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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Weltschmerz is a German word meaning the sadness one feels when comparing one’s life to a theoretically better life. The word however way later adapted in English. It may also be defined as the sadness one feels when reflecting on the evils of the world. In the German language, Weltschmerz is more often used to describe melancholy when one feels the world is causing them pain. However, unlike the literary definition used in English, the German language uses it as the name of a psychological disorder.

Weltcshmerz is a compound word formed by the words: welt, meaning world, and Shmerz, meaning pain. Compound words are words formed by joining two or more already existing words, a common practice in the German language. Welt comes from the Proto-German root: weraldiz, meaning the age of man. Wer comes from the Proto-Indo European root: wiHrós, meaning warrior, husband or hunter. Aldiz comes from the Proto-Indo European root: altós, meaning to grow. The word was coined by the German Romantic author Jean Paul Fredrich Richter in his Romantic novel Selina, written in 1827.

The concept of Weltschmerz has become a common occurrence since the romantic era, when the classical ideas of idealization, order and realism were rejected. According to the Encyclopedia Britanica, romanticism emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental. Romantic Literature often presents its protagonist as one who is isolated and has problems associated with their relations to the world. Weltschmerz is the feeling the author tries to leave in their works.

An example of such protagonist is Edmond Dantes, from The Count of Monte Cristo, whose story is about his separation from the world changing who he is. His story starts as a man who wound up in the perfect scenario but then met the wrong people at the wrong time and lost his life in prison. Afterwards, he figures out who ruined is life and seeks vengeance. However, his revenge leaves him empty as he lost his previous self and lives in Weltschmerz unable to find satisfaction with his new life.

Weltschmerz and Romanticism have helped to shape ideas of art by introducing imperfect heroes. In a sense, the tragic hero is a character people have sympathy for and those emotions are what make these stories appealing. Although Weltschmerz  is a very cynical world view, in literature, its creates beautiful stories.

1.      “Weltschmerz – Definition,” Accessed November 6, 2012, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/weltschmerz.
2.      “Weltschmerz (Romanticism) --- Britannica Online Encyclopedia,” Accessed November 6, 2012, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/639576/Weltschmerz.

3.      “Jean Paul (German author) --- Britannica Online Encyclopedia,” Accessed November 6, 2012, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/302155/Jean-Paul

4.      “Romanticism --- Britannica Online Encyclopedia,” Accessed November 6 2012, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/508675/Romanticism

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