I’ve read Effi Briest before and liked it a lot. I was eager to find out what I would think of it this time. Out of the three tragic heroines – Mme Bovary – Anna Karenina and Effi Briest – she was always my favourite. I’m glad to discover a book that I like even more than the first time I read it and a heroine that touches me even more deeply. This is strange as I have nothing in common with Effi. And it is also interesting as once more it shows that there is no such thing as a spoiler in literature. On the very contrary, to know the outcome gives you a chance to pay more attention to other things than plot.
1: Welcome to the 1st German Literature Month Readalong! Had you heard of Theodor Fontane and Effi Briest before now? What enticed you to readalong with us?
I think I will skip this question.
2: Which edition/translation are you using and how is it reading?
I’m reading a German paperback edition. It has an appendix of 100 pages but I didn’t read them this time around.
3: Is the novel living up to your expectations?
As I wrote in the intro, I read this before and liked it a lot. For me to re-read a book it needs some very specific elements. Liking isn’t one of them. I didn’t “like” Mme Bovary but I read it three times. I did however like Effi Briest but it’s also a very subtle novel, a novel from a mature author, one of the best of German literature, it offers a lot, still, re-reading is the ultimate test. And it passed the test. It’s as wonderful as the first time or even better. I was much more attentive than when I read it 6 or 7 years ago.
4: What do you make of Effi Briest and Baron von Innstetten. What motivates them? What do you make of their match?
It has been said that Effi was very much the product of her upbringing. I tought this is obvious in the way she speaks about this marriage. I think she is very estranged from herself and doesn’t really know what she wants for herself, although, she has an idea. She isn’t an intellectual, she knows as much. Effi isn’t a contemplative heroine who likes to read and brood, this is a lively young girl who likes entertainment and fun, yet society and her family want her to be successful and successful means attract a successful husband. As she says “Anyone is the right one as long as he is aristocratic, has a high position and is looking good”. I wasn’t sure what to think of Instetten at first. I thought for a while that he wasn’t so bad but he is very condescending. There are these little remarks about Effi’s intellect that are extremely hurtful. He belittles her constantly, even when he pays her a compliment it’s a trapdoor.
5: How are you reacting to Effi’s parents?
“Das ist ein zu weites Feld” or “This is a vast field” (I don’t know how it is translated) is the pet sentence of Effi’s father. He uses this sentence constantly all through the novel and I think a person like this in real life would drive me up the wall. He avoids every conversation of problematic topics but the sentence also shows that he is well aware that things are not as they seem. Of the two (mother and father), he is the more likable and also the much more understanding. It’s the mother I have a real problem with. It’s this attitude of having your own child experience what you went through, for the sake of society, that I find revolting. She infuriates me. She knows very well that poor Effi is far too young for Instetten.
6: Are there any secondary characters to whom you are particularly drawn? Any to whom you are adverse?
I love Frau Kruse and the black chicken and Gieshübler is an interesting person. He is the antithesis for me to all the other characters, someone who stayed good despite adversity and doesn’t pass on the bad things he may have experienced.
7: Effi Briest was originally serialised in 6 parts. I’m assuming that its 36 chapters were published in 6 monthly parts of 6 chapters each and the novel so far seems to bear this out. How does the mood of the first part (chapters 1-6) contrast with that of the second (chapters 7-12)?
The first chapters are playful and light. We meet an exuberant Effi, one who does only know good things, is sheltered and child-like. She loves the idea of getting married and climbing the social ladder. She is a bit wary of Kessin, as there might not be a lot of entertainment but she is still looking forward to it. Once she is there that changes rapidly and she feels like an animal in a cage.
8: We finished our first reading at the end of chapter 15 or the middle of part 3. Where is Effi in terms of her psychological development and how does this bode for the future?
I think that she has to a certain extent realized that she made a mistake but she hopes for a change through her child.
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