Edward, a wealthy nobleman, is long in love with Charlotte, but each is forced to wed someone else. Their first spouses die, however, before many years elapse, and soon afterward Edward and Charlotte are married. With Charlotte’s daughter Luciana placed in a good school, the pair, happily married at last, settle down to an idyllic existence at Edward’s rural castle. They spend their time working at pleasant tasks about the castle and its park, leading together the kind of life for which they long hoped and dreamed.
One day, a letter comes to the happy couple. The Captain, long a friend of Edward, is out of a position. Edward immediately suggests that his friend be invited to the castle, where the Captain can help in improving the grounds and buildings. At first Charlotte withholds her consent, but finally she agrees to her husband’s earnest desire. She reveals that she, too, thinks of inviting someone to the castle, the daughter of a dead friend. Charlotte takes the young woman, Ottilie, as her protégé because of her friendship with the girl’s mother. Ottilie, who is at school with Luciana, is not immediately invited for the visit Charlotte plans.
The Captain arrives shortly, and his presence soon makes marked differences in the household. In order that he and Edward might work together undisturbed and with greater convenience, Edward moves from the wing in which Charlotte’s rooms are located to the wing in which the Captain is placed. Charlotte sees less and less of her husband. One evening, the three read about the elective affinities of chemical elements and speculate on how people are also attracted to one another in different combinations and in varying degrees. The invitation to Ottilie is again discussed. Since Ottilie is not doing well in school, and because Charlotte clearly needs additional companionship, Ottilie is immediately sent for.
When Edward saw Ottilie and was in her company on previous occasions, Ottilie made no impression on him. Seeing her in the same household, however, he soon becomes aware of her attractiveness. It becomes obvious, too, that Ottilie finds Edward attractive. The two fit together strangely well. When they play duets, Ottilie’s mistakes coincide with Edward’s. Gradually, as the two spend more and more time together, Charlotte and the Captain often find themselves together, much to their delight. After some weeks pass, Edward realizes the extent of his influence on Ottilie, all of which make him rejoice. Recognizing the force of his passion, he makes efforts to cause it to grow, as it does steadily and swiftly. Although Charlotte notices the attentions he pays Ottilie, she refuses to become upset by them; since she discovers her own regard for the Captain, she can more easily overlook her husband’s behavior.
One day, while Charlotte and the Captain are out boating, their passion for each other can no longer be concealed. Considering themselves mature people, however, they immediately control their emotions and resolve, after a few kisses, to adhere strictly to the moral path in their conduct. In addition, during one of their periods together, Ottilie and Edward discover their love for each other. More easily swayed and emotionally immature, they welcome the passion and do not try to curb their emotions.
(The entire section is 1364 words.)