The Werther Effect was an idea introduced by sociologist David P. Philips in The American Sociological Reivew of 1974 vol. 39 June 15 pages. Two hundred years earlier Johann Goethe had published The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). It’s been said that many men copied the behavior Goethe described in the ill-fated love affair between Werther and Charlotte.
Charlotte (A) is married to Albert (B) and Werther (C) is his friend and is in love with her.
The Sorrows of Young Werther
“I knew that I was dear to you; I saw it in your first entrancing look, knew it by the first pressure of your hand; but when I was absent from you, when I saw Albert at your side, my doubts and fears returned.
“Do you remember the flowers you sent me, when, at that crowded assembly, you could neither speak nor extend your hand to me? Half the night I was on my knees before those flowers, and I regarded them as the pledges of your love; but those impressions grew fainter, and were at length effaced.
“Everything passes away; but a whole eternity could not extinguish the living flame which was yesterday kindled by your lips, and which now burns within me. She loves me! These arms have encircled her waist, these lips have trembled upon hers. She is mine! Yes, Charlotte, you are mine for ever!
“And what do they mean by saying Albert is your husband? He may be so for this world; and in this world it is a sin to love you, to wish to tear you from his embrace. Yes, it is a crime; and I suffer the punishment, but I have enjoyed the full delight of my sin. I have inhaled a balm that has revived my soul. From this hour you are mine; yes, Charlotte, you are mine! I go before you. I go to my Father and to your Father. I will pour out my sorrows before him, and he will give me comfort till you arrive. Then will I fly to meet you. I will claim you, and remain your eternal embrace, in the presence of the Almighty.
“I do not dream, I do not rave. Drawing nearer to the grave my perceptions become clearer. We shall exist; we shall see each other again; we shall behold your mother; I shall behold her, and expose to her my inmost heart. Your mother—your image!”
About eleven o’clock Werther asked his servant if Albert had returned. He answered, “Yes;” for he had seen him pass on horseback: upon which Werther sent him the following note, unsealed:
“Be so good as to lend me your pistols for a journey. Adieu.”
Charlotte had slept little during the past night. All her apprehensions were realised in a way that she could neither foresee nor avoid. Her blood was boiling in her veins, and a thousand painful sensations rent her pure heart. Was it the ardour of Werther’s passionate embraces that she felt within her bosom? Was it anger at his daring? Was it the sad comparison of her present condition with former days of innocence, tranquillity, and self-confidence? How could she approach her husband, and confess a scene which she had no reason to conceal, and which she yet felt, nevertheless, unwilling to avow?
“They are loaded—the clock strikes twelve. I say amen. Charlotte, Charlotte! farewell, farewell!”
A neighbour saw the flash, and heard the report of the pistol; but, as everything remained quiet, he thought no more of it.
In the morning, at six o’clock, the servant went into Werther’s room with a candle. He found his master stretched upon the floor, weltering in his blood, and the pistols at his side. He called, he took him in his arms, but received no answer. Life was not yet quite extinct. The servant ran for a surgeon, and then went to fetch Albert. Charlotte heard the ringing of the bell: a cold shudder seized her. She wakened her husband, and they both rose. The servant, bathed in tears faltered forth the dreadful news. Charlotte fell senseless at Albert’s feet.
Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street by Herman Melville 1856.
In this very attitude did I sit when I called to him, rapidly stating what it was I wanted him to do—namely, to examine a small paper with me. Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation, when without moving from his privacy, Bartleby in a singularly mild, firm voice, replied, “I would prefer not to.”
I sat awhile in perfect silence, rallying my stunned faculties. Immediately it occurred to me that my ears had deceived me, or Bartleby had entirely misunderstood my meaning. I repeated my request in the clearest tone I could assume. But in quite as clear a one came the previous reply, “I would prefer not to.”
“Prefer not to,” echoed I, rising in high excitement, and crossing the room with a stride. “What do you mean? Are you moon-struck? I want you to help me compare this sheet here—take it,” and I thrust it towards him.
“I would prefer not to,” said he.
“Bartleby! quick, I am waiting.”
I heard a slow scrape of his chair legs on the uncarpeted floor, and soon he appeared standing at the entrance of his hermitage.
“What is wanted?” said he mildly.
“The copies, the copies,” said I hurriedly. “We are going to examine them. There”—and I held towards him the fourth quadruplicate.
“I would prefer not to,” he said, and gently disappeared behind the screen.
For a few moments I was turned into a pillar of salt, standing at the head of my seated column of clerks. Recovering myself, I advanced towards the screen, and demanded the reason for such extraordinary conduct.
“Why do you refuse?”
“I would prefer not to.”
With any other man I should have flown outright into a dreadful passion, scorned all further words, and thrust him ignominiously from my presence. But there was something about Bartleby that not only strangely disarmed me, but in a wonderful manner touched and disconcerted me. I began to reason with him.
“These are your own copies we are about to examine. It is labor saving to you, because one examination will answer for your four papers. It is common usage. Every copyist is bound to help examine his copy. Is it not so? Will you not speak? Answer!”
“I prefer not to,” he replied in a flute-like tone. It seemed to me that while I had been addressing him, he carefully revolved every statement that I made; fully comprehended the meaning; could not gainsay the irresistible conclusions; but, at the same time, some paramount consideration prevailed with him to reply as he did.
“You are decided, then, not to comply with my request—a request made according to common usage and common sense?”
He briefly gave me to understand that on that point my judgment was sound. Yes: his decision was irreversible.
“Bartleby,” said I, “when those papers are all copied, I will compare them with you.”
“I would prefer not to.”
“How? Surely you do not mean to persist in that mulish vagary?”
“Bartleby,” said I, “Ginger Nut is away; just step round to the Post Office, won’t you? (it was but a three minute walk,) and see if there is any thing for me.”
“I would prefer not to.”
“You will not?”
“I prefer not.”
I staggered to my desk, and sat there in a deep study. My blind inveteracy returned. Was there any other thing in which I could procure myself to be ignominiously repulsed by this lean, penniless wight?—my hired clerk? What added thing is there, perfectly reasonable, that he will be sure to refuse to do?
“Go to the next room, and tell Nippers to come to me.”
“I prefer not to,” he respectfully and slowly said, and mildly disappeared.
“Bartleby,” said I, gently calling to him behind his screen.
“Bartleby,” said I, in a still gentler tone, “come here; I am not going to ask you to do any thing you would prefer not to do—I simply wish to speak to you.”
Upon this he noiselessly slid into view.
“Will you tell me, Bartleby, where you were born?”
“I would prefer not to.”
“Will you tell me any thing about yourself?”
“I would prefer not to.”
“But what reasonable objection can you have to speak to me? I feel friendly towards you.”
He did not look at me while I spoke, but kept his glance fixed upon my bust of Cicero, which as I then sat, was directly behind me, some six inches above my head.
I buttoned up my coat, balanced myself; advanced slowly towards him, touched his shoulder, and said, “The time has come; you must quit this place; I am sorry for you; here is money; but you must go.”
“I would prefer not,” he replied, with his back still towards me.
He remained silent.
Paul Eugen Bleuler used the term schizophrenia in Berlin on 24 April 1908. His book The Theory of Schizophrenic Negativism was translated into English in 1912. He wrote about schizophrenia this way:
In ordinary external negativism which consists in the negation of external influences (Ex, Command) and of what one would normally expect the patient to do (Ex. Defaecation in the closet instead of the bed), the following causes are at work:
(a) The autistic withdrawing of the patient into his phantasies, which makes every influence acting from without comparatively an intolerable interruption. This appears to be the most important factor. In severe cases it alone is sufficient to produce negativism.
(b) The existence of a hurt (negative complex, unfulfilled wish) which must be protected from contacts.
(c) The misunderstanding of the surroundings and their purpose.
(d) Direct hostile relations to the surroundings.
(e) The pathological irritability of the schizophrenic.
(f) The pressure of thought and other difficulties of action and of thought, through which every reaction becomes painful.
(g) The sexuality with its ambivalent feeling tones is also often one of the roots of negativistic reaction. (2) (1912)
By autistic I understand practically what Freud (not however Havelock Ellis) means by autoerotism. I think it well, however, to avoid the latter expression, as it is misunderstood by all those not very familiar with Freud’s writing. I have discussed this at length in the chapter on Schizophrenia in Aschaffenburg’s Hand-Book of Psychiatry. The symptom of ambivalence to be mentioned later in the text is also discussed in this book. (19) (1912)
Johann “Hans” Friedrich Karl Asperger 1906-1980 was was a medical doctor working in Vienna where he published a definition of autistic psychopathy in 1944. He borrowed the term “autistic” from Eugen Bleuler, who used it in his Dementia Praecox or the Group of Schizophrenias.
Asperger’s Syndrome was recognized in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1994. Asperger’s was defined as “restricted repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities and typically with average or above intellect.” It was placed under the autism spectrum in DMZ-5 in 2013.
The term persecutory delusions was introduced as a type of schizophrenia in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by The American Psychiatric Association which was established in 1844. This organization was earlier known as The Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane.
The quote below is from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1872 book The Possessed also known as The Devils.
“Stepan Trofimovitch fondly loved his position as a “persecuted” man and, so to speak, an “exile.” There is a sort of traditional glamour about those two little words that fascinated him once for all and, exalting him gradually in his own opinion, raised him in the course of years to a lofty pedestal very gratifying to vanity. I only learned the other day to my intense amazement, though on the most unimpeachable authority, that Stepan Trofimovitch had lived among us in our province not as an “exile” as we were accustomed to believe, and had never even been under police supervision at all. Such is the force of imagination!
All his life he sincerely believed that in certain spheres he was a constant cause of apprehension, that every step he took was watched and noted, and that each one of the three governors who succeeded one another during twenty years in our province came with special and uneasy ideas concerning him, which had, by higher powers, been impressed upon each before everything else, on receiving the appointment. Had anyone assured the honest man on the most irrefutable grounds that he had nothing to be afraid of, he would certainly have been offended.
Yet Stepan Trofimovitch was a most intelligent and gifted man, even, so to say, a man of science, though indeed, in science … well, in fact he had not done such great things in science. I believe indeed he had done nothing at all. But that’s very often the case, of course, with men of science among us in Russia.” The Possessed (The Devils) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Introductory)
The Influence of Suggestion on Suicide: Substantive and Theoretical Implications of the Werther Effect
David Phillips, a UC San Diego sociologist, studies when people die, and whether their mental state allows them to either prolong life or hasten death.
He has studied whether Jews are more apt to die after Passover. He has analyzed whether elderly Chinese women are more likely to die after the Harvest Moon festival.
Most recently, the professor examined whether Californians tend to die before or after their birthdays. And let’s not forget his earlier work scrutinizing whether people were more likely to kill themselves after reading about suicides of famous people.
Los Angeles Times September 27, 1992 byNORA ZAMICHOW