Sunday, 15 January 2017

Effi Briest, Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary (3)

5/ I’ve finished reading Effi Briest.
My view on Fontane’s writing, up till the last chapters, remained unchanged: his tendency to refrain so much, to stop when he should be going further and digging deeper, reduces the drama, the emotional impact of the story. Too steady, he avoids dramatic scenes and can’t quite depict the emotional turmoil and pain and strong emotions as Tolstoy can. Too detached, his style doesn’t have the pervading sadness of Flaubert’s.
Then something happened in the last chapters. I close Effi Briest with deep sadness. Somehow, in some way, Fontane makes me care for her, as though for a real person. In How Fiction Works, James Wood writes something like Isabel Archer is rather vague as a character, she becomes real by Henry James’s genuine and deep interest in her. Perhaps that’s the way with Effi. The story is so haunting because Effi is so young and suffers so much, and because even in the end she dies believing she did wrong and deserved what she got.
6/ The bit about Roswitha is a subtle touch, making Effi’s parents’ behaviour a lot more heartless and harder to sympathise with.  
7/ This is perhaps the saddest line in Effi Briest, about Innstetten: 
“There was a lot of good in his nature, and he was as noble as anyone can be who lacks the real capacity for love.” 
No. Saddest are these words Effi says in her deathbed: 
“… you said I was still so young. And of course I am still young. But it doesn’t matter. In the good old days Innstetten used to read to me in the evenings; he had very good books, and 1 of them had a story about someone who had been called away from a festive dinner, and the next day asked what had happened after he left. And the answer was ‘Oh, all sorts of things, but really you didn’t miss anything.’ You see Mamma, these words stuck in my mind—it doesn’t matter much if you are called away from the table a little early.”
What can be more heartbreaking than that? 
Fontane doesn’t write much, but the resignation in those lines is poignant.


  1. Yes, this is why Effi is so beloved by Germans. They don't find her vague.

    1. Yeah, I've read your post about Fontane and German literature.