Elective Affinities | Part one: Chapter sixteen

In Elective Affinities (IAD), Part one: Chapter sixteen (add synopsis)

Part one: Chapter sixteen
The next morning the captain had disappeared, having left a grateful, feeling letter addressed to his friends upon his table. He and Charlotte had already taken a half leave of each other the evening before—she felt that the parting was forever, and she resigned herself to it; for in the count’s second letter, which the captain had at last shown to her, there was a hint of a prospect of an advantageous marriage, and, although he had paid no attention to it at all, she accepted it for as good as certain, and gave him up firmly and fully.

Now, therefore, she thought that she had a right to require of others the same control over themselves which she had exercised herself: it had not been impossible to her, and it ought not to be impossible to them. With this feeling she began the conversation with her husband; and she entered upon it the more openly and easily, from a sense that the question must now, once for all, be decisively set at rest.

“Our friend has left us,” she said; “we are now once more together as we were—and it depends upon ourselves whether we choose to return altogether into our old position.”

Edward, who heard nothing except what flattered his own passion, believed that Charlotte, in these words, was alluding to her previous widowed state, and, in a roundabout way, was making a suggestion for a separation; so that he answered, with a laugh, “Why not? all we want is to come to an understanding.” But he found himself sorely enough undeceived, as Charlotte continued, “And we have now a choice of opportunities for placing Ottilie in another situation. Two openings have offered themselves for her, either of which will do very well. Either she can return to the school, as my daughter has left it and is with her great-aunt; or she can be received into a desirable family, where, as the companion of an only child, she will enjoy all the advantages of a solid education.”

Edward, with a tolerably successful effort at commanding himself, replied, “Ottilie has been so much spoiled, by living so long with us here, that she will scarcely like to leave us now.”

“We have all of us been too much spoiled,” said Charlotte; “and yourself not least. This is an epoch which requires us seriously to bethink ourselves. It is a solemn warning to us to consider what is really for the good of all the members of our little circle—and we ourselves must not be afraid of making sacrifices.”

“At any rate I cannot see that it is right that Ottilie should be made a sacrifice,” replied Edward; “and that would be the case if we were now to allow her to be sent away among strangers. The captain’s good genius has sought him out here—we can feel easy, we can feel happy, at seeing him leave us; but who can tell what may be before Ottilie? There is no occasion for haste.”

“What is before us is sufficiently clear,” Charlotte answered, with some emotion; and as she was determined to have it all out at once, she went on: “You love Ottilie; every day you are becoming more attached to her. A reciprocal feeling is rising on her side as well, and feeding itself in the same way. Why should we not acknowledge in words what every hour makes obvious? and are we not to have the common prudence to ask ourselves in what it is to end?”

“We may not be able to find an answer on the moment,” replied Edward, collecting himself; “but so much may be said, that if we cannot exactly tell what will come of it, we may resign ourselves to wait and see what the future may tell us about it.”

“No great wisdom is required to prophesy here,” answered Charlotte; “and, at any rate, we ought to feel that you and I are past the age when people may walk blindly where they should not or ought not to go. There is no one else to take care of us—we must be our own friends, our own managers. No one expects us to commit ourselves in an outrage upon decency: no one expects that we are going to expose ourselves to censure or to ridicule.”

“How can you so mistake me?” said Edward, unable to reply to his wife’s clear, open words. “Can you find it a fault in me, if I am anxious about Ottilie’s happiness? I do not mean future happiness—no one can count on that—but what is present, palpable, immediate. Consider, don’t deceive yourself; consider frankly Ottilie’s case, torn away from us, and sent to live among strangers. I, at least, am not cruel enough to propose such a change for her!”

Charlotte saw too clearly into her husband’s intentions, through this disguise. For the first time she felt how far he had estranged himself from her. Her voice shook a little—“Will Ottilie be happy if she divides us?” she said. “If she deprives me of a husband, and his children of a father!”

“Our children, I should have thought, were sufficiently provided for,” said Edward, with a cold smile; adding, rather more kindly, “but why at once expect the very worst?”

“The very worst is too sure to follow this passion of yours,” returned Charlotte: “do not refuse good advice while there is yet time; do not throw away the means which I propose to save us. In troubled cases those must work and help who see the clearest—this time it is I. Dear, dearest Edward! listen to me—can you propose to me, that now at once I shall renounce my happiness! renounce my fairest rights! renounce you!”

“Who says that?” replied Edward, with some embarrassment.

“You, yourself,” answered Charlotte; “in determining to keep Ottilie here are you not acknowledging everything which must arise out of it? I will urge nothing on you—but if you cannot conquer yourself, at least you will not be able much longer to deceive yourself.”

Edward felt how right she was. It is fearful to hear spoken out, in words, what the heart has gone on long permitting to itself in secret. To escape only for a moment, Edward answered, “It is not yet clear to me what you want.”

“My intention,” she replied, “was to talk over with you these two proposals—each of them has its advantages. The school would be best suited to her, as she now is; but the other situation is larger and wider, and promises more, when I think what she may become.” She then detailed to her husband circumstantially what would lie before Ottilie in each position, and concluded with the words, “For my own part I should prefer the lady’s house to the school, for more reasons than one; but particularly because I should not like the affection, the love indeed, of the young man there, which Ottilie has gained, to increase.”

Edward appeared to approve; but it was only to find some means of delay. Charlotte, who desired to commit him to a definite step, seized the opportunity, as Edward made no immediate opposition, to settle Ottilie’s departure, for which she had already privately made all preparations, for the next day.

Edward shuddered—he thought he was betrayed. His wife’s affectionate speech he fancied was an artfully contrived trick to separate him forever from his happiness. He appeared to leave the thing entirely to her; but in his heart his resolution was already taken. To gain time to breathe, to put off the immediate intolerable misery of Ottilie’s being sent away, he determined to leave his house. He told Charlotte he was going; but he had blinded her to his real reason, by telling her that he would not be present at Ottilie’s departure; indeed, that, from that moment, he would see her no more. Charlotte, who believed that she had gained her point, approved most cordially. He ordered his horse, gave his valet the necessary directions what to pack up, and where he should follow him; and then, on the point of departure, he sat down and wrote:


“The misfortune, my love, which has befallen us, may or may not admit of remedy; only this I feel, that if I am not at once to be driven to despair, I must find some means of delay for myself, and for all of us. In making myself the sacrifice, I have a right to make a request. I am leaving my home, and I only return to it under happier and more peaceful auspices. While I am away you keep possession of it—but with Ottilie. I choose to know that she is with you, and not among strangers. Take care of her; treat her as you have treated her—only more lovingly, more kindly, more tenderly! I promise that I will not attempt any secret intercourse with her. Leave me, as long a time as you please, without knowing anything about you. I will not allow myself to be anxious—nor need you be uneasy about me: only, with all my heart and soul, I beseech you, make no attempt to send Ottilie away, or to introduce her into any other situation. Beyond the circle of the castle and the park, placed in the hands of strangers, she belongs to me, and I will take possession of her! If you have any regard for my affection, for my wishes, for my sufferings, you will leave me alone to my madness: and if any hope of recovery from it should ever hereafter offer itself to me, I will not resist.”

This last sentence ran off his pen—not out of his heart. Even when he saw it upon the paper, he began bitterly to weep. That he, under any circumstances, should renounce the happiness—even the wretchedness—of loving Ottilie! He only now began to feel what he was doing—he was going away without knowing what was to be the result. At any rate he was not to see her again now—with what certainty could he promise himself that he would ever see her again? But the letter was written—the horses were at the door; every moment he was afraid he might see Ottilie somewhere, and then his whole purpose would go to the winds. He collected himself—he remembered, that, at any rate, he would be able to return at any moment he pleased; and that, by his absence he would have advanced nearer to his wishes: on the other side, he pictured Ottilie to himself forced to leave the house if he stayed. He sealed the letter, ran down the steps, and sprang upon his horse.

As he rode past the hotel, he saw the beggar to whom he had given so much money the night before, sitting under the trees: the man was busy enjoying his dinner, and, as Edward passed, stood up, and made him the humblest obeisance. That figure had appeared to him yesterday, when Ottilie was on his arm; now it only served as a bitter reminiscence of the happiest hour of his life. His grief redoubled. The feeling of what he was leaving behind was intolerable. He looked again at the beggar. “Happy wretch!” he cried, “you can still feed upon the alms of yesterday—and I cannot any more on the happiness of yesterday!”

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● Elective Affinities: Illustrated, Annotated, and Decoded

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.

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