Goethe’s Writing Made People Kill Themselves. Literally.


When people first hear the name Goethe, most think of a collection of epic poetry that rightfully belongs to German canon, novels dealing with contemplation and romanticism, dramas addressing human needs and desires, and scientific treatises about topics ranging from color to plants. When it comes to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, what people often overlook is the man himself. Born in Frankfurt on August 28, 1749, Goethe was a man of unique character. To celebrate his birthday, we would like to recall Goethe’s four best character traits.

1. He Was a Good Student.

Goethe followed his father's instructions, and went to Liepzig to study law. He attended lectures religiously — just not legal lectures. Goethe often neglected law in order to study literature and discuss poetry with his peers. Even so, he eventually came out of Liepzig with a law degree, which enabled him to supplement his writing income. Goethe proves that having a double major pays off in the end.

2. He Was Inspirational.

Goethe traveled to Wetzlar in 1772, where he became attracted to a girl named Lotte. He visited her frequently, and maintained his friendship with both her and her fiancé, even after learning about their engagement. Around the same time, one of Goethe’s former classmates committed suicide due to severe depression. These situations gave rise to Goethe’s first novel, The Sorrows of a Young Werther, which tells the story of a love triangle very similar to the one involving Goethe, Lotte, and her fiancé. While Goethe did not commit suicide, his Werther did. Goethe’s ending was so poignant that it inspired people across Europe, who decided to emulate the main character and commit suicide in honor of Goethe's skillful writing.

3. He Was Committed.

Of all his works, Goethe's two-part play, Faust, took the longest to write. Although he conceived of the work in 1770, Faust was written scene-by-scene over the course of many years. One of Goethe's most famous plays, Faust explores the idea of human desire, and what we are willing to sacrifice. Goethe certainly dedicated a lot of time to writing Faust, so we can sacrifice some time to see it. All 21 hours of it.

4. He Was a Romantic.

Throughout his life, Goethe fell in love with countless women, though he wasn't able to forge a relationship with most of them. Unrequited love often inspired Goethe, resulting in his beautiful poems. The "Marienbad Elegy," perhaps his greatest poem, emerged from such a relationship. At the age of 72, Goethe, then a widower, became attracted to and wanted to marry a 19-year-old girl. Thankfully, he didn’t.