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Effi Briest (Penguin Classics) by Theodor…
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Effi Briest (Penguin Classics) (original 1894; edition 2001)

by Theodor Fontane, Hugh Rorrison (Translator), Helen Chambers (Translator)

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1,433145,286 (3.55)65
Member:Booksloth
Title:Effi Briest (Penguin Classics)
Authors:Theodor Fontane
Other authors:Hugh Rorrison (Translator), Helen Chambers (Translator)
Info:Penguin Classics (2001), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library, Fiction
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Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane (1894)

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English (9)  German (2)  Catalan (1)  Dutch (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (14)
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Honestly, I read this because Thomas Mann said it was great. Not good, great. I hesitate to disagree with him, so I'm willing to consider translation issues as the problem. Maybe ejaculations like 'speaking of which' and 'by the way' and 'meanwhile' and so on are/were natural in late nineteenth century German? Maybe the dialogue is less stilted in its native tongue? Maybe the symbolism is less heavy handed than the translation makes it appear?
Certainly the endless jackbooting of 'society' would have made more sense at the time the book was written; but it's hard for me to feel much anger at 'society' today. We could probably do with a bit more moral straitjacketing, let's be honest, and a little less you-are-a-unique-and-special-snowflake. You're not. Fontane is obviously a smart enough man not to fall for it too hard, which makes the book worthwhile. But compared to Madame Bovary... well, it's a bit clumsy, and I'd rather re-read Flaubert than re-read this. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
I can see why this annoys so many people at school. Fontane provides a lot of excuses for the mistakes his characters make, but he doesn't really manage to make them likeable. Effi is bright, clever, pretty, but in essence a spoilt, vain teenager; Innstetten is stiff and official most of the time, and Crampas only really gets one scene in which he has something interesting to say. And it is difficult to sympathise with the trouble they make for themselves: Effi so effectively manages to conceal whatever she has done from the reader that we feel rather cheated when we find that she has kept some incriminating evidence for Innstetten to find, while Innstetten has plenty of good reasons to find some less baroque way of settling the matter than pistols in the dunes. There isn't much story, either: the whole thing could easily have been done in 25 pages by Kleist, for instance. If I'd read this at the over-literal age of 17, I'd probably have hated it too.

So why is it such an appealing novel after all? It is, definitely appealing, so there must be something more to it than the storyline. I think it comes down to Fontane's style and the clever way he mixes realism with symbolic motifs. We may not like Effi, but we understand her and the other characters as an integral part of the north German landscape. The story clearly has to take the shape it does, and we come to the final chapters waiting for the swing, the plane trees and the Rondell to come back. The strange, slightly spooky quality of Kessin seems odd in the abstract — what could be less spooky than a flat, windy Baltic beach resort? — but in context it makes perfect sense that everything there happens at a slightly higher level of intensity than elsewhere. The sunny innocence of Hohen-Cremmen and the official briskness of Berlin (where seven years can pass in the space between two sentences) make perfect sense too. It's basically just the translation of ballad form to prose... ( )
1 vote thorold | Oct 30, 2011 |
German author Theodor Fontane was in his 50’s when he began writing novels and in his 70’s when “Effi Briest” was published in 1895. Another German author, Thomas Mann, considered “Effi Briest” to be one of the 6 best novels ever written, yet I believe the book is relatively unknown to American readers. It can be considered a “fallen woman” story like other famous books such as “Madame Bovary,” “Sister Carrie,” and “Anna Karenina.” The story was based on the real-life story of Elisabeth von Ardenne, including the discovery of billets-doux and a duel. In the novel, Effi, a fun-loving girl of just 17, is married off to Baron Geert von Innstetten who is 38 years old and once a suitor of Effi’s mother, Luise. After the marriage, Effi moves from her home in Hohen-Cremmen to the remote town of Kessin, where von Innstetten ambitiously pursues his career and neglects his young wife. She is attended by a somewhat aloof servant named Johanna and befriended by a kindly old chemist named Gieshübler, but otherwise finds herself without much to do. While in Kessin, her daughter Annie is born, and Effi acquires the faithful housekeeper Roswitha, literally rescuing her as she weeps at the grave of her recently deceased previous employer. The debonair but unhappily married Major Crampas is assigned to Kessin and predictable events unfold when he and Effi find themselves alone together on a sleigh ride home from a social event. The liaison continues for some time as Effi goes out on long walks and secretly meets Crampas in an abandoned house. Effi has deep regrets about the affair and is relieved when von Innstetten is transferred to Berlin. She leaves early to do some house hunting with her mother and makes excuses not to return to Kessin. Von Instetten later joins her in Berlin and their life goes on as usual. One day, Annie falls running up the stairs and cuts her forehead. Johanna and Roswitha are frantically looking for something to stop the bleeding, when Roswitha recalls a bandage being kept in a sewing table. They break open the flimsy lock on the drawer and pull out the bandage, but several other items fall out onto the floor, including a bundle of letters. Von Innstetten comes home and, after reassuring Annie, starts putting things away, and comes across the letters, which he takes into his study to read. Shortly thereafter, he summons his friend Wüllersdorf for advice. Although the affair occurred more than 6 years ago and Wüllersdorf tries to dissuade him, von Innstetten concludes he must challenge Crampas to a duel: “… we’re not just individuals, we’re part of a larger whole and we must constantly have regard for that larger whole …” After the duel, Effi is sent away, and the faithful Roswitha ultimately comes to live with her.

The novel has several likable features. First, it is realistic. There are no glorified heroes or monstrous villains – we just have victims of life’s circumstances. Effi is a victim of her youthful marriage, Crampas of an unhappy marriage, and von Innstetten of his own ambition. Unfortunately, all of the characters lives are ruined by this unfortunate affair. As Van Innstetten says at the end of the book, “… nothing gives me satisfaction any more; the more distinctions they give me, the more I feel it all means nothing. I’ve made a mess of my life …” Second, Rollo, the Newfoundland, is a great dog – he embodies the unfeigned affection and loyalty so characteristic of his species. He becomes Effi’s faithful companion in desolate Kessin, and near the end of the book, Roswitha petitions von Innstetten to allow the now aged Rollo to come live with Effi for companionship. As Effi has said, and Roswitha relates in a letter to von Innstetten: “Rollo would be fine, he bears me no grudge. That’s what’s good about animals, they don’t mind about things so much.” Finally, the playful banter between old von Briest and his wife Luise that runs through the book made me smile. She is a domineering woman who always has a strong opinion of things. Old von Briest humorously mocks her “black and white” approach to life, but she’s oblivious to the subtlety of his sarcasm. I wouldn’t rank “Effi Briest” in my “top 6 books of all time” (or even in my “top 10”), but it certainly was an enjoyable novel that presented the difficulties of its characters in a realistic manner. ( )
  sdibartola | Sep 4, 2011 |
Written in 1894, Effi Briest is the story of a girl from a good family who makes a "good match" with an older, well-established man, Instetten. As with Madame Bovary, the sense of impending doom is that from the start, Effie and Instetten are unable to stray from their preordained path, despite not wanting to follow it.

Effie moves from the nursery into an engagement almost immediately, leaving barely any time to adjust from schoolgirl and daughter to adult and wife. Perhaps more disturbing for the modern reader is the fact that Instetten was linked with Effie's mother, ndeed it is remarked that they would have been better suited, as both are more serious and rather proper, unlike her often inappropriate husband and lively daughter. Actually, probably because I only recently read it, Effie reminded me of the heroines of The Mysteries of Udolpho and Northanger Abbey. She is naive, affected by the possibility of the supernatural, such as the story of the Chinaman and the dancing shoes. She is, on the other hand, a good person, but easily led.

Not wanting to give anything away, I would say it is clear right from the start that Effie is ill-fated. In fact, we see her own reactions to similar events earlier on in the action. Who is to blame for her downfall? Is it Effie, a mere slip of a girl married off to a much older man, shipped off far from home? Is it her husband, an upstanding Prussian official, but a man who can be cold and leaves his young wife alone? Or is it, as they themselves ask, the fault of her parents? All of these options could be argued for successfully, but I wonder whether it is the unbending moral code of the time which is being critisised? A marriage arranged as a contract between two families of high-standing was hardly unusual. The response of the characters to the unfolding drama, although absurd and very sad, also falls within the expected social protocol of the day.

As the blurb on the back cover says, Madame Bovary does indeed come to mind. As with Madame Bovary, the reader does sympathise with the tragic heroine. I did, however, feel glad to see the Instetten's own thoughts in the latter section, making the story more rounded and more ambigious.

A well-written novel, and one which gives a good glimpse into 19th Century society. ( )
  soffitta1 | Mar 2, 2011 |
Beautifully unfolded story of a young woman's confining marriage, ill-considered affair, and the consequences unleashed when the affair becomes known. Tragic, but in the tones of a comedy of manners. ( )
  annbury | Jan 19, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (124 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Theodor Fontaneprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Geiger, HannsludwigEditorsecondary 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.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140447660, Paperback)

In 1919 Thomas Mann hailed Effi Briest (1895) as one of "the six most significant novels ever written." Set in Bismarck's Germany, Fontane's luminous tale of a socially suitable but emotionally disastrous match between the enchanting seventeen-year-old Effi and an austere, workaholic civil servant twice her age, is at once touching and unsettling. Fontane's taut, ironic narrative depicts a world where sexuality and the enjoyment of life are stifled by narrow-mindedness and circumstance. Considered by many to be the pinnacle of the nineteenth-century German novel, Effi Briest is a tale of adultery that ranks with Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina and brilliantly demonstrates the truth of the author's comment and "women's stories are generally far more interesting."

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:48 -0400)

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