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Elective Affinities: A Novel (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 4 Feb 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; New edition edition (4 Feb 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192837761
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192837769
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 1.5 x 12.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,519,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


when he was sixty and long established as Germany's literary giant. He remained an uneasy and scandalous figure, none the less, and readers of

were profoundly disturbed by its penetrating study of marriage and passion.

In Elective Affinities Goethe conducts an experiment with the lives of people who are living badly. Charlotte and Eduard, aristocracts with little to occupy them, invite Ottilie and the Captain into their lives; against morality, good sense, and conscious volition all four are drawn into relationships as inexorably as if they were substances in a chemical equation.

The novel asks whether we have free will or not; more disturbingly, it confronts its characters with the monstrous consequences of their repression of any real life in themselves.

Goethe wrote Elective Affinities when he was sixty and long established as Germany's literary giant. He remained an uneasy and scandalous figure, none the less, and readers of Elective Affinities were profoundly disturbed by its penetrating study of marriage and passion.
ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

David Constantine is a Fellow in German at The Queen's College, Oxford. He is a poet (published by Bloodaxe) and translator as well as being an Oxford academic. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Edward-let that be the name we give to a wealthy baron in the best years of his life-Eduard had spent the loveliest hours of an April afternoon in his nursery grafting young trees with shoots newly arrived for him. Read the first page
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Brownbear101 on 28 July 2010
Format: Paperback
The accompanying notes explain that Goethe wrote this work in the form of a Novelle, which is a particular stylised form in which the characters and events are compressed to the minimum necessary to achieve the desired artistic result. There is a chapter where the characters explain the plot as being like a chemical reaction (hence the title because chemists at the time thought that some elements had an affinity for others) so that AB and CD meet and become AC and BD. And this is exactly how the book progresses. Charlotte is with Eduard when The Captain and Ottilie come into their lives, whereupon Charlotte falls for the Captain and Eduard for Ottilie. The characters don't even have surnames.

The effect on the reader is rather like reading a detailed and clever summary of a novel rather than the actual novel itself. All actions and motivations are set out and elucidated so that there is never any doubt about feelings or causation, or for that matter where the plot is heading. I found this a bit disconcerting at first but if you regard it as, in effect, cutting out the dull bits, then you can enjoy the plotting and emotional see-sawing. Thus there is not much texture here but lots of pace.

Even within these limits Goethe does manage some pretty sharp writing and he throws up a continuous barrage of interesting observations about the world and the relationships between the parties. However to me parts of the book feel more like a technical writing exercise rather than something to settle down with for pleasure.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Excellent meta-novel as novel...? 26 Mar 2011
By PuroShaggy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Goethe flexes his literary muscles from the get-go and flat out tells the reader, in the first chapter, exactly what is going to happen in this book- robbing the reader of any element of surprise- and then expertly delivers exactly what he promised.
Charlotte and Eduard are a happily married couple who entertain the notion of inviting some needy friends- a respected male and a young female- to come stay with them in their time of need. Charlotte and Eduard are hesitant to do so, however, because, as all literature shows, anytime such a situation occurs, problems arise in the marriage and things end badly. So guess what happens? Eduard and Charlotte invite Eduard's long time friend the Captain and Charlotte's young innocent niece Ottilie to stay with them, and before you know it, the wife is spending all her time with her husband's best friend and the niece is flirting with her aunt's husband, exactly as Goethe promised.
Fully aware of what is going on the entire time, the characters nonetheless continue to make questionable choices as Goethe questions the notion of marriage and love and questions whether or not we can control our baser impulses; and even though deeper notions of free will and morality drive the action, the action itself evolves in a steady, slowly intensifying fashion that keeps the reader interested to the very (sad) end.
In "Elective Affinities", Goethe has taken a standard literature plot and elevated it to new heights.
An intelligent and elegant novel 8 July 2014
By Antonio Vives - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a very surprising book. I read about in the list of 20 great but neglected novels published in a newspaper and it piqued my curiosity. Glad I read it. It is a very introspective book, getting deep into the character psyche of protagonists, with extremely intelligent discussions. It does require some effort in the part of the reader to absorb it all and enjoy living the lives of the characters, but it is worthwhile. You are transported to the tine and place of the action. The language used is dated as it was written in ....but it is very elegant, refined, courteous. I do not speak German to be able to make an assessment but the translation seems to have perfectly captured the style of Goethe.

No need to comment on the plot as other reviewers have already done. Only to tell you to keep reading, the end will surprise you and make think about all you have read.
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Good edition 2 Aug 2013
By Nick - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Quality for a paperback, I like the introduction, the end notes were helpful, enjoyed the novel. More helpful than my sister's edition.
2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
attraction and relatedness! 4 Jun 2011
By whj - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"Elective affinities", what a great and creative way to write about the phenomena of love, passion, and other extraneous variables that when combined, can lead to a new organic process! Certainly, it is the brilliance of the versatile and erudite author and the advantage of "the Age of Wonder" (by Richarld Holmes).
0 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Elective Affinities 21 Sep 2011
By Anna - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I got the book on time, which is always great. The book is in great condition, as amazon.com's books always are. I definitely recommend amazon.com as the way to get your books!
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