|Goethe's obsession, Lotte Buff.|
Goethe’s novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, was based in large part on his own unrequited love for Lotte Buff, a young woman he met while living in Wetzlar, Germany. Lotte was engaged to (and later married) Goethe’s friend, Johann Kestner. But while Goethe’s literary alter-ego, Werther, saw suicide as the only way out of this untenable situation, Goethe himself chose the pen as an alternative, creating a literary sensation that took Europe by storm and reverberates to this day.
Unrequited, obsessive, overwhelming love can be destructive—as in the case of Werther—but it also has the capacity to be inspiring, motivational, and even transcendent. What is it about this emotion that so affects our senses and even our brains? Here are a few theories about the power of unrequited love, in life and in art.
• Author Lisa A. Phillips reminds us that unrequited love can, perhaps, be the most powerful muse. “How unrequited love can make us more creative” from The Washington Post
• Survey some of the works of literature and drama that retell the age-old story of unreturned love—with results that are inspiring and cathartic. (Spoiler alert: Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther ranks #12.) 50 Greatest Unrequited Love Stories Ever
• What happens to your brain on love? How about obsession? These scientists have the answer. “Mapping ‘obsessive love’ in the brain”
• Goethe certainly wasn’t the only writer to sublimate heartache into works of literature. Learn about a few of his kindred spirits. “Perpetual Virginity: Five Writers Who Turned Unrequited Love Into Literary Gold” on the Huffington Post
• Massenet’s opera Werther is full of romantic, yearning melodies and orchestration, sweeping the audience away in the intensity of Werther’s feelings for Charlotte. For how to listen and get the most of the music, our friends at the Metropolitan Opera have a fantastic listening guide, created for students but full of info that helps us all: Met Opera Werther Guide Musical Highlights
• Does Werther really deserve all of this pity? Mike Drucker on Split Sider points out the importance of parody amidst all the emo weeping: “The Sorrows of Young Werther and the Rise of Parody”