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Thursday, August 02, 2018

Elective Affinities (1809) by Goethe

Book Review
Elective Affinities  (1809)
 by Goethe

  Elective Affinities was the first novel (indeed, book) to describe human relationships in terms of "chemistry."  Any references to the chemistry between two people in a book, film, song or in real life, traces its way back to this book, about an aristocratic couple and their affairs with a winsome young niece and a strapping captain, respectively.

  I would broadly describe my decision to read Elective Affinities in the form of an Ebook on my Kindle App on my Galaxy phone as a mistake.  Further, I would argue that reading anything written in the 18th century or before in anything BUT a physical hard copy book is a mistake.  It is one thing to tune out the incessant distractions of a smart phone while trying to read a genuinely engaging book, but it is quite another thing to tune out those same distractions while trying to just follow the plot of a book written in the early 19th century, in Germany.

  Elective Affinities is one of the final remaining titles among the 19th century selections in the 1001 Book list.  That brings the total number of 19th century titles within the list to 153.   Basically, 15 percent of the 1001 Books list are from the 19th century. Only 50 or so books from the 18th century and maybe 20 for the all the time prior to the 18th century.  Maybe another 30 for the time between 2000 and the publication date of 2006.  That means about 80 percent of the 1001 Books list is from the 20th century. It's a division that makes sense, but you could argue that the 19th century, which really is the peak of the novel-as-novel, vs. all the experimental paths the novel took in the 20th century. 

  On the other hand, almost every work out of the 19th century is a chore to read- like something from school.  Even the "fun" 19th century authors- Dickens- for example, run long, a consequence of the fondness for serial publication in that period.   Although Elective Affinities was published in the 19th century, it reads like something written in the 18th century.  It is recognizable as a novel and I think it's the first German language book on the 1001 Books list, but still, it's a chore.  It took me almost a month to finish it up even though I had it on my phone and so could have read it at any time.

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