I read this beautiful novel in German. Though I might have objected to how structured it is, so full of symbols and echoes, in the hands of a master like Goethe it only contributes to the subtle atmosphere. What's more, the characters are individual and detailed, as comes out through their interactions and words. I found myself pitying Ottilie rather than being annoyed by her submissiveness (in any case, there's more to her than submissiveness); and Charlotte struck me as one of the most likable, admirable characters I've encountered in pre-20th-century fiction. She's not an anachronistic feminist, but rather a self-possessed person whose experience of life has contributed to her good sense; at one point she gently but firmly rebuts a man who's made some generality about women. A shocking event was increased in impact in that it was the first thing that ever shook Charlotte into saying something irrational.
If Goethe has any opinion about the real significance and proper solution of the painful tangle of emotions in this story, he expresses it only indirectly; like most of the best novelists, he raises more questions than he answers. He describes the social forces that are trying to plan and control everything, yet can only do so in part. In the end, this book seems less of a tribute to romantic love (such a destructive force) than to friendship, which survived everything and was not destroyed by bitter feelings as it could so easily have been.