Elective Affinities | Part one: Chapter five

Luciana Showing her Prizes
Description: “Luciana Showing her Prizes” (HB:251); possibly to Ottilie (?), who is doing poorly in school.
In Elective Affinities (IAD), Part one: Chapter five (add synopsis)

Part one: Chapter five

LETTER OF THE LADY SUPERIOR | Headmistress’s Letter [N1]

“Your ladyship will forgive the brevity of my present letter. The public examinations are but just concluded, and I have to communicate to all the parents and guardians the progress which our pupils have made during the past year. To you I may well be brief, having to say much in few words. Your ladyship’s daughter [Luciana] has proved herself first in every sense of the word. The testimonials which I enclose, and her own letter, in which she will detail to you the prizes which she has won, and the happiness which she feels in her success, will surely please, and I hope delight you. For myself, it is the less necessary that I should say much, because I see that there will soon be no more occasion to keep with us a young lady so far advanced. I send my respects to your ladyship, and in a short time I shall take the liberty of offering you my opinion as to what in future may be of most advantage to her.

“My good assistant will tell you about Ottilie.”

LETTER OF THE ASSISTANT | The Schoolmaster’s Letter [N2]

“Our reverend superior leaves it to me to write to you of Ottilie, partly because, with her ways of thinking about it, it would be painful to her to say what has to be said; partly, because she herself requires some excusing, which she would rather have done for her by me.

“Knowing, as I did too well, how little able the good Ottilie was to show out what lies in her, and what she is capable of, I was all along afraid of this public examination. I was the more uneasy, as it was to be of a kind which does not admit of any especial preparation; and even if it had been conducted as usual, Ottilie never can be prepared to make a display. The result has only too entirely justified my anxiety. She has gained no prize; she is not even amongst those whose names have been mentioned with approbation. I need not go into details. In writing, the letters of the other girls were not so well formed, but their strokes were far more free. In arithmetic, they were all quicker than she; and in the more difficult problems, which she does the best, there was no examination. In French, she was outshone and out-talked by many; and in history she was not ready with her names and dates. In geography, there was a want of attention to the political divisions; and for what she could do in music there was neither time nor quiet enough for her few modest melodies to gain attention. In drawing she certainly would have gained the prize; her outlines were clear, and the execution most careful and full of spirit; unhappily, she had chosen too large a subject, and it was incomplete.

“After the pupils were dismissed, the examiners consulted together, and we teachers were partially admitted into the council. I very soon observed that of Ottilie either nothing would be said at all, or if her name was mentioned, it would be with indifference, if not absolute disapproval. I hoped to obtain some favor for her by a candid description of what she was, and I ventured it with the greater earnestness, partly because I was only speaking my real convictions, and partly because I remembered in my own younger years finding myself in the same unfortunate case. I was listened to with attention, but as soon as I had ended, the presiding examiner said to me very kindly but laconically, ‘We presume capabilities: they are to be converted into accomplishments. This is the aim of all education. It is what is distinctly intended by all who have the care of children, and silently and indistinctly by the children themselves. This also is the object of examinations, where teachers and pupils are alike standing their trial. From what we learn of you, we may entertain good hopes of the young lady, and it is to your own credit also that you have paid so much attention to your pupil’s capabilities. If in the coming year you can develop these into accomplishments, neither yourself nor your pupil shall fail to receive your due praise.’

“I had made up my mind to what must follow upon all this; but there was something worse that I had not anticipated, which had soon to be added to it. Our good superior, who like a trusty shepherdess could not bear to have one of her flock lost, or, as was the case here, to see it undistinguished, after the examiners were gone could not contain her displeasure, and said to Ottilie, who was standing quite quietly by the window, while the others were exulting over their prizes, ‘Tell me, for heaven’s sake, how can a person look so stupid if she is not so?’ Ottilie replied, quite calmly, ‘Forgive me, my dear mother, I have my headache again to-day, and it is very painful.’ Kind and sympathizing as she generally is, the superior this time answered, ‘No one can believe that,’ and turned angrily away.

“Now it is true,—no one can believe it,—for Ottilie never alters the expression of her countenance. I have never even seen her move her hand to her head when she has been asleep.
“Nor was this all. Your ladyship’s daughter, who is at all times sufficiently lively and impetuous, after her triumph to-day was overflowing with the violence of her spirits. She ran from room to room with her prizes and testimonials, and shook them in Ottilie’s face. ‘You have come badly off this morning,’ she cried. Ottilie replied in her calm, quiet way, ‘This is not the last day of trial.’ ‘But you will always remain the last,’ cried the other, and ran away.

“No one except myself saw that Ottilie was disturbed. She has a way when she experiences any sharp unpleasant emotion which she wishes to resist, of showing it in the unequal color of her face; the left cheek becomes for a moment flushed, while the right turns pale. I perceived this symptom, and I could not prevent myself from saying something. I took our superior aside, and spoke seriously to her about it. The excellent lady acknowledged that she had been wrong. We considered the whole affair; we talked it over at great length together, and not to weary your ladyship, I will tell you at once the desire with which we concluded, namely, that you will for a while have Ottilie with yourself. Our reasons you will yourself readily perceive. If you consent, I will say more to you on the manner in which I think she should be treated. The young lady your daughter we may expect will soon leave us, and we shall then with pleasure welcome Ottilie back to us.

“One thing more, which another time I might forget to mention: I have never seen Ottilie eager for anything, or at least ask pressingly for anything. But there have been occasions, however rare, when on the other hand she has wished to decline things which have been pressed upon her, and she does it with a gesture which to those who have caught its meaning is irresistible. She raises her hands, presses the palms together, and draws them against her breast, leaning her body a little forward at the same time, and turns such a look upon the person who is urging her, that he will be glad enough to cease to ask or wish for anything of her. If your ladyship ever sees this attitude, as with your treatment of her it is not likely that you will, think of me, and spare Ottilie.”

Edward read these letters aloud, not without smiles and shakes of the head. Naturally, too, there were observations made on the persons and on the position of the affair.

“Enough!” Edward cried at last, “it is decided. She comes. You, my love, are provided for, and now we can get forward with our work. It is becoming highly necessary for me to move over to the right wing to the captain; evenings and mornings are the time for us best to work together, and then you, on your side, will have admirable room for yourself and Ottilie.”

Charlotte made no objection, and Edward sketched out the method in which they should live. Among other things, he cried, “It is really very polite in this niece to be subject to a slight pain on the left side of her head. I have it frequently on the right. If we happen to be afflicted together, and sit opposite one another,—I leaning on my right elbow, and she on her left, and our heads on the opposite sides, resting on our hands,—what a pretty pair of pictures we shall make.” [N3]

The Captain thought that might be dangerous. “No, no!” cried out Edward. “Only do you, my dear friend, take care of the D, for what will become of B if poor C is taken away from it?”

“That, I should have thought, would have been evident enough,” replied Charlotte.

“And it is, indeed,” cried Edward; “he would turn back to his A, to his Alpha and Omega;” and he sprung up and taking Charlotte in his arms, pressed her to his breast.

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Elective Affinities (elements)


See also
Goethe’s affinity table | Used to make Elective Affinities.
Goethe timeline | Historical overview of the construction of Elective Affinities.
Goethe’s human chemistry | Goethe's version of human chemistry.
Goethean philosophy | Goethe's philosophy.
Goethe-Helmholtz equation | Connection between Elective Affinities and chemical thermodynamics.

N1. The chapter subsection title “LETTER OF THE LADY SUPERIOR” is Hjalmar Boyesen’s 1885 translation; the subsection title “Headmistress’s Letter” is Reginald Hollingdale 1971 translation.
N2. The chapter subsection title “LETTER OF THE ASSISTANT” is Hjalmar Boyesen’s 1885 translation; the subsection title “The Schoolmaster’s Letter” is Reginald Hollingdale 1971 translation.
N3. Add discussion of how this is code for Plato's split soul theory, aka soul mate theory (see: Goethe on the soul and love theories).

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