Theodor Fontane - book author
Theodor Fontane, novelist, critic, poet, and travel writer, was one of the most celebrated nineteenth-century German men of letters. He was born into a French Huguenot family in the Prussian town of Neuruppin, where his father owned a small pharmacy. His father’s gambling debts forced the family to move repeatedly, and eventually his temperamentally mismatched parents separated. Though Fontane showed early interest in history and literature—jotting down stories in his school notebooks—he could not afford to attend university; instead he apprenticed as a pharmacist and eventually settled in Berlin. There he joined the influential literary society Tunnel über der Spree, which included among its members Theodor Storm and Gottfried Keller, and turned to writing. In 1850 Fontane’s first published books, two volumes of ballads, appeared; they would prove to be his most successful books during his lifetime. He spent the next four decades working as a critic, journalist, and war correspondent while producing some fifty works of history, travel narrative, and fiction. His early novels, the first of which was published in 1878, when Fontane was nearly sixty, concerned recent historical events. It was not until the late 1880s that he turned to his great novels of modern society, remarkable for their psychological insight: Trials and Tribulations (1888), Irretrievable (1891), Frau Jenny Treibel (1892), and Effi Briest (1895). During his last years, Fontane returned to writing poetry, and, while recovering from a severe illness, wrote an autobiographical novel that would prove to be a late commercial success. He is buried in the French section of the Friedhof II cemetery in Berlin.
Theodor Fontane is the author of books: Effi Briest, Irrungen, Wirrungen, Frau Jenny Treibel, The Stechlin, Unterm Birnbaum, Irretrievable, Mathilde Möhring, Grete Minde: nach einer altmärkischen Chronik, Stine, L'Adultera
Unworldly young Effi Briest is married off to Baron von Innstetten, an austere and ambitious civil servant twice her age, who has little time for his new wife. Isolated and bored, Effi finds comfort and distraction in a brief liaison with Major Crampas, a married man with a dangerous reputation. But years later, when Effi has almost forgotten her affair, the secret returns to haunt her - with fatal consequences. In taut, ironic prose Fontane depicts a world where sexuality and the will to enjoy life are stifled by vain pretences of civilization, and the obligations of circumstance. Considered to be his greatest novel, this is a humane, unsentimental portrait of a young woman torn between her duties as a wife and mother and the instincts of her heart.
Hugh Rorrison's clear, modern translation is accompanied by an introduction by Helen Chambers, which compares Effi with other literary heroines such as Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina.
Theodor Fontane (1819-98) was a German novelist and potitical reporter. Along with Effi Briest, Fontane is remembered for Frau Jenny Treibel (1892), an ironic criticism of middle-class hypocrisy and small-mindedness.
If you enjoyed Effi Briest you may like Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, also available in Penguin Classics.
'I have been haunted by it ... as I am by those novels that seem to do more than they say, to induce strong emotions that can't quite be accounted for'
Hermione Lee, Sunday Times
Text in neuer Rechtschreibung
Mit der Geschichte eines von einem Ehepaar gemeinsam begangenen Raubmordes verarbeitet Fontane Kindheitserinnerungen – sein Vater hatte als Mitglied der Bürgergarde in Swinemünde mit ähnlichen Fällen zu tun. Eine Jahre zurückliegende Information seiner Schwester Elise über einen erschlagenen französischen Soldaten, der in Dreetz in Brandenburg vergraben worden war, weckte ebenfalls Fontanes Interesse und floss in die Handlung ein. Das Urbild des Tatortes war der Gasthof Zum alten Fritz in Letschin.
Die Novelle erschien, beginnend im August 1885, zunächst als Vorabdruck in Fortsetzungen in der Zeitschrift Die Gartenlaube. Als Buchausgabe wurde sie erstmals im November 1885 beim Verlag Müller-Grote, Berlin, als Band 23 der Groteschen Sammlung von Werken zeitgenössischer Schriftsteller publiziert. Die Erstauflage betrug 1.500 Exemplare. Außer Unterm Birnbaum schrieb Fontane noch drei weitere Geschichten, die von Verbrechen und Mord handeln: Grete Minde (1879), Ellernklipp (1881) und Quitt (1890).
How a couple can slowly drift apart, until one day they find themselves in a situation which is nothing they ever wished for but from which they cannot go back, is at the heart of this timeless story of everyday life. Theodor Fontane’s great gift is to tell the story effectively in his characters’ own words, listening to how they talk and fail to talk to each other, watching them turn away from their own true feelings as much as from each other. Irretrievable is a nuanced, affectionate, enormously sophisticated, and profoundly humane reckoning with the blindness of love.