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The Case of LiteratureForensic Narratives from Goethe to Kafka$
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Arne Höcker

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781501749353

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501749353.001.0001

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The Case of Werther and the Institution of Literature

The Case of Werther and the Institution of Literature

(p.27) 1 The Case of Werther and the Institution of Literature
The Case of Literature

Arne Höcker

Cornell University Press

This chapter discusses Johann Wolfgang Goethe's first novel, The Sufferings of Young Werther (1774). This novel not only created a new kind of hero with whom a whole generation of young readers could identify but also set up a narrative framework that made the history of Werther available to psychological interpretation. Knowing oneself means to have succeeded in establishing a relation to oneself, and this complicated and difficult endeavor is not possible without a medium. Since Goethe's famous epistolary novel, this medium, in a completely new and emphatically modern sense, has carried the name literature. In Western literary history, The Sufferings of Young Werther is known as the novel with which a new form of individuality finds literary expression. The form of the epistolary novel serves as a vehicle, translating the discourse of the self into a seemingly communicative structure and successfully turning the incomprehensible individual monad into an apparently readable subject for a contemporary audience.

Keywords:   Johann Wolfgang Goethe, The Sufferings of Young Werther, young readers, narrative framework, epistolary novel, literature, Western literary history, individuality, literary expression, epistolary novel

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