Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly's Reviews > Elective Affinities

Elective Affinities by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
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's review
Nov 28, 2010

it was ok
Read in November, 2010

Rich couple, pass middle-age. For both, their second marriage. The lady has a young, beautiful foster-daughter and the gentleman has a friend, a former military man (the Captain). Both come to live with them.

The gentleman and the foster-daughter fall in love with each other; the lady and the Major do likewise. From here, Goethe developed his story interspersed with quotable aphorisms about love, marriage, man, woman, relationships, religion and what not. It might have provided scandal and titillation during the start of the 19th century when this was first published, but might bore 21st century readers, like what it did to me.

It must be mentioned, however, that this must have been Goethe's own personal favorite as it was loosely based on his own experience. He had lived in with a woman for more than 18 years (they had 5 children) before marrying her in 1806 when he was 57 and she, 41. Thereafter, however, he fell in love with an 18-year-old girl, a foster-daughter of a printer/publisher. This, and his other subsequent affairs with young women, gave him so much inner conflict and made him write beautiful sonnets. Which proved, once again, that exciting things like infidelity, extra-marital affairs and wars are good for literature. In Chapter 11 of this novel Goethe wrote the following after a character had told a story which was eerily similar to what had supposedly really happened to another character:

"The event described had actually happened and had involved the Captain and a woman neighbour of his; it is true it had not happened exactly as the Englishman had told it, but its main features were intact and only individual details had been developed and embellished, as tends to happen with tales of this sort when they have passed firstly through mouths of the crowd and subsequently through the fantasy of an imaginative and stylish narrator. For the most part everything and nothing remains in the end as it was."

From the depths of your despair you wrote and bequeathed us this love story, Goethe. So from the depths of my own despair after slogging through it, I salute you, imaginative and stylish narrator!
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