Friday, October 13, 2006

The Sorrows of Translation

A translation led me to the Chinese name of The Sorrows of Young Werther: it's called 少年維特的煩惱. I thought that was a little odd--煩惱 means something like "frustration," and the Chinese version gives me a feeling like "Little Werther's Headaches."

I had heard before that there was a rash of copycat suicides in Europe after the novel appeared in 1774--Goethe (or his fictional Werther) was the Kurt Cobain of the 18th century. What I hadn't heard before is that it got so bad that someone came along and wrote a version of the story with a happy ending called The Joys of Young Werther. Goethe didn't like that, so he wrote a poem in which the Joys author defecates on Werther's grave. Is this true, or a Wikipedia joke? Wikipedia goes on to list a handful of other literary references and appearances of the book and its characters. These days, however, you can get sued for doing that kind of thing.

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