Lotte and the Abundance of Oranges

I believe this assignment was to compose a section from Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werther (The Sorrows of Young Werther) from an alternate perspective.

Once, I was asked how I came up with the voice for this. All I could recall was trying to make it sound as though it had been translated from German. That’s why Lotte refers to dinner as “evening bread” (Abendbrot). Ich denke es ist nicht zu furchtbar (I don’t think it’s too terrible).

This entry, to be placed directly following Werther’s letter from July 16, is from the journal of Charlotte and is addressed to her dearly departed mother.

June 17


You wouldn’t believe what’s happened! I’ve met a man. He’s entirely too much and I dare say that you would never approve. He’s far too wealthy and impulsive but also quite sweet. I find myself hoping that ours will be an enduring friendship, as it can be nothing more.

I am getting ahead of myself. You’ll recall that when I last wrote, there was talk of organizing a ball. As Albert was out of town, caring to his father’s affairs, it was arranged that I would be accompanied by a young man who is known to our cousins. I was delayed, as usual, by several of the children who suddenly, and without notice, needed my complete attention while I was dressing. When the carriage arrived at the gate, father had not yet returned from his ride and I had just begun to give the children their evening bread. One of the maids went to greet the carriage and explain that I would be with them soon.

To my surprise, not five minutes later, there was a man standing in our vestibule watching me. I sincerely do hope that he did not mistake me for you. How embarrassing it would have been! These years have stolen some of my youth, this much is true, but to have nine children and no ring. Widows don’t attend balls, it’s simply not done. Apologies were made for my tartiness, but none for his discourtesy. I forgave this as nervousness as he could not seem to keep his voice from wavering and his eyes continually strayed to the floor. He introduced himself as Werther and said that he is an artist visiting Wahlheim on holiday. I assumed, falsely, that this was the partner whom our cousin had arranged.

With the children fed, I left them in Sophie’s care. You should see how she’s grown, soon she will be the one attending these parties.

How lovely it was to dance again! It has been so long since I lived a moment with such abandon. My arranged partner was somewhat less graceful that I would have hoped, and it was a significant relief when it was at last my turn to dance with Werther. For his disquiet, he is an elegant dancer and I gladly consented to another two dances with him.

We sat after our second dance and Werther presented me with an abundance of the most marvelous oranges, but there were so many. I ate my fill and considered bringing the remainder home to the children. It was then that I noticed the ladies sitting at the next table. They appeared practically famished and had nothing to eat, so I offered up a few slices of orange. It seemed the compassionate thing to do, I only hope that Werther did not feel I was rejecting his generosity.

You should see the way he looks at me, when he doesn’t think I’m looking. Like I’m the only person in the room, maybe in the world. Did anyone look at you that way? What does it mean? It’s different from the way the children look at me, they are looking for you. Albert is always looking beyond, to the horizon, he’s always somewhere else.

Right in the middle of our third dance, Werther asked the very question I had hoped to avoid. Who is Albert? I needed a moment to collect myself and the dance graciously provided. There was no avoiding it, he would find out if he didn’t already know. Albert is, for all intents and purposes, my fiance. There was never another choice and never will there be. He’s a good man and will provide well for father and the children. It is my duty to marry him and I will as I have promised. Never had I questioned that until that night. Why is it that we cannot marry for love? While it is true that I love Albert; I love him as an uncle or a cousin, that is all. Perhaps there is more.

Soon, we were interrupted by a storm that all should have known would coming. Dark clouds had lingered since midday. I knew that soon the party would end and with it my last night of youth. Many of the women ran, frightened, away from the windows but I knew there was nothing to fear. It was, after all, inevitable. Our group made its way to a room with curtains and shutters. I arranged some of the chairs into a circle, invited the others to sit, and proposed a silly game to distract us from the storm. All seemed to enjoy our game, though I think Werther relished it most of all.

I lead Werther back out to the dance floor and we stood by a window watching the rain fall. The scene brought to mind Klopstock’s ode of friendship and his name issued forth from my lips before I could prevent it. Tears welled in my eyes as Werther bent to kiss my hand.

The candle is reaching its end and morning will come too soon. I will write again, when I have the time.

Yours, Lotte


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