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Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Notes on Effi Briest, the signs

We all, in varying degrees, suffer from some illusion about ourselves.
I was foolish enough to think myself capable of reading Effi Briest in Norwegian! However, stubborn as I am, I'm still struggling and currently on page 39 (beginning of chapter 7), moving back and forth between the Norwegian book borrowed from the library and the English e-book (have I said I dislike e-books?).
What did I know about Effi Briest? Theodor Fontane's masterpiece, said by some to be his greatest book. 1 of Thomas Mann's selections if one had to reduce one's library to 6 novels. A German novel that is very different from typical 19th century German novels. An unhappy family story. An adultery novel, often compared to Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary.
Therefore I was looking for the signs. And there they were. Some are Effi's traits: her youth and childlikeness (17 years old, plays with her friends in the 1st scenes like a child), her vitality, her restlessness and wish for amusement and change, her dislike of ennui, her haughtiness, and hastiness. She's a daughter of a man who doesn't seem particularly intelligent and a woman who appears to be the pragmatic and mercenary kind, placing lots of importance on wealth and social status. She wants the best, and if unable to have the best, she can forego the 2nd best, because it means nothing to her. 
Most notably, Effi doesn't seem to care much about love. I was confused for a while as to why she said yes to Geert von Innstetten and, believing I had missed something on account of my broken Norwegian, I checked the English version and found hardly anything. Fontane doesn't enter Effi's mind. Geert comes, then all of a sudden Mrs von Briest tells her daughter of the proposal, and all of a sudden Effi accepts it, and the chapter ends. It becomes clearer later, that she does because he's "perfect", with good looks, social status and wealth, because he's "a man with whom [she] can shine and he will make something of himself in the world". When her mother asks "Don't you love Geert?", she says "Why shouldn't I love him? I love Hulda, and I love Bertha, and I love Hertha. And I love old Mr. Niemeyer, too." If it seems problematic on her side, so does it on Geert's side, even though we don't have his perspective. It doesn't sound like a good thing when a man asks to marry the daughter of the woman he once loved and couldn't have.
In addition to all that, Effi's parents have some misgivings about the marriage. 
Fontane also sets up some other signs, some foreshadowing. 1 is the affair of Pink the overseer and the gardener's wife. Another is the funeral of the gooseberry hulls- Effi talks about sinking and, as though Fontane fears it isn't enough, refers to women who are thrown overboard for infidelity.
These are just some notes. Who knows if I'll finish the novel or not. Think how many times I put it down and wanted to give up. 

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