I was prompted to read this by the claim that it was the first fictional work to inspire suicides. In other words, it’s the kind of book I hope to write. This quick read hearkens back to a day when people were melancholy, despairing, crestfallen — when clinical depression had some class. The characters have personal servants, so it also happens to be a time when mental illness was a gentleman’s sport; a hobby for the idle rich (or upper middle class). It’s like that Wes Anderson movie. What was it called? Oh yeah: every single movie he’s ever made. Alas, the poor were too busy fetching their masters’ tea and battling the runs to articulate their despair. Nowadays, we can pop a couple Zoloft and watch “Ellen.”
Werther is a sensitive guy (self-absorbed prick) capable of talking at great length about gardening (pussy). Then he meets Charlotte, who cock-teases him for most of the book. Meanwhile, he gripes via letters to his friend, Wolfgang, about his terminal blue balls. Unfortunately for Werther, the girl really likes some other dude, and she encourages Werther to bark up some other tree. Contrarily, however, Charlotte seems to love the attention. Even after she marries this guy, Albert, she strings Werther along, corralling him into the friend zone as an adoring confidant (doormat).
Unable to get mad at the infuriatingly amiable Albert, the two become awkward friends. In one conversation, Werther pounds home some sweet foreshadowing, vigorously defending the nobility of suicide (emo). Later, Werther finally recognizes his resentment of both Albert and Charlotte, and so he descends into a protracted bout of self-pity. He can only satisfy his passive-aggressive rage by constantly guilt-tripping Charlotte. Albert knows better than to get involved in all this bullshit, and runs “business errands” or hangs out in another room (scotchy scotch scotch) when Werther visits. Charlotte tells Werther to piss off until after Christmas. Werther again burdens Wolfgang with how lost he is without seeing his one true love (stalker), and Charlotte realizes how much she misses the attention (cock-tease) since her husband is getting tired of her needy crap and isn’t as lovey-dovey anymore (won’t go down south).
Werther shows up unexpectedly (stalker), and Charlotte tosses the poor, dumb bastard a bone (buying time while dialing 911), by asking him to recite this inhumanly tedious poem he’d translated sometime before (nerd).
Since Werther can’t have the girl, he must content himself with dropping a lifelong guilt trip at her doorstep and creeping her out. In a monotonous suicide note, he emphasizes how he’s savored kissing his portrait of her, and a pink hair ribbon he’d pocketed (panty thief). With a romantic air of menace, he promises they’ll be together in the afterlife. Always a crowd pleaser.
Finally, after licking all the salt off the gun Charlotte had touched at some point, Werther somehow shoots himself in the forehead — a feat I can’t even conceptualize not ending in a broken wrist. He died as he lived: awkwardly.
There is one part of the book that made the whole thing worth reading for me. During his usual lolling about, our protagonist meets a wandering schizo, and he tells him:
“I envy the delusion to which you are a victim. You go forth with joy to gather flowers for your princess — in winter — and grieve when you can find none, and cannot understand why they do not grow. But I wander forth without joy, without hope, without design; and I return as I came. [...:] Happy mortal, who can ascribe your wretchedness to an earthly cause! You do not know, you do not feel, that in your own distracted heart and disordered brain dwells the source of that unhappiness [...:]“
This passage strikes me as one of the most insightful (depressing) things I’ve read in a while. It summarizes the outlook I’ve developed (resigned myself to) since informally starting to study philosophy, and that I’ve gathered from both fiction and nonfiction. In my view, a perceptive person’s only reward is recognizing the abyss. We’re servants of genes, our little gods too stupid and gauche to be aware of anything, let alone us. If you buy causal determinism, as I do (unfortunately), we’re not even servants with the purpose of propagating those genes (which is already a grim prospect). The word “purpose” doesn’t mean anything in a determined world. The whole affair, soup to nuts, is a predetermined collision of particles, a big Rube Goldberg invention, and we’re incidental puppets to the process, with no free will at all. To discern a sense of purpose in any of this, I suspect a person must first be totally insane, because there’s no rational reason to give a shit.