Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-6b989bf9dc-lb7rp Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-12T14:08:37.716Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Lotte’s Bird, Female Desire, and the Language of ‘Sexuality’ in Die Leiden des jungen Werthers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 December 2023

Patricia Anne Simpson
Affiliation:
University of Nebraska, Lincoln
Birgit Tautz
Affiliation:
Bowdoin College, Maine
Get access

Summary

Abstract: In the 1787 edition of Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, the revised second edition of the text, Goethe added a brief episode that shows Lotte having a bird (a canary) kiss her on the mouth—something she has trained it to do with breadcrumbs. Werther is deeply affected by what he sees, and one can read the couch scene, Werther's assault on Lotte that causes the final breakup between the two of them, as linked to this scene. The canary episode touches on one of the central problems in Die Leiden des jungen Werthers: the fact that Werther and Lotte are driven by desires and urges that we nowadays would call “sexual” (they are physical in nature, closely linked to their sense of self, and experienced as absolutely imperative), but for which they have no vocabulary—the term “sexuality” would not be invented until the second half of the nineteenth century. Read in the context of the history of sexuality, the significance of Goethe's novel consists in its production of a series of images (metaphors) as means of communication to help us understand this (sexual) dynamic as it develops between Lotte and Werther—in particular, the depiction of female desire in the text. I nterpreted from this perspective, the image of the bird kissing Lotte (and also Werther) turns out to be remarkably complex but may help us understand where on the fault line between biology and culture “sexuality,” in Goethe's view, is to be situated.

Keywords: Werther, history of sexuality, kissing, female desire, metaphor, gender studies

MANY OF THE ideas Western culture associates with “sexuality” are in fact cultural inventions and therefore bound to time and place, even if this feels counterintuitive. These include the notions that everyone has a sexual identity, that sexuality is an integral part of a person's history and present, and that sexuality is closely tied to one's sense of self and individuality and therefore important for others’ perceptions. But the introduction of the term “sexuality” is the logical end point and culmination of a much longer development. A ny attempt to discuss sexuality in Goethe's work needs to reflect on the fact that the concept of “sexuality,” including its derivatives, was not yet commonly used during Goethe's lifetime.

Type
Chapter
Information
Goethe Yearbook 30 , pp. 19 - 40
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2023

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×