» Faithfully yours; staging Werther.
BY: D. Bruno Starrs

Die Leiden des jungen Werthers1 is a short epistolary novel published anonymously in 1774 by the then virtually unknown writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in German. As one of the first psychological novels, dealing as it does with a character's innermost thoughts and motivations, Werther became an instant bestseller and enabled Goethe to become Germany's most successful and famous writer. Curiously, the novel is believed to have caused a wave of suicides by its readers who took pains to die with the opened book at hand and dressed in the yellow britches and blue frock-coat of the novels 'hero' and as a result many European states banned it. The 'cult of Werther' was born and sociologist David Phillips in 1974 described these imitation suicides as resulting from the 'Werther Effect' (Phillips 340)2. Academic Stuart Atkins in 1949 described how; " . . . eau de Werther was sold, and Charlotte and Werther figures [were] as familiar and ubiquitous as Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck today . . ." (Atkins 2)3, and as well as numerous attempts at faithful translation there have been several inventive stage adaptations. There has never been, however, a stage adaptation of Werther described as faithful.


Next page »