ioplokon (ioplokon) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

Book 2: Die Wahlverwandtschaften/Elective Affinities/Kindred by Choice by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I ended up enjoying this so much more than I thought I would! The premise is a married couple, Charlotte & Edward, decide to invite two of their friends, a military captain and a schoolgirl, to their castle to live. This introduction of new parties breaks the ties that bind the marriage together and causes their affective bonds to reform in new ways. All of this is overlaid with their communal efforts to shape the castle grounds into a landscape garden/nature park.

It's a short book, and most of the entertainment (for me, at least) comes from the overly-exeuberant sentimentality of Edward, the typical Strum & Drang protagonist. It's also raises a lot of questions about the concept of "attraction" - if we take even somewhat literally the magnetic metaphor, what are the consequences for the concept of free will? Particularly since, even if we can control our own actions, we cannot control the actions of the people around us and cannot always predict how we will react to a change in circumstance. It's easy to compare the time & money the characters spend on improving and mastering the landscape around them to the increasing chaos in their personal lives. However, the novel also raises the question of whether complete self-mastery is necessarily the most worthy goal.

As I said, this was a pretty enjoyable read for me - the interpersonal drama, the scientific metaphors, and the constantly shifting circumstances made it fun read. One caution is that I've heard some translations of the work are not as good as others, so that might be worth looking into for folks who aren't reading it in German.

See all my reviews here.
Tags: european, fiction, gardening, literature

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