The book translates from Romanian as "Otilia's Enigma" and describes the following actions in a historical period of a few years before the First World War.

Spoiler warning!
This article contains plot details, read at your own risk.
Enigma Otiliei
Author George Călinescu
Publication date 1938
Published by Editura Națională Ciornei
Publication Order
Preceded by
Followed by

Felix Sima, a 18 years old young man, arrives at Bucharest at his uncle Costache Giurgiuveanu, in order to study at the Faculty of Medicine. Once arrived at the established address, Otilia, the adopted protege of his uncle, invites him at the table where Felix gets to know the other members of the family: Aunt Aglae, uncle Simian and their children Titi, Aurica, Olimpia, bridegroom Stanică Raţiu as well as the old friend of the family Leonida Pascalopol.

The second day Otilia shows him around the house, Felix remarking her cheerful ambiance , as well as a letter addressed to her, on the name of “Otilia Marculescu”. Otilia is in a close friendship with Pascalopol and envied by the Tulea family.

Felix, curious about the “Marculescu” name mystery, fiind out about the life of Otilia that doesn’t differ too much from him own. She has been an orphan since little and raised by her stepfather, Mr. Costache. Pascalopol knew her mother and since then helped them very much, having a certain respect for her.

Asked by Aglae, Felix tutors Titi, that left on the second year, Aurica (Titi’s sister) getting a likeness for him. Felix on the other side feels more attracted to Otilia which he admires, and with whom he spends more and more time. Unfortunately he sees a rival in Pascalopol.

At the beginning of August, Olimpia, the eldest child of Aglae, makes her appearance in the house together with Stanica, her paramour with which she has a child. Simion doesn’t recognize his daughter, refusing to give her a place of living.

Stanica, through lies and letters addressed to Pascalopol as he wants to commit suicide, manages to obtain some money from everyone and convince Simion to give Olimpia somewhere to live.

Thanks to Pascalopol’s invitation, Felix and Otilia, arrive at his chateau where they spend a lovely time, returning home after 2 weeks.

Meanwhile, Olimpia ans Stanica’s baby, Aurel Ratiu, dies, and his father astonished publics in the newspaper the death, announcing all their relatives, in wish to obtain as much financial help as possible.

Stanica is interested in Mr. Costache’s fortune, and with this goal brings him a certain “Doctor Vasilache” in order to diagnose him and lie he is ill. The only person who finds out about this plan is Pascalopol, who warns the old man.

Between Felix and Otilia appears a strong relation of friendship and attachment. Felix confesses his love, Otilia appearing touched, but looking at him in a childish manner. Her caring towards Felix seems more to be as the one of a sister. Ashamed, Felix writes down all his sentiments towards her, sending a letter, but without an answer.

In a moment of envy, Felix asks Otilia to stop communicating with Pascalopol, but, after being invited by him at his house, realizes the mistake he made in front of Otilia.

In the house the gossips about the adoption of Otilia becomes more intense after an implication from Aglae. In the end Otilia askes Mr. Costache not to make any formal adoption procedure and leaves with Pascalopol at his house, leaving Felix surprised and disappointed. He finds comfort in the hands of a courtesan, Georgeta.

Felix has the occasion to meet Weissmann, a faculty colleague that awakens inside him a small passion for poetry. After some talking, Felix finds out about his difficult financial condition, as well as his practical spirit, Weissmann making injections and consulting different persons in order to help his brothers and sisters.

The dinner at Mr. Iorgu’s restaurant with the occasion of his daughters anniversary, sets by coincidence at the same table Georgets and the general, Stanica, Olimpia, Aglae, Titi, Felix and Mr. Costache. Aglae seems interested in the future of the host’s daughter, in hope she will marry her with Titi, while Felix seems more and more ashamed of Georgeta’s behavior.

At first, after a light crisis, the Tulea family ignores Simion’s behavior, which started to go crazy. But seeing as he starts being delirious, Aglae, helped by Stanica and Weissmann take him to a sanatorium. Titi suddently relocates in Agae’s attention that hopes to marry him as good as possible.

One of her 16 year old nieces, Lili, shows her with to marry, Stanica recommending to her father Felix Sima, driven by his with to bring in this family influent persons.

Felix dreams about Otilia singing at the piano, this being a reality actually.

Mr. Costache has plans with Felix and Otilia, starting to gather construction materials for a house where the who will live after his death. Stanica meets Felix with Lili, startling Titi which is attracted by the girl, and unable to understand the female attraction towards doctor Sima (Felix).

Because of an insolation and a fatigue, Mr. Costache suffers a heart attack, after which the whole Tulea family spends 2 days in the oldman’s house completely ignoring him and his illness. Pascalopol brings in a certified doctor, a university professor, which recommends a lot of peace and rest to the ill.

Mr. Costache starts feeling better, asking every member of the Tulea family to leave his house. He agrees together with Mr. Pascalopol to open a bank account on the name of Otilia with a value of 300.000. Lei (great money for the beginning of the 20th cebtury). But he doesn’t give her yet the money, being certain in his positive health condition. Pascalopol put in the same bank account another 100.000. lei as well.

After the heart attack Mr. Costache becomes more and more scared of death, Stanica being a cause of it, thanks to his constant stories about tragedies.

He consults different doctors, follows a special treatment spending money on medicine and even inviting priests to holy house. After that he sells different proprieties across the city (he is a wide rental lord in the capital) and brings in the house a maid named Paulina. Paulina doesn’t rest too long in his house as Mr. Costache finds out about her interest towards his fortune.

Mos Costache gives Pascalopol 100.000. lei for Otilia. Stanica, after intense searches in Mr. Costache’s house, finds the money and steals them. While seeing the heist, Mr. Costache has another heart attack and dies.

Stanica divorces Olimpia and marries Georgeta, entering in politics afterwards.

Otilia, unfortunately realizing her life style’s incompatibility with Felix, marries Pascalopol and leave together for Paris. Felix, with the beginning of the First World War, becomes a doctor, afterward a university teacher, and has a successful marriage entering the high society.

Felix once accidentally met Pascalopol in a train (post war period), finding out he divorced Otilia, which is now married to a rich man in Buenos Aires. The shown photo of her doesn’t resemble of what she looked like once. The memories of this idyll are well described by Mr. Costaches words (beginning of the novel): “No one stays here”.