Theodor Fontane (1819-1898) was a German realist who worked for most of his life as a journalist, poet, editor, theater critic, and travel essayist. ...Show synopsisTheodor Fontane (1819-1898) was a German realist who worked for most of his life as a journalist, poet, editor, theater critic, and travel essayist. He could not attain the financial stability to write novels until he was almost sixty, at which point he began writing historical novels. He eventually concentrated on stories about Berlin society and the decline of the aristocracy, such as "Trials and Tribulations" and "Jenny Treibel." One of his best known works was "Effi Briest," a novel about a teenage girl whose family arranges a marriage between her and Baron von Innstetten, a promising 38-year-old government official. The remarkably passive and detached young girl soon finds herself entangled in an adulterous affair. Fontane's brilliant dialogue, poetic realism, and strong thematic elements put "Effi Briest" in the arena of such adultery tragedies as "Anna Karenina" and "Madame Bovary."Hide synopsis
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I reached my 73rd year before hearing of this book, and discovering that it's considered to be a high point in the 19th century German novel. That got me to thinking, "What are the others?" And I realized that there are very few. While Russian, French, and English writers of that century poured out countless novels, German writers were much more involved in short fiction, poetry, and drama. That in itself--the fact that Effi Briest is something of an historical anomaly--strikes me as a compelling reason to read it. It's a novel of infidelity, sometimes compared to Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, but with an entirely different narrative strategy, as the author doesn't take the reader into his confidence until quite late in the book. Fontane makes little effort to endear his heroine to us, yet her rather pathetic fate is quite moving at the end. As a study of the pychology of marriage, the book has much to offer. Is it up to the standards of the greatest European novels of its time? Possibly not, yet it is a book well worth knowing.
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