Sense and Sensibility

The Sorrows of Young Marianne: Correspondences Between Goethe and Austen College

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s epistolary novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, made waves in the German literary scene almost immediately upon its publication in 1774. Just five years later, the novel was translated into English, attaining a comparable level of popularity in England (Long 169). Celebrated British author Jane Austen was born in 1775, just a year after the novel’s initial publication. One can readily assume that Austen had the chance to read The Sorrows of Young Werther due to its immense popularity during her lifetime, her access to her father’s large library, and the following mention of it in Love and Friendship, a piece of her juvenalia:

“...but as we were convinced he had no soul, that he had never read the sorrows of Werter [sic]...we were certain that Janetta could feel no affection for him, or at least that she ought to feel none” (Austen).

Here, Austen, in her typical tongue-in-cheek fashion, describes the negative reactions of a young girl’s female friends toward one of her potential suitors. In the girls’ eyes, a man is certainly not an eligible bachelor unless he has read The Sorrows of Young Werther and thus absorbed some of its main character’s undying sentimentality. Earlier in this same letter--Love...

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