Goethe and the 'Werther Sonnets' of Romantic-era Women Writers

The design of this module is to introduce a new dimension in the literary history of Romanticism that has long been overlooked in our pedagogical practices, and that is the interconnectedness of British Romanticism with German literature. In a course titled Romantic and Victorian Poetry, I pair Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther with the reviews and poetic responses it elicited at the time, especially the “Werther sonnets” written by Charlotte Smith, Anna Seward, and Anne Bannerman. This exercise introduces the students to one of the key texts of European Romantic literature, gives them a sampling of the literature of the German movement of Sturm und Drang, and enables them to see how this translated text fed into the literary output of British Romanticism by inspiring imitations and appropriations in different generic forms. Equally important is that this text in particular marks a turning point in the history of the reception of German literature in England. Goethe's Werther also raises many questions about the creative process of translation as a novella that contains a translation of a forged translation: Werther's translations of selections from Macpherson's Ossian.