Sunday, June 12, 2022

Third reading: D.W. Buffa on "The Sorrows of Young Werther"

D.W. Buffa's recent novel is The Privilege, the ninth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. The tenth, Lunatic Carnival, will be published in the spring. He has also just published Neumann's Last Concert, the fourth novel in a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, finally,  America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Buffa writes a monthly review for the Campaign for the American Reader that we're calling "Third Reading." Buffa explains. "I was reading something and realized that it was probably the third time that I knew it well enough to write something about it. The first is when I read it when I was in college or in my twenties, the second, however many years later, when I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered, and the third when I knew I was going to have to write about it."

Buffa's "Third Reading" of Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther begins:
The Sorrows of Young Werther is a very short novel that tells the story of a very short life. Werther, a young man in his twenties, falls in love with Charlotte, a young woman who has, since her mother’s death, been a mother to her younger siblings. Unfortunately for Werther, and perhaps unfortunately for herself, Charlotte is engaged to Albert, a young man whom even Werther finds likable. In the vain hope that he can forget Charlotte and recover something of his sanity, Werther takes a position with an ambassador, but he is too much in love to stay away. He comes back and finds that Charlotte and Albert have married. Because the three of them are friends, Charlotte and Werther still see each other. Convinced that Charlotte really loves him, but also convinced that Charlotte will remain the wife of Albert, Werther shoots himself and dies.

That is it, the short story of Werther’s short life. There is nothing particularly interesting, much less fascinating, about a story like this, the predictable suicide of a lover whose love has been lost, which might make us wonder, or even suspect, that there is more to the story than the story itself. If we know nothing else about the author, we know that Goethe also wrote Faust. What we might not have known, even had we read Faust, is that it was written at the same time as he had written The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Faust, sprang up at the same time as Werther,” he told his friend Eckermann. “I brought it with me in 1775 to Weimar; I had written it on letter paper; and had not made an erasure, for I took care not to write down a line that was not worthy to remain.”

Faust emerged at the same time as Werther, but it is Werther that “is a creation in which I, like a pelican, fed with the blood of my own heart. It contains so much from the innermost recesses of my heart that it might...[read on]
About Buffa's new novel Neumann’s Last Concert, from the publisher:
Neumann’s Last Concert is a story about music and war and the search for what led to the greatest evil in modern history. It is the story of an American boy, Wilfred Malone, who lost his father in the early days of the Second World War and a German refugee, Isaac Neumann, the greatest concert pianist of his age when he lived in Berlin, but who now lives, anonymous and alone, in a single rented room in a small town a few miles from San Francisco.

Wilfred has a genius for the piano, “a keen curiosity not yet corrupted by vanity” and “a memory that forgot nothing essential.” Neumann, alone in his room, is constantly writing, an endless labyrinth of questions and answers, driving him farther and farther back into the past, searching for the causes, searching for the meaning, of what happened in Germany, trying to understand what had led him, a German Jew, to stay in Germany when he could have left but instead continued to perform right up to the night that during his last concert they took his wife away.

Neumann’s Last Concert is a novel about the great catastrophe of the 20th century and the way in which music, great music, preserves both the hope of human decency amidst the carnage of human insanity and the possibility of what human beings might still accomplish.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

--Marshal Zeringue