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Effi Briest (1894)

by Theodor Fontane

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,975275,906 (3.57)88
Telling the tragic tale of a socially advantageous but emotionally ruinous match, Theodor Fontane's Effi Briest is translated from the German by Hugh Rorrison with an introduction by Helen Chambers in Penguin Classics. 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… (more)
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English (20)  German (4)  Swedish (1)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (27)
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
'Effi Briest' is a fascinating book, though not always enormously interesting or entertaining. But such things are, frankly, besides the point in these older novels, and while I understand the relatively low rating afforded Fontane's work on Amazon and its ilk, I think that when we read these black Penguins we should modify our expectations accordingly.

If I have understood it well, this is a book about time, and about the human relationship with time and age. Effi Briest hurtles into a marriage of convenience, though still very much a child. Her husband is twice her age, and is something of a pedagogue - everything is to him a learning opportunity for his child-bride. This is not romantic love, and soon Effi compromises herself with another man. The years pass, and soon her secret is discovered, with the sort of tragic consequences one has come to expect in novels of this period.

The questions that Fontane asks are particularly thought-provoking. Aside from the obvious ones about love and marriage, there is also the concept of the passing of time and how it affects our relationships. Roswitha, the most down-to-earth character, thinks that since six years have passed between the affair and its discovery, it is old news and should more readily be forgiven; but Roswitha is also quick to remind her interlocutors that her father once charged at her with a red-hot poker, thus suggesting that time does not in fact heal all wounds. So what are we to make of it all? Are we to side with the cuckolded husband, or with the neglected wife? There is much here to mull over, and that is the value of this novel. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Nov 9, 2020 |
In late 19th century Germany, 17-year-old Effi Briest is married off to a man 21 years her senior, a former suitor of her mother. Her new husband, a civil servant based in Pomerania, is a quiet, serious man, who enjoys touring museums, and who's idea of a fun night in is retracing their entire honeymoon from his notes. Effi, meanwhile, is young, vibrant and, prior to her marriage, carefree, and enjoys being outdoors, going for long walks.

The apparent incompatibility between the couple, the husband Innsteten's long absences, and Effi's desire for excitement see her developing a relationship with a military officer. Knowing it to be wrong, she takes advantage of Innstetten's promotion and their resultant move to Berlin to move on and focus on her marriage. The past, however, catches up with her, and, though he professes that he loves her, Innstetten's feels compelled to follow the moral and social code of the day.

As a commentary on the strictness of that code,, and the problems that it could create, Fontane's novel is taut, subtle work, telling its tale simply and effortlessly, with no melodrama, and the novel is all the more powerful for it. The characters are well drawn and strongly defined, and as I reader, I found myself sympathising with both Effi and Instetten. Due to their respective desires to 'do the right thing', they both end up suffering.

Having said that, there is something about Effi that I found intensely annoying. She is childish, and selfish - Fontane himself describes her thus: 'Effi was not for reheated leftovers; fresh dishes were what she longed for, variety'. I did find myself losing patience, and sympathy, with her. Whether that was Fontane's intention, I do not know, though he does allow Innstetten to describe her as 'a spoilt young lass'. I feel that Fontane is trying to establish that neither one nor other party to this ultimately doomed marriage was responsible for its breakdown, but rather circumstances and social mores were to blame. ( )
  TheEllieMo | Jan 18, 2020 |
Fontane is a novelist of subtlety with a great understanding of the emotional nuances of married life. ( )
  le.vert.galant | Nov 19, 2019 |
I liked this book.
I really did wonder why an old(er) man would want to marry such a young girl and why her parents would consider it, let alone agree to it.
Apart from that, it was a nice story. Full of habits of the times & places of action. That made it nice to listen to & ibteresting. For the story itself about Effi and Ingstetten is not very spectacular. ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | Feb 10, 2019 |
The last chapter really sums of the story, and asks the question that I asked myself almost from the beginning. Yes, the book is reminiscent of Madam Bovary and Anna Karenina, but I found the story of Germany and it's society at the end of the Nineteenth Century interesting. This Oxford edition had some very helpful footnotes. ( )
  karinlib | Jun 30, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (156 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Fontane, TheodorAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Coler, ChristfriedAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Geiger, HannsludwigEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitchell, MikeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parmée, DouglasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Robertson, RitchieIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rorrison, HughTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schafarschik, WalterAnmerkungensecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wölfel, KurtNachwortsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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To the front of Hohen-Cremmen, country seat of the von Briest family since the time of Elector Georg Wilhelm, bright sunshine fell on the midday silence in the village street, while on the side facing the park and gardens a wing built on at right angles cast its broad shadow first on a while and green flagstone path, then out over a large roundel of flowers with a sundial at its centre and a border of canna lilies and rhubarb round the edge.
Outside the manor house in Hohen-Cremmen, where the Briests had lived since the days when Georg Wilhelm had been elector of Brandenburg, the village street, quiet at midday, lay in bright sunshine, whilst the park and garden side a wing built on at right angles threw a long shadow of white and green flagstones and then across a large, circular flowerbed with a sundial in the middle and Canna indica and giant rhubarb planted round the edge. (Oxford World's Classics edition)
Of the many novelists writing in nineteenth -century Germany, Theodor Fontane is not only, by common consent, the greatest, but also the most cosmopolitan. (Introduction)
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Telling the tragic tale of a socially advantageous but emotionally ruinous match, Theodor Fontane's Effi Briest is translated from the German by Hugh Rorrison with an introduction by Helen Chambers in Penguin Classics. 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

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