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Melancholic figure of a poet. Engraving by J. de Ribera.

Weltschmerz (from the German, literally world-pain, also world weariness, pronounced [ˈvɛltʃmɛɐ̯ts]) is a term coined by the German author Jean Paul. In its original meaning in the Deutsches Wörterbuch by Brothers Grimm, it denotes a deep sadness about the inadequacy or imperfection of the world (tiefe Traurigkeit über die Unzulänglichkeit der Welt). This kind of world view was widespread among several romantic and decadent authors such as Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, William Blake, the Marquis de Sade, Charles Baudelaire, Giacomo Leopardi, Paul Verlaine, François-René de Chateaubriand, Alfred de Musset, Mikhail Lermontov, Nikolaus Lenau,[1] Hermann Hesse,[2] and Heinrich Heine.[1]

Frederick C. Beiser defines Weltschmerz more broadly as "a mood of weariness or sadness about life arising from the acute awareness of evil and suffering",[3] and notes that by the 1860s the word was used ironically in Germany to refer to oversensitivity to those same concerns.

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Further examplesEdit

John Steinbeck wrote about this feeling in The Winter of Our Discontent and referred to it as the Welshrats; and in East of Eden, Samuel Hamilton feels it after meeting Cathy Trask for the first time. Ralph Ellison uses the term in Invisible Man with regard to the pathos inherent in the singing of spirituals: "beneath the swiftness of the hot tempo there was a slower tempo and a cave and I entered it and looked around and heard an old woman singing a spiritual as full of Weltschmerz as flamenco". Kurt Vonnegut references this feeling in his novel Player Piano; it is felt by Doctor Paul Proteus and his father. In Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, he describes an acquaintance, "Moldorf", who has prescriptions for Weltschmerz on scraps of paper in his pocket.

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ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b Braun, Wilhelm Afred (1905). Types of Weltschmerz in German Poetry. London: Columbia University Press. Retrieved 9 April 2016.
  2. ^ Stelzig, Eugene L. (1988). Hermann Hesse's Fictions of the Self: Autobiography and the Confessional Imagination. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 81. ISBN 0-691-06750-3. Retrieved 9 April 2016.
  3. ^ Beiser, Frederick C. (2016). Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900. Oxford University Press. p. 1. ISBN 9780191081347.

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