Elective Affinities | Part two: Chapter sixteen

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

Part two: Chapter sixteen
When Mittler was come to talk the matter over with Edward, he found him sitting by himself, with his head supported on his right hand, and his arm resting on the table. He appeared in great suffering. “Is your headache troubling you again?” asked Mittler.

“It is troubling me,” answered he; “and yet I cannot wish it were not so, for it reminds me of Ottilie. She too, I say to myself, is also suffering in the same way at this same moment, and suffering more perhaps than I; and why cannot I bear it as well as she? These pains are good for me. I might almost say that they were welcome; for they serve to bring out before me with the greater vividness her patience and all her other graces. It is only when we suffer ourselves, that we feel really the true nature of all the high qualities which are required to bear suffering.”

Mittler, finding his friend so far resigned, did not hesitate to communicate the message with which he had been sent. He brought it out piecemeal, however; in order of time, as the idea had itself arisen between the ladies, and had gradually ripened into a purpose. Edward scarcely made an objection. From the little which he said, it appeared as if he was willing to leave everything to them; the pain which he was suffering at the moment making him indifferent to all besides.

Scarcely, however, was he again alone, than he got up, and walked rapidly up and down the room; he forgot his pain, his attention now turning to what was external to himself. Mittler’s story had stirred the embers of his love, and awakened his imagination in all its vividness. He saw Ottilie by herself, or as good as by herself, travelling on a road which was well known to him—in a hotel with every room of which he was familiar. He thought, he considered, or rather he neither thought nor considered; he only wished—he only desired. He would see her; he would speak to her. Why, or for what good end that was to come of it, he did not care to ask himself; but he made up his mind at once. He must do it.

He summoned his valet into his council, and through him he made himself acquainted with the day and hour when Ottilie was to set out. The morning broke. Without taking any person with him, Edward mounted his horse, and rode off to the place where she was to pass the night. He was there too soon. The hostess was overjoyed at the sight of him; she was under heavy obligations to him for a service which he had been able to do for her. Her son had been in the army, where he had conducted himself with remarkable gallantry. He had performed one particular action of which no one had been a witness but Edward; and the latter had spoken of it to the commander-in-chief in terms of such high praise, that notwithstanding the opposition of various ill-wishers, he had obtained a decoration for him. The mother, therefore, could never do enough for Edward. She got ready her best room for him, which indeed was her own wardrobe and store-room, with all possible speed. He informed her, however, that a young lady was coming to pass the night there, and he ordered an apartment for her at the back, at the end of the gallery. It sounded a mysterious sort of affair; but the hostess was ready to do anything to please her patron, who appeared so interested and so busy about it. And he, what were his sensations as he watched through the long, weary hours till evening? He examined the room round and round in which he was to see her; with all its strangeness and homeliness it seemed to him to be an abode for angels. He thought over and over what he had better do; whether he should take her by surprise, or whether he should prepare her for meeting him. At last the second course seemed the preferable one. He sat down and wrote a letter which she was to read:


“While you read this letter, my best beloved, I am close to you. Do not agitate yourself; do not be alarmed; you have nothing to fear from me. I will not force myself upon you. I will see you or not, as you yourself shall choose.

“Consider, oh! consider your condition and mine. How must I not thank you, that you have taken no decisive step! But the step which you have taken is significant enough. Do not persist in it. Here, as it were, at a parting of the ways, reflect once again. Can you be mine?—will you be mine? Oh, you will be showing mercy on us all if you will; and on me, infinite mercy.

“Let me see you again!—happily, joyfully see you once more! Let me make my request to you with my own lips; and do you give me your answer your own beautiful self, on my breast, Ottilie! where you have so often rested, and which belongs to you forever!”

As he was writing, the feeling rushed over him that what he was longing for was coming—was close—would be there almost immediately. By that door she would come in; she would read that letter; she in her own person would stand there before him as she used to stand; she for whose appearance he had thirsted so long. Would she be the same as she was?—was her form, were her feelings changed? He still held the pen in his hand; he was going to write as he thought, when the carriage rolled into the court. With a few hurried strokes he added: “I hear you coming. For a moment, farewell!”

He folded the letter, and directed it. He had no time for sealing. He darted into the room through which there was a second outlet into the gallery, when the next moment he recollected that he had left his watch and seals lying on the table. She must not see these first. He ran back and brought them away with him. At the same instant he heard the hostess in the antechamber showing Ottilie the way to her apartments. He sprang to the bedroom door. It was shut. In his haste, as he had come back for his watch, he had forgotten to take out the key, which had fallen out, and lay the other side. The door had closed with a spring, and he could not open it. He pushed at it with all his might, but it would not yield. Oh, how gladly would he have been a spirit, to escape through its cracks! In vain. He hid his face against the panels. Ottilie entered, and the hostess, seeing him, retired. From Ottilie herself, too, he could not remain concealed for a moment. He turned towards her; and there stood the lovers once more, in such strange fashion, in one another’s presence. She looked at him calmly and earnestly, without advancing or retiring. He made a movement to approach her, and she withdrew a few steps towards the table. He stepped back again. “Ottilie!” he cried aloud, “Ottilie! let me break this frightful silence! Are we shadows, that we stand thus gazing at each other? Only listen to me; listen to this at least. It is an accident that you find me here thus. There is a letter on the table, at your side there, which was to have prepared you. Read it, I implore you—read it—and then determine as you will!”

She looked down at the letter; and after thinking a few seconds, she took it up, opened it, and read it: she finished it without a change of expression; and she laid it lightly down; then joining the palms of her hands together, turning them upwards, and drawing them against her breast, she leaned her body a little forward, and regarded Edward with such a look, that, eager as he was, he was compelled to renounce everything he wished or desired of her. Such an attitude cut him to the heart; he could not bear it. It seemed exactly as if she would fall upon her knees before him, if he persisted. He hurried in despair out of the room, and leaving her alone, sent the hostess in to her.

He walked up and down the antechamber. Night had come on, and there was no sound in the room. At last the hostess came out and drew the key out of the lock. The good woman was embarrassed and agitated, not knowing what it would be proper for her to do. At last as she turned to go, she offered the key to Edward, who refused it; and putting down the candle, she went away.

In misery and wretchedness. Edward flung himself down on the threshold of the door which divided him from Ottilie, moistening it with his tears as he lay. A more unhappy night had been seldom passed by two lovers in such close neighborhood!

Day came at last. The coachman brought round the carriage, and the hostess unlocked the door and went in. Ottilie was asleep in her clothes; she went back and beckoned to Edward with a significant smile. They both entered and stood before her as she lay; but the sight was too much for Edward. He could not bear it. She was sleeping so quietly that the hostess did not like to disturb her, but sat down opposite her, waiting till she woke. At last Ottilie opened her beautiful eyes, and raised herself on her feet. She declined taking any breakfast, and then Edward went in again and stood before her. He entreated her to speak but one word to him; to tell him what she desired. He would do it, be it what it would, he swore to her; but she remained silent. He asked her once more, passionately and tenderly, whether she would be his. With downcast eyes, and with the deepest tenderness of manner she shook her head to a gentle No. He asked if she still desired to go to the school. Without any show of feeling she declined. Would she then go back to Charlotte? She inclined her head in token of assent, with a look of comfort and relief. He went to the window to give directions to the coachman, and when his back was turned she darted like lightning out of the room, and was down the stairs and in the carriage in an instant. The coachman drove back along the road which he had come the day before, and Edward followed at some distance on horseback.

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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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