Goethe’s novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774 and revised 1787), stands at the very beginning of the modern period, and offers a dramatic story of passionate love, which is still profoundly relevant. As a popular bestseller, this book is a response to emerging romantic themes. It seems to affirm romantic experience, while it initiates a critique of many of its typical forms at the point when these stereotypes were first beginning to appear. Through a close examination of Goethe’s text, this article considers (1) Werther’s self-destructive passion; (2) romantic love as a heroic response to the alienation of modern society; and (3) the problem of gender, which Werther ignores. In this novel, Goethe begins a philosophical conversation on love that we are bound to continue: What is romantic love, and in what way does it liberate or constrain us? And given some of the problems of romantic love, what would a “post-romantic” love be like?

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