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Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane

Effi Briest (1894)

by Theodor Fontane

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (16)  German (4)  Swedish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (22)
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
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 |
"One just has to keep one's life in order and have no reason to be afraid"
By sally tarbox on 30 May 2017
Format: Kindle Edition
Absolutely fabulous and atmospheric read. Effi Briest is the generally likeable seventeen-year old daughter of an upper class family. When her mother's one-time suitor calls and seeks her hand in marriage, Effi is aware of his prospects and immediately assents - though the reader has a sense of foreboding as her playmates' voices echo into the room, calling 'Come back, Effi.'
Living in a distant town, Effi's new home is comfortable but creepy, with a ghostly presence that sometimes manifests itself. And while her much older husband Geert is not unkind, he prioritizes his career in the civil service and is rather a dry old stick. And then Effi is thrown into the company of womanizing Major Crampas...
Unputdownable and unforgettable. ( )
1 vote starbox | May 29, 2017 |
I don’t think I had ever heard of Effi Briest as such – I think I saw it in a list of Oxford World’s Classics a couple of years ago, and having looked at the synopsis immediately put it on my Classics Club list. However, I never did manage to get around to buying a copy. When I heard Persephone Books were re-issuing it I decided to hold out for that edition.

Effi Briest is a nineteenth century German classic – that should really stand beside Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. A nineteenth century novel in translation written by a man, is not an obvious choice for publication by Persephone – although the themes of unequal marriage, society and the consequences of adultery make it a perfect match.

“ ‘Look, Mama: it doesn’t matter that he is older than me. Perhaps it’s even better that way. After all, he isn’t really old, and he’s healthy, vigorous, soldierly and dashing. I could almost say that everything about him was right if only… well if only he were a little different.’
‘In what way Effi?’
‘Well, you mustn’t laugh at me. It’s something that struck me only the other day, over at the parsonage. We were talking about Instetten and suddenly old Niemeyer’s eyebrows rose – in admiration and respect you see – and he said: “yes indeed, Baron Instetten is a man of character and of principles.”
‘And so he is Effi?’
‘Of course. And you see, Mama I don’t have principles. That’s what worries and frightens me. He is so good to me, so indulgent, and yet… I’m afraid of him.’

Effi Briest is a young girl – the much-loved daughter of conventional, though apparently loving parents in Hohen-Cremmen, a fictional region in Bismark’s Germany. Effi is just sixteen when we meet her – she is instantly endearing – exuberant and wonderfully full of life. She gallops around the gardens, happily gossiping with the daughters of the village schoolmaster and pastor who live nearby. In hindsight the reader can’t help but remember Effi before her marriage laughing with her friends, suffused with childlike enthusiasm, young, still so young.

Within a couple of pages of this novel, Effi is engaged to a man more than twice her age. Baron Geert von Instetten is thirty-eight – and was once in love with Effi’s mother. Effi the daughter of the one that got away. The engagement has been arranged by Effi’s parents – who it seems see nothing odd in the arrangement. Even more strangely perhaps – Effi seems perfectly happy too, although there is a sense that young Effi sees it as just one more happy incident in her golden childhood. Proud to be marrying such a handsome man, she and her mother begin buying the necessary clothes. In the first few chapters we see Effi’s life as one blessed by a happy home, Effi is still very childlike – yet even Effi’s mother notices that Effi is a little too matter of fact about her fiancé stuffing a letter which arrives from him in her pocket and only reading it much later.

“’Did you like the way Effi behaved? Did you like the whole affair? She was odd, sometimes completely naïve, and then again very self-assured and by no means as humble as she should have been towards a man of his standing. The only explanation surely, is that she is still quite unaware of how well she has done for herself. Or is it simply that she doesn’t love him properly?’
Frau von Briest was silent and counted the stitches on her embroidery. At last she said: ‘That is the shrewdest thing I have heard you say during these past three days, Briest. I have been having my doubts, too, but I don’t think there is any cause for anxiety.’”

Instetten is a high-ranking Prussian official – from Eastern Pomerania, a coastal town; Kessin is a long way away from her childhood home. The marriage takes place and Effi has a lovely time on her honeymoon, writing to her parents of all the things she sees in the company of her handsome new husband. In time Effi is taken to what will be her new home, a house which itself seems to change the tone of the whole novel, the hallway is quite dark, lit by red lamps, a few unusual objects suspended from the beams; a crocodile, a shark and a ship in full sail. The upstairs rooms remain unfurnished, the sound of curtains swishing across the empty ballroom floor – upset Effi’s imagination – as does a picture of a little Chinese man, about which Instetten has told her a story. The house is at the far end of town, close to a small wood and the road to the beach. Effi has been told by her husband that there aren’t really people of their class in the town – and in time she is taken on a round of visits to the local aristocrats – which are not wholly successful. Instetten works long hours, is frequently away from home, and Effi is alone with Joanna the servant and Rollo the wolfhound who has become her almost constant companion. Frequently alarmed by the sounds she hears from the empty rooms above, Effi is also homesick for Hohen-Cremmen and the young girls she spent so much time with once. One good friend, aside from the faithful Rollo, however is Gieshübler the hunchbacked apothecary.

It isn’t long before Effi – hardly out of childhood herself is a mother, to a little girl, Anna. Effi engages Roswitha as a nurse – and in time Roswitha proves to be a stalwart of support to Effi as the years ahead alter her fortunes considerably. Effi is still alone too much, and is ripe for manipulation by a dashing Major who comes to live nearby. Fontane doesn’t dwell on the specifics of Effi’s relationship with Crampas, it’s all deeply shaded in suggestion. We realise however, that there will be consequences for Effi particularly. Instetten is a man of rigid principles – and society so very unforgiving.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot – as I suspect a lot of people will be reading this novel now – I certainly hope so. It is a wonderful novel, compelling and compassionate. Theodor Fontane seems only to be judging society – his sympathies I am sure, like the readers own are always with Effi. This is a novel which deserves to be widely read – I loved every word. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | May 29, 2017 |
Although this was a sad story, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The characters were well developed and the plot was such that it held your interest to the very end. The novel was also an excellent look at the political and social times of the late 19th century Germany. Effi's transgression was more of a sin against the social code as we are never told the depth of the affair. It was interesting to learn about the different gender roles and a look at a young woman married to a man twice her age. I look forward to reading more of Theodor Fontane's works. ( )
1 vote EadieB | Jan 19, 2016 |
Enjoyed the build up of foreboding in this. A Germanic version of Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina (well the tale of a fallen woman at least) I enjoyed the political and social picture painted by Fontane and the style. It was an interesting read. ( )
1 vote sashinka | Jan 14, 2016 |
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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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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:06 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

After marrying a Baron twice her age and moving to a remote Baltic port, Effi Briest begins an affair that threatens to ruin her marriage and her life.

» see all 2 descriptions

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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