Books That Endure: Classic Studies of Human Relationships

Theodor Fontane (1819-1898)

Effi Briest


  • Born in Neuruppin, near Berlin on December 30, 1819 to a French Huguenot family. 
  • His grandfather, a Gascon drawing-master at the court of Prussia; his father, an apothecary with a passion for gambling; his mother, though able and practical, unable to manage under these circumstances; the marriage finally dissolved..
  • Apprenticed at sixteen to an apothecary in Berlin; prepared himself for four years for the profession; passed the state examination for chemists, but soon after turned to poetry as his calling.
  • Took a position in the press department of the Prussian Ministry in 1850. Traveled to England in 1852 and several times afterwards to write reports on conditions there for government journals.
  • Acted as war correspondent in the campaigns of 1864, 1866, and 1870. Taken prisoner by the French at one point.
  • Married Emilie Rouanet-Kummer in 1850; had seven children.
  • Died in Berlin on September 20, 1898, honored as one of the leading men of letters of his time.


  • Wrote verse and prose "on the side," even during his apprenticeship; published verses and a story before he was twenty; did not begin writing novels until he was nearly sixty.
  • Earliest literary efforts were poetry, the best of which was ballad poetry, heavily influenced by his interest in Scottish history.
  • Earned his living for most of his life as a journalist and correspondent, publishing countless newspaper articles and theater reviews.
  • Published a well-known four-volume account of his travels through the Mark of Brandenburg.
  • During his last two decades, wrote realistic social novels depicting Berlin society and the Brandenburg aristocracy that assured him a significant place in German literature.
  • Effi Briest made into a film in 1973 by well-known director Rainer Werner Fassbinder; the novel, translated into English in 1976.

Major Writings (all novels, except as indicated)

Gedichte (1851, poems)
Balladen (1861, poems)
Wanderrungen durch die Mark Brandenburg (1861, travel account)
Vor dem Sturm
(1858), tr. as Before the Storm
Grete Minde (1858, short story)
L'Adultera (1882)
Schach von Wuthenow (1883), tr. as A Man of Honor
Petöfi (1884)
Cécile (1887)
Irrungen, Wirrungen (1888), tr. as Trials and Tribulations, 1917
Frau Jenny Treibel (1892)
Meine Kinderjahre (1894, autobiography), tr. as My Childhood Days, 1913-1915
Effi Briest (1895), tr. 1976
The Poggenpuhls (1896)
Stechlin (1898)

Biographical and Critical Information

Retired Discussion Series

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