What is Goethe Famous For?

The incredible story of how German author/playwright Goethe’s first novel, a romantic tragedy, inspired a wave of real-life suicides amongst Europe’s upper classes. On “”The Rosie O’Donnell Show”” Goethe wants to talk about his newest work, an ambitious adaptation of Faust. Rosie wants to talk about his first big hit, The Sorrows of Werther, and the rabid fan reaction.

Original Air Date: April, 2002

Transcript by YouTube

Goethe on History Bites

Welcome to History Bites I’m Rick green.  When grunge rocker Kurt Cobain took his own life back in 1994 authorities were worried that some of his Generation X fans might do a kind of copycat kamikaze.

Kids today, when I was young rock stars were dropping like flies didn’t bother us a bit.

Now at the time of Cobain’s death, experts were popping up on the tube talking about something called the Werther Effect.
I did a little digging turns out this has happened before.  The
Werther Effect refers to a phenomenon from the late 1700s, back then lovesick teenagers were being driven to self-destruction by a book called ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther.’

Teens dressed up like the main character and some even went so far as to reenact the books final chapter.  I won’t give it away but it ends with a bang.

So imagine if television had been around back then to cover or exploit the story of teenage wasteland and generation ml xxx.

The Werther Effect

Hi I’m Fritz Berger and I’m Klaus Wiener Schnitzel, from the United Federation of Werther fans and this is the Rosie Von Donnell show.  On today’s show… Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

We’re talkin Werther with Johann Goethe.  and now, here’s Rosie.

Hey Klaus and Fritz how’s it going with you guys?

Real good Rosie.

Now you’re both members of the Goethe fan club the United
Federation of Werther’s.  You gotta be excited.
Yeah Wow!
Tell us about these outfits you got on there.

Ah well we are both dressed as Werther, the heroic lead character from Goethe‘s book ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’

Sure the blue coat and yellow pants just like Werther wore.

Yeah it’s the story of a young man called Werther and he falls in love with this girl Lata and when he realizes that he can’t have

her he decides to take his own life with his own hand.

yeah yeah Lata spurns him so Werther shoots himself in the skull with the pistol, guess you could say it was his Lata in life.
That one always kills at the conventions.
Not as much as the book does.  That’s a good one Rosie.

I mean guys this whole thing with Goethe and his book that’s a really big thing with you Werthies.

 We don’t like to be called Werthies, yeah that’s derogatory yeah
we prefer the more dignified Werther’s.
Live long posthumously!

And you guys are gonna get to talk to him.  Seriously?

Cross your heart wish you were dead, stick a pistol to your head?

All of that except the pistol part. Okay gang say hello to

Johanne Van Buren.
advances inked tonight
novelist and playwright both King Fahd
Goethe is in the news over another
suicidal suitor now some are asking
should writers be accountable for their
words is Goethe legally and or morally
responsible for any actions that may be
inspired by his words even if someone
misinterprets the meaning of what has
been written and commits a crime or does
evil should the author be blamed
tonight’s flashpoint probability
responsibility and the written word I’ll
be joined by reverend reinhard of
rothenburg and thomas paine political
radical mr. Payne your writing has
inspired revolutions violence and revolt
the anarchy and bloodshed in France the
so called reign of terror could be
blamed on you
and Reverend Reinhard you feel that mr.
Goethe is morally responsible for all
actions inspired by his writings in fact
you point to several quotes from the
Bible up back up your argument the same
Bible that apparently inspired Crusades
a killed thousand massacres like the
ones against the Jews in Russia and holy
wars between rival Pope’s and kings that
have killed hundreds of thousands well
you see Greta God can’t be held
responsible for the way people
misinterpret his words but mr. Goethe
I guess you’ve heard all the controversy
this week about that poor young boy in
Geneva killing himself over a woman
apparently some folks blame Goethe
because he wrote a book in which a young
man kills himself over a woman but the
way I see it it’s not good as fault if a
boy tries to kill himself
the responsibility lies squarely with
the woman I almost once died over a
woman but the doctor put some mercury on
the sores and that cleared it up now I’m
fine except that the cartilage in my
nose seems to be disintegrating I also
forget things that reminds me of
something I read in the news apparently
a young boy in Geneva killed himself
over a woman get her wrote The Sorrows
of Young Werther when he was young and
recovering from his first great hopeless
romance he said he wrote it in four
weeks almost unconsciously like he was
sleepwalking for good writing was
cathartic it purged all that depression
from his mind and unfortunately put it
into the minds of some of his readers oh
you are and I guess you haven’t read
this book The Sorrows of Young Werther
oh I haven’t because I read it and I
mean great book yeah downer yeah her
that ends with were the killing himself
he’s in love with a married woman which
we’ve all been through to his head and
they say when people finish reading it
they want to go out like whether it’s
crazy that is crazy I love the book so
much I lent it to my friend Liesl to
read and you know you’ll own something
to a friend you always kind of worry
what if they don’t take care of it and
Liezel is one of these people well
finally I get the book back and look at
I know it’s a bloody mess or did she
commit suicide
oh no no Lisa was just reading it at the
doctor she was there for a bloodletting
and look at all this neat stuff they
have out yeah that is me
you have an entire tea set with scenes
from the book this one’s my favorite it
shows where they’re trying to kiss
Lottie and she freaks out of them
but don’t use them if your guests
haven’t read the book and their
appetites Robert what did Italian
physicist Luigi Galvani bring close to a
dead bull frogs legs to make them twitch
a picture of a pretty lady frog a static
electric charge Jerome what occurred in
England after Parliament repealed all
the laws that fermented hate against
Catholics Oh peace and love and
understanding riots that killed 500
Catholics Daniel well it’s really here
now for Friedrich Gottlieb Pop’s talking
is oh really really fine poetry there we
do enjoy those German irrationalist
canal stay tuned because they ever
really make sure coming up the comedy of
punch on his own for the first time
without Judy then we have Bobo the
dancing bear and for the young people
for the first time in New York the music
sensation that’s sweeping Europe
Handel’s Messiah
I guess what everyone in our studio
audience is going home with the set
thanks to our friends
you know suicide is a serious issue
really it is it makes me sad just to
hear about it
I mean there’s so much to live for these
days like constant revolution and is no
food less famine but some of those
incurable diseases are on the decline a
curable so I am wrote a song about
suicide sure
suicide or suicide hate kids it’s not
the way to die want to love life but you
have none suck it up and drop the gun
you won’t be buried in a cemetery if you
do Harry Caray no priest or Church or
holy ground just an unmarked pit outside
of town only God can take your life –
folks over for daily scribe don’t be
like in that wolfgang goethe boy
in 1774 German author Johann Goethe
published his short novel The Sorrows of
Young Werther in it
a young man doomed by his love for an
unobtainable woman romantically
splatters his brains on the wall with a
pistol the novel had it all love passion
violence gore it even had merchandising
but Goethe was tired of all the
attention from this one book the man
destined to become Germany’s all-time
literary giant didn’t want to be a
one-hit wonder kind he’s a poet
playwright and he’s still knocking him
dead with his book The Sorrows of Young
Werther you
we want to do that have a public danger
how’s it going well it’s going great
cutie-patootie I just got back from
Italy I had to get up Germany for a
while I mean afterward that came out and
good things just were so crazy sure the
hype the fans the suicide you know it
was so bad I had to travel in disguise
just just this constant scrutiny
everyone wanting to talk about Werther
and how much it meant to them III
couldn’t take it anymore thank God it’s
over with because I mean well listen
I’ve written a new play I’ve got a new
outlook on life you’re looking at the
dawn of a new go to a whole new man so
you’re trying to like the sequel to go
to so what everyone’s wondering Johan is
some does the sequel to get to come with
a sequel to other boy I can’t say he
doesn’t know no but you know no but he
does he does come with with this for you
it’s a copy of my new play if a genie
and Taurus I’m kidding I love it thank
you so much you know what I’ve got a
gift for you too rule that’s very kind
of you but you gotta close your eyes and
hold out your hands okay sure
made in Dresden it’s number 16 post
suicide worthy look at the details well
not whole jury yes it’s it’s lovely you
know the vaulting way although you know
it’s funny that you should mention the
word details because in my new play you
know i kids just love these guys and i
think it’s great anytime that action
figures can help children explore the
world of literature for a moment here
let’s move on to our next topic The
Sorrows of Young Werther
okay but no killing yourself to finish
discussing it okay okay now there were
more teen suicides this week is it time
good went to the bonfire the book or the
author yes me most books should be
banned Oh can’t cause suicides like
saying that the Bible gives people ideas
about killing and stealing and adultery
well hey you’re the one that said it but
I must say there’s a lot of
inappropriate material there am i right
bill oh don’t look at me I just read it
for the epistles yeah alright let’s see
what’s in the news then Prince Joseph
ended his announcement about the new ban
on torture by dramatically pulling out
his spleen and hurling it at the
assembled crowd
then agreed patriotic moving and
heartfelt he felt sure this beer ad
campaign would be a big hit
Wolfgang dreamed of leaving all his
financial woes behind in Salzburg and
heading to London to make it a musical
comedy George’s team didn’t seem excited
that they were winning the annual
Delaware punt race
tonight the ongoing famine in India has
become so severe cannibalism is
widespread but thousands of unburied
dead it has inspired the name thus call
famine in Russia the persecution of
millions of Jews continues under
Catherine the Great in Japan a volcano
named Bunsen has exploded killing 50
thousand and that outbreak of plague in
Egypt has now claimed 800,000 but first
closer to home another European has
apparently been driven to suicide by the
writings of Wolfgang von Goethe how many
slaves a year are being imported from
Africa what 100,000 Teresa which
religious group was expelled from Poland
this year the Jews no the Jesuits Robert
what sexually explicit fad is taking
Vienna by storm nudity the waltz
NBC News reported college students in
England and Germany were misbehaving by
lighting their internal gasses it turns
out that it was really a serious attempt
to develop internal lighting using gas
NBC regrets any confusion this may have
caused how would you feel about
answering some questions from our
no mr. Goethe remember us from January
17 1777 they’re at a stretch Munich
January 18 1777 the Kurt kroner Munich
January 21st 1777 the bushes outside
your house yes hopefully for good first
I just want to say how much I love to a
word about and I really identify with
were there um because I tried to commit
suicide to because there was this girl
that I like that’s just stick to the
suicide yeah well um anyways when I
found out that I couldn’t have her I
picked up a rifle and I put in like a
double charge of gunpowder and some
wadding and a bullet a 4-course a bullet
hello well you’ve got to put in the
balls and then some more wadding and
then you tamp it down with one of those
rod things and anything you pull back
the hammer so you can see that the Flint
was nice and straight and then I put it
to my head and I was ready to blow my
wad and balls and I pulled the trigger
it didn’t go off well there’s another
coming up the sorrows of old Goethe
in the late 1700s the Western world was
wracked by revolution and insurrection
the nobles and church were losing power
meanwhile socialism and atheism were on
the rise farm workers were moving to
factories and then being replaced by
machines crime and alcoholism were
rampant mobs ruled utopia’s were
declared and naysayers were beheaded but
despite the storm and stress
some people managed to stay focused on
the important questions like where can I
get a pair of those really cool yellow
mr. Gaither yes you know when that girl
drowned herself in the river behind your
house and buy myrrh and you had a copy
of the surahs a young werther in her
pocket and you gave money the girl’s
family because you felt so awful yes I
thought that was very cool Voltaire this
is why I want to try and we have time
for one more question
oh okay in your book um he said that
Lata didn’t attend where’s four you know
because like she was still in shock from
where the suicide and I just want to
know like house lot of doing like him is
she getting better no no you see Lata is
just a character in my book no she’s not
a lot is short for Charlotte Charlotte
buff she’s a girl you fell in love with
when she married that other guy yeah
everyone knows that I mean it’s the hard
evidence to prove that you know
logically life isn’t worth living
no law was based on Charlotte but she’s
also a composite of other women I fancy
so I really don’t have an answer to your
question because Lata doesn’t actually
exist to the fictional character in the
fictional book by me
I hate makeup I’m Paige I’m Kate is it
what sense does it make for young people
like ourselves who are inspired by your
book what sense does it make for us to
kill ourselves well that’s the thing it
doesn’t make any sense at all it’s a
story it’s a novel it’s fiction spent
five years of my life dressed up as a
made-up character going – were there
conventions and read writing erotic fan
fiction dreaming that someday my life
would be completely without open so I
would have to kill myself are you saying
that that is over nothing essentially
yes you see this is what age has taught
me that there is something to live for
that life is not hopeless are you sure
that there isn’t even the itsy-bitsy
teeny-weeny askance and it could be
there’s no doubt that the Sorrows of
Young Werther was connected with a
number of suicides by men and women all
over Europe for twenty years or more
guess some people read slower than
others but in time the whole romance of
suicide fell out of fashion Europeans
were more excited by the new vogue
political and Industrial Revolution get
himself had long since moved on and The
Sorrows of Young Werther was history but
for readers who took a page from Goethe
and ended their sorrows like whirter
history bites I’d like to thank the
publishers at random Hutton cuz everyone
in the audience gets to go home with a
copy of joining us
it’s like we speak neither in the
audience not anymore