Elective Affinities | Part one: Chapter eight

Ottilie playing with Edward
Description: "Ottilie playing with Edward" (HB:260)
In Elective Affinities (IAD), Part one: Chapter eight (add synopsis)

Part one: Chapter eight
Early the following morning the captain examined the spot: he first threw off a sketch of what should be done, and afterwards, when the thing had been more completely decided on, he made a complete design, with accurate calculations and measurements. It cost him a good deal of labor, and the business connected with the sale of the farm had to be gone into, so that both the gentlemen now found a fresh impulse to activity.

The captain made Edward observe that it would be proper, indeed that it would be a kind of duty, to celebrate Charlotte’s birthday with laying the foundation-stone. Not much was wanted to overcome Edward’s disinclination for such festivities—for he quickly recollected that a little later Ottilie’s birthday would follow, and that he could have a magnificent celebration for that.

Charlotte, to whom all this work and what it would involve was a subject for much serious and almost anxious thought, busied herself in carefully going through the time and outlay which it was calculated would be expended on it. During the day they rarely saw each other, so that the evening meeting was looked forward to with all the more anxiety.

Ottilie meantime was complete mistress of the household—and how could it be otherwise, with her quick methodical ways of working? Indeed, her whole mode of thought was suited better to home-life than to the world, and to a more free existence. Edward soon observed that she only walked about with them out of a desire to please; that when she stayed out late with them in the evening it was because she thought it a sort of social duty, and that she would often find a pretext in some household matter for going in again—consequently he soon managed so to arrange the walks which they took together, that they should be at home before sunset; and he began again, what he had long left off, to read aloud poetry—particularly such as had for its subject the expression of a pure but passionate love.

They ordinarily sat in the evening in the same places round a small table—Charlotte on the sofa, Ottilie on a chair opposite to her, and the gentlemen on each side. Ottilie’s place was on Edward’s right, the side where he put the candle when he was reading—at such times she would draw her chair a little nearer to look over him, for Ottilie also trusted her own eyes better than another person’s lips, and Edward would then always make a move towards her, that it might be as easy as possible for her—indeed he would frequently make longer stops than necessary, that he might not turn over before she had got to the bottom of the page.

Charlotte and the captain observed this, and exchanged many a quiet smile at it; but they were both taken by surprise at another symptom, in which Ottilie’s latent feeling accidentally displayed itself.

One evening, which had been partly spoiled for them by a tedious visit, Edward proposed that they should not separate so early—he felt inclined for music—he would take his flute, which he had not done for many days past. Charlotte looked for the sonatas which they generally played together, and they were not to be found. Ottilie, with some hesitation, said that they were in her room—she had taken them there to copy them.

“And you can, you will, accompany me on the piano?” cried Edward, his eyes sparkling with pleasure. “I think perhaps I can,” Ottilie answered. She brought the music and sat down to the instrument. The others listened, and were sufficiently surprised to hear how perfectly Ottilie had taught herself the piece—but far more surprised were they at the way in which she contrived to adopt herself to Edward’s style of playing. Adapt herself, is not the right expression—Charlotte’s skill and power enabled her, in order to please her husband, to keep up with him when he went too fast, and hold in for him if he hesitated; but Ottilie, who had several times heard them play the sonata together, seemed to have learned it according to the idea in which they accompanied each other—she had so completely made his defects her own, that a kind of living whole resulted from it, which did not move indeed according to exact rule, but the effect of which was in the highest degree pleasant and delightful. The composer himself would have been pleased to hear his work disfigured in a manner so charming.

Charlotte and the captain watched this strange unexpected occurrence in silence, with the kind of feeling with which we often observe the actions of children—unable exactly to approve of them, from the serious consequences which may follow, and yet without being able to find fault, perhaps with a kind of envy. For, indeed, the regard of these two for one another was growing also, as well as that of the others—and it was perhaps only the more perilous because they were both stronger, more certain of themselves, and better able to restrain themselves.

The captain had already begun to feel that a habit which he could not resist was threatening to bind him to Charlotte. He forced himself to stay away at the hour when she commonly used to be at the works; by getting up very early in the morning he contrived to finish there whatever he had to do, and went back to the castle to his work in his own room. The first day or two Charlotte thought it was an accident—she looked for him in every place where she thought he could possibly be. Then she thought she understood him—and admired him all the more.

Avoiding, as the captain now did, being alone with Charlotte, the more industriously did he labor to hurry forward the preparations for keeping her rapidly-approaching birthday with all splendor. While he was bringing up the new road from below behind the village, he made the men, under pretence that he wanted stones, begin working at the top as well, and work down, to meet the others; and he had calculated his arrangements so that the two should exactly meet on the eve of the day. The excavations for the new house were already done; the rock was blown away with gunpowder; and a fair foundation-stone had been hewn, with a hollow chamber, and a flat slab adjusted to cover it.

This outward activity, these little mysterious purposes of friendship, prompted by feelings which more or less they were obliged to repress, rather prevented the little party when together from being as lively as usual. Edward, who felt that there was a sort of void, one evening called upon the captain to fetch his violin—Charlotte should play the piano, and he should accompany her. The captain was unable to refuse the general request, and they executed together one of the most difficult pieces of music with an ease and freedom and feeling, which could not but afford themselves, and the two who were listening to them, the greatest delight. They promised themselves a frequent repetition of it, as well as further practice together. “They do it better than we, Ottilie,” said Edward; “we will admire them—but we can enjoy ourselves together too.”

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Elective Affinities (elements)

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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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