Wilhelm offers to take Werther in, saying that it would be better for him to leave Wahlheim. Werther agrees to this, but says he wants to make the trip in a roundabout way since the weather should be good for travelling. He asks Wilhelm to delay meeting with him for two weeks to allow for this.
Werther’s lie to Wilhelm about taking a roundabout way recalls the lies he told on his last meandering trip, where he meant to visit some local mines and instead ended up back in Wahlheim.
During this time, the editor suggests, Lotte walks a fine line between pushing Werther away and trying not to hurt him. She asks him to come to her home on Christmas Eve to open presents with the children, and promises a gift for him as well. He can only have the gift, however, if he agrees to stay away until Christmas Eve. The situation as is, with Werther nearly always by her side, cannot continue. Lotte candidly addresses Werther’s desire for her and tries to show him that it can only end badly. Werther takes her words to be remarks prepared for her by Albert and does not listen.
The editor’s narration provides a newfound window into Lotte’s character, which helps to clear up a lot of confusion. The shifting ideas that Werther had about her (did she love him? Was she using both him and Albert?) have a final answer in these moments. Lotte’s diligence in trying to respect Albert while trying not to hurt her friend becomes remarkably commendable. Meanwhile, Werther’s error becomes tragic.
The following day, Werther writes his suicide note. He addresses it to Lotte. One of the three must go, he says, so it ought to be him. In preparation for his suicide, Werther makes sure to pay all of his outstanding debts, collect any books he has loaned out, and other such matters. He then prepares to visit Lotte one final time, though before Christmas Eve. Albert is away on other business.
It’s interesting that Goethe takes the time at the climax of his story to show Werther going about town and settling his affairs. While Werther is obviously saying goodbye to his life, he’s doing so as the kind of responsible, sensible man he was before his emotions overwhelmed him.
Meanwhile, the editor says, Lotte has realized how painful separating from Werther will be. She tries to imagine him with another woman, perhaps one of her friends, but she finds fault with all of them. She realizes that she has always thought she could keep both Albert and Werther. When Werther arrives, she is thrilled at his coming, but nevertheless chastises him for ignoring her request to stay away until Christmas Eve. Since Albert is away, she attempts to find others who can sit in with them, to avoid any appearance of impropriety. However, no one is available, and the two are left alone together.
There’s a moment here where the story totters on a fine edge. If Lotte comes to realize that she’s been wrong to dedicate herself to Albert, all of Werther’s dreams of them being together might come true. What remains unclear is if this would solve any of Werther’s problems. Through the insight of the editor, the reader has learned that this isn’t a story about tragically unrequited love, but rather a story about a young man lost in himself.
Flustered, Lotte suggests that Werther pass the time by reading aloud from his own translations of Ossian. He does so, but the sadness of the tale moves them both to tears. Werther casts the book aside and embraces Lotte, who accepts his embrace until he begins to kiss her. At this, she pushes him aside, telling him that they will never see one another again. Werther offers no resistance and leaves, returning home to add a final few passages to his suicide note. When Albert returns home, Lotte does not tell him what has taken place.
Ossian was the name given to the author of a series of Gaelic epic poem fragments that had been discovered and translated into English in Goethe’s time. The fragments later turned out to be fakes, written by a modern poet, but this was unknown to Goethe. In his day, they were a worldwide bestseller. Werther’s quick translation of these new poems into German mark him as a serious, erudite scholar.