1 May 2019 Susannah

Theodor Fontane & ‘Effi Briest’

Thomas Mann, the Nobel-winning German novelist, once stated that if one had to reduce one’s library to only six novels, then one of them would be Theodor Fontane’s Effi Briest. He felt strongly that it was one of the six most important novels ever written! This year, which sees the 200th anniversary of Fontane’s birth, seems an especially apt time to read and discuss it.

Probably you have read those two great novels of adultery – Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. How about trying some Prussian adultery for a change? Get to know poor Effi, married off so young to a man old enough to be her father and ex-boyfriend to her own mother, tempted by boredom and frustration into a passionless affair, and paying an incredibly heavy price for her brief lapse. As well as a tale of illicit passion, this is also a portrayal of Prussian society at a very influential time in its history.

Effi Briest is a powerful and important novel of the late 19th C – I hope you enjoy getting to know a new author and an intriguing, memorable book.

I always love to hear what you think.

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Featured image credit- Julia Jentsch in Effi Briest, 2009 Constantin Films adaptation, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1035732/

Comments (10)

  1. Patricia Farrar

    When I was living in Germany some years ago, my friends were astounded that I hadn’t heard of, let alone read, Effie Briest. The 1974 film directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder would be my pick of productions but the 2009 remake looks pretty good too. On my list! For a preview click here.


    • Susannah Fullerton

      Trish, I think you are in a small minority in Australia, as most people I’ve mentioned the novel to had never heard of it. The latest film is very gorgeous to watch but does make big changes to the ending.

  2. Penny Morris

    I have definitely never heard of it so am looking forward to reading it along with the literary readers guide.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I hope you enjoy it – it’s a powerful novel.

  3. Suzanne Williams

    Thank you Susannah for the recommendation.It looks fascinating.

  4. Peter Danzer

    Apropos passionless affair or her brief lapse….
    Having read the book a year ago I was intrigued by its delicateness of expression concerning the “misconduct” of Major Crampass because we can’t put any blame on Effi Briest who was only 18 years old at the time when he ” hotly kissed her hands” in the horse drawn carriage. The reader becomes none the wiser when certain letters were discovered by Baron Instetten how serious the lapse was. Properly nothing more than kissing of hands which was in 1895 in a Prussian society
    quite serious.The reader,like me, is quite shocked by the punishment that is dealt out to Effie.
    Her destiny may be considered more shocking than that of the literary figures you mentioned above — because of her tender age!!
    A very worthwhile read indeed even though it can be mentally painful.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, it is asad book to read and one is left wondering how far Effie actually went with the Major. And why oh why did she not destroy the letters???? Poor Effie does not deserve her tragic fate.

  5. Deborah Rhodes

    Hi Susannah and readers,
    I’ve only just finished reading Effi Briest this afternoon and felt very sad, but mostly about Rollo! There are similarities to the end of the film of Louis de Bernieres’s Red Dog. I didn’t particularly warm to Effi but became more and more concerned about her towards the end. I agree with you Susannah, the Doctor (and Alonzo) were the best characters in the novel but I enjoyed seeing Effi’s parents relenting and welcoming her back to recover from illness, even though it was too late; although I felt they were a bit ‘switched-off’ at the end.
    It was hard to work out the relevance of the ghostly presence, but then it made sense to have the duel near the Chinaman’s resting place.
    Peter’s point about the extent of relations between Crampas and Effi are interesting because, as noted, we never really get the details.
    The stand-out for me in this novel is the firm relationship between Effi and Rollo and what it represents: love, loyalty, absence of prejudice, empathy. This highlighted the kind (and possibly redeeming) act by Geert of reuniting them suggests that (empathy and) forgiveness might be a sub-theme towards the end.
    All in all, it revealed some amazing insights (jealousies, pettiness, ambition, selfishness, prejudice, ‘living life stuck behind the steering wheel’) that Fontane has into the thoughts and feelings of both sexes in an astonishingly well described way: a terrific suggestion Susannah!
    PS I read the Mitchell and Ritchie translation.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am so glad you enjoyed reading it, and thought about it so much too. Yes, Rollo is the one true love in this novel. No wonder the German professor who introduced me to this book named his own dog Rollo. It is a sad and rather painful novel, but I think an important one in European Literature, which is why I included it in the course.

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