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Effi Briest (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 30 Nov 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (30 Nov. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140447660
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140447668
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 95,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

It's very moving, and it's incredibly funny ... I wasn't prepared for the wit. Stupendous on so many levels (Matt Wolff)

A stunningly moving, beautiful, witty and urbane novel: I was blown away by it. A wonderful translation (Kate Saunders)

About the Author

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.
Hugh Rorrison has published extensively on modern German theatre and teaches German film at the University of Leeds. Helen Chambers organised the first conference on English translations of Fontane in 1992 and teaches German at the University of St Andrews.


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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Theodor Fontane’s “Effi Briest” is often linked with “Anna Karenina” and “Madame Bovary”, at least by German critics, as one of a great trilogy of 19th century “adultery tragedies”, although it must be said that it is less well-known in Britain than Tolstoy and Flaubert’s novels. (There are also other candidates for the honour, including “La Regenta” by the Spaniard Leopoldo Alas and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”, although that novel can be distinguished from the others by its historical rather than contemporary setting).

The three novels have much in common. In each the protagonist is a young woman, unhappily married to an older man, who seeks an escape from her unhappiness in an extra-marital affair, only to find that unhappiness continues to elude her and that by committing adultery she has only made her position worse rather than better. In each case the wronged husband is a pillar of upper or middle-class respectability who has done nothing which society or the law would regard as a matrimonial offence. Charles Bovary, Alexei Karenin and Effi’s husband Baron Geert von Innstetten are not unfaithful, drunken, violent, financially improvident or consciously cruel. Their fault is that they are cold and emotionally distant, unable to feel love for their wives or to inspire it in them.

In a defence of his first novel, “Before the Storm”, Fontane described it as a “Mehrheitsroman”, or “multiple novel”, that is to say a novel which aims to give a portrait of a particular society at a given point in history. He contrasted it with the “Einheitsroman”, or “unitary novel”, such as Dickens’s “David Copperfield”, which follows the adventures of a single protagonist. Unlike “Before the Storm”, “Effi Briest” is a “unitary novel” of this type.
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I had been meaning to read this novel for ages, but, when I did, I read it in a completely inappropriate manner, gobbling it down in one sitting on a long-distance flight in the manner of a Dan Brown. That's not at all how it's meant to be consumed; it's a finely crafted, subtle, allusive work that deserves a much more patient reading. I went back at the end and reread the first chapter, saturated in hints and prefigurings, and I decided I should probably read the whole thing again.

One great pleasure of Fontane's novel (1896) is its thematic vicinity to "Madame Bovary" (1856) and "Anna Karenina" (1873-76). If you have read the other two, you should certainly read this, if only for the pleasures of comparison. It's far less savage than Flaubert's novel and less impassioned than Tolstoy's, and in some ways more modern than either (as you might guess from the dates). It's quite thinly textured and minimalist for a nineteenth-century novel--hence my being able to knock it off in a seven-hour flight--but it demands quite a lot of parsing from the reader. It's the kind of novel that has you rifling back through your memory after reading it, trying to work out exactly what was happening at each moment. I can see why academics love Fontane.

Here is an example of the work's ambiguity. The introduction to the edition I read (by Helen Chambers, in Penguin Classics) describes Effi as a delightful, life-force-filled creature, and her older husband Instetten as a dry, oppressive, sexless, almost Casaubon-like figure, who attempts to control her. This surprised me when I read it (retrospectively); it wasn't how I reacted to these figures. For one thing, Instetten seems as much of a victim as Effi is. It's hard to know who destroys whom in the novel.
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Effi Briest is Theodor Fontane's magnum opus, it follows the titular girl through German high-society as she rises from a naive young girl, to a Landrat's wife then an accomplished member of the Berlin aristocracy. Packed with metaphors and symbolism, this translation has lost none of the subtext of the original. It has a comprehensive glossary and explains contemporary references and titles that Fontane makes throughout the book. Ultimately it's a tragic story, but it twists & winds through the meanderings of Effi's life beautifully written in it's archaic style spanning 216 pages.

Recommended for a great read.
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This book is still a set text in Germany, but perhaps is not well known here. A pity, because it is beautifully written, intriguing, and raises classic questions about societal conventions. The blurb likens it to Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, and these are apt comparisons.
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I'm afraid that reading this immediately after Madame Bovary may have influenced my opinion on this book. It was impossible not to compare the two, and I definitely prefer Emma to Effi. While I felt sorry for Effi, pushed into marriage to a much older man when she was barely a child, I couldn't help but find her selfish and immature. Even her husband refers to her as a "spoilt young woman"! I'm sure that Effi had motivations for her actions but I never really felt like I understood them; Fontane didn't really get inside her head the way that Flaubert did with Emma. Although this novel offered a fascinating insight into late 19th century German aristocratic society I found it difficult to connect with the characters in comparison to other novels I've read from the period. I sympathised with their plight at being victims of the society in which they lived, but I never got to know them well enough to really care about them. There were, however, some wonderful descriptions of the scenery. I have the feeling that Fontane is better at describing locations than he is the emotions of his characters.
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