What does a German novel from 1774 have to tell us about today’s society?

The sorrows of young Werther

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) is such a major figure in German history and literature that the period in which he lived is often called the Age of Goethe. But he remains somewhat unknown in the United States outside of academic circles.

Why should we still care about this poet, scientist, and cultural critic almost 200 years after his death?

This November, we’ll think about this question by reading Goethe’s semi-autobiographical first novel, The Sufferings of Young Werther, which was an instant sensation when it was published in 1774. We’ll talk about how the dilemmas that hound Goethe’s protagonist are very much still relevant today and about the scandal that its “immoral” ending caused.

Two discussions at the Sequoyah Branch will be lead by Dr. Sarah Vandegrift Eldridge, an Assistant Professor of German at the University of Tennessee.

Meeting 1: Monday, 2 November, 2015, 6:30-8:00 pm – Discuss Part I

Meeting 2: Monday, 9 November, 2015, 6:30-8:00 pm – Discuss Part II

Dr. Eldridge recommends the Norton edition of the novel translated by Stanley Corngold but you may use any translation. These discussions are part of the Goethe Festival at the University of Tennessee, which takes place November 12 and 13, 2015.

About Dr. Eldridge:

Dr. Sarah ElridgeSarah Vandegrift Eldridge received her B.A. in German from the University of Chicago and her M.A. and Ph.D. in German from Princeton University. Her research interests focus on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German literature, particularly the genre of the novel: its emergence of a vehicle for self-expression and societal experimentation around the turn of the 19th century, and its intersections with biology, pedagogy, and the law. She is working on a book project titled Novel Affinities: Composing the Family in the German Novel 1795-1830. Further research interests include issues of canonization and the processes of literary history, religious writing as an antecedent to the novel, and techniques of 'care of the self.' Dr. Eldridge’s teaching has covered literature and culture of the German Enlightenment to the early 20th century, as well as philosophy, history, and German language.