel to read.

I’m not sure the wearing of blue coats and yellow breeches is all that popular with men these days but I was wondering if any films or novels could be found with references to this particular dress to see how far reaching it was but as yet I haven’t been able to track down anything conclussive however as my reading so far has only gone as far back as the early 1880’s I don’t think I’ll have much luck.  I would be very interested to see how those guys looked and of course to learn how they felt.

In the meantime though here is a quote from the great novel by Goethe:

“Ich bin mehr als einmal trunken gewesen, meine Leidenschaften waren nie weit vom Wahnsinn, und beides reut mich nicht: denn ich habe in meinem Maße begreifen lernen, wie man alle außerordentlichen Menschen, die etwas Großes, etwas Unmöglichscheinendes wirkten, von jeher für Trunkene und Wahnsinnige ausschreien musste.”

Translation: “I have been more than once intoxicated, my passions have always bordered on extravagance: I am not ashamed to confess it; for I have learned, by my own experience, that all extraordinary men, who have accomplished great and astonishing actions, have ever been decried by the world as drunken or insane.”
Source: Letter from August 12th

Source – Wikiquote

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9 responses to “Literature Word of the Week – Wertherism

  1. The Met Opera recently broadcast the (Massenet) opera version of “Werther” with handsome Jonas Kaufmann in the title role, part of the opera-in-cinema program. They didn’t get the blue and yellow memo though… good topic, thanks…

  2. There are uncanny similarities with modern society. The cult of celebrity being the most obvious, but the despair is real for many in terms of jobs, careers, housing and totally unrealistic aspirations encouraged by advertising, media, and so on. Wow. Far to serious, I’m going back to Lego! ( head in sand )

  3. Pingback: Literature Word of the Week – Oxymoron | The Forget-me-Not Cultivation Blog·

  4. Pingback: Literature Word of the Week – Utopia | The Forget-me-Not Cultivation Blog·

    • Great to have a new reader – welcome! And so pleased to hear you like the post. So much to learn in literature, especially as I read a lot. Sometimes I don’t always understand the context or even some of the words I’m reading so thought it about time I got myself sorted out!

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