German Literature Month – Effi Briest Group Read Week I

This is the first week of our Effi Briest Group Read. The questions have been provided by Lizzy (here is her post).

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.

Please leave a link to your post in the comments section or in the Mr. Linky. (To see the participants, you have to click on Mr Linky. It’s Mr. Linky for wordpress – meaning NOT sophisticated)

21 thoughts on “German Literature Month – Effi Briest Group Read Week I

  1. “…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.”
    Well put! This has come home to me a lot in this last year, as I learn to be more discriminating about my reading. Sure, I don’t want a spoiler for a whodunnit, but for good literary fiction, it’s useful to know quite a bit about the book first, to be less preoccupied with plot and able to concentrate more on other things. In a sense, while I did check out what “Effi Briest” is about before I began it, I would have benefitted from knowing even more – ironically, it would have made me more free to read more attentively.

    • There is always a debate about the spoilers. Of course we don’t want it for a whodunnit and some other genre literature but something more literary can only improve, I think.
      I appreacited such a ot much more through re-reading and saw a lot of things foreshadowed. I do also mostly read forewords and intros first.

  2. I read a little bit of the beginning of your post, but was scared of spoilers and so I didn’t read further. I will read the novel this week and then come back and comment on your post. Happy Reading!

    • That’s quite alright, althouh I discovered it’s a great book to re-read but maybe it does enhance the reading when you really don’t know anything. There were no spoilers in my or any of the other posts I’ve read so far. It’s from week two one, normally that spoilers are included.

  3. I had never heard of this book before, I am embarrassed to say, but it sounds very interesting. Will look it up, it sounds like something I’d like. Very interesting post.

    • Do give it a try.Will, it’s a fantastic book. One of the reasons why we chose Effi Briest was that we think it isn’t know well enough. But everybody who tries it now likes it a lot.

  4. I agree, it’s a very subtle novel. So much symbolism even in the smallest details, and it creates a real sense of tension and in some cases foreboding. I can see how you could reread it several times and get something new each time. Have you read any of his other novels? It seems that he took a long time to get started as a writer, but then was quite prolific!

  5. I’ve only read the first few chapters so far ( in the Penguin Classics version) and I think I’ll have to read a bit more before attempting the questions. The opening chapters are certainly very impressive.

    On the question of “spoilers”, books at the more “literary” end of the spectrum tend not to be plot-led, and in such books, the removal of the question “what happens next?” does allow the reader to focus, as you say, on other, more important matters. But I’m not sure that the question of “what happens next?” can always be relegated in this fashion, as, even in “literary” works, there are instances of this question assuming importance – of the author deliberately surprising the reader with what happens next. Off the top of my head Great Expectations and The Mayor of Casterbridge come to mind: the impact made by the first reading of these novels would surely be diminished were the reader to know beforehand “what happens next”. As for focussing on issues more important than plot – I guess that’s what re-reads are for!

    • Point taken, I agree, and when I saw Vishy’s comment I remembered how my reading of Anna Karenina was in fact spoilt because I knew how it would end. So, thanks for not sharing the end of The Mayor of Casterbridge.
      It’s of course a debate that becomes another dimension with classics and historical novels based on true events. There is always someone not familiar with then end of marie Antoinette and while they may love a book any way, they may love it more if they discover the story.
      Funny enough I didn’t include any spoilers. I never do. Comparing Effi to Emma Bovary or Anna Karenina does not give away the outcome.
      I’m looking forward to your thoughts once you’ve read some more. Some readers, like Emma, will post a review on the last saturday of the readalong. A very good option.

    • I was careful to keep the questions (and my answers) in Week 1 to introductory elements only. (I hope I succeeded.) While Effi Briest is a literary masterpiece, there are important plot elements that I really didn’t want to spoil for 1st time readers and I’m really interested in seeing how people react to events and characters. I’m interested in my own reactions too, because they have changed with each successive reading. I’ve no idea what’s going to happen this time around.

      • My reactions were the same as the first time I read it but I noticed other elements. It seems you are also in favour of spoiler-free.
        It does depend for me. I didn’t do well with Anna Karenina but at least if i hadn’t know the outcome it would have kept me going. But in general, unless it’s genre, i don’t mind it.
        But you did very well, as we are not all the same and while those who don’t care, can live with spoiler-free, those who do, would resent a spoiler.
        Asyou will see in week two questions I still adopted that approach too. The questions don’t give away too much. We can start spoiling in week three. By that time eveyone has been able to catch up. But then we have to as we would like to discuss in more depth.
        I’m interested to see how you think of it.

  6. Pingback: German Literature Month: Effi Briest Readalong Part 1 « Lizzy’s Literary Life

  7. Pingback: German Literature Month Week I Wrap-up and The Winners of the Heinrich Böll Giveaway « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  8. I read this years ago and loved it. If I didn’t have Musil on my plate, I would find a translation and join in! But… you’ve seen the Musil, right? I began it on the weekend and am loving it already. Very happy to be reminded of the ins and outs of Effi Briest, though, as I can only recall the bodice-ripping scene!

    • Oh, I love the book, I really do.
      I’ve got the Musil so I know what we are talking about but I’m sure you like it.
      I started some of his short stories on te weekend and they are so …I don’t even know what word I could use. Soulful maybe…
      I’m looking forward to your review or essays. Anything.

  9. In my edition Effi’s father keeps saying–“that’s a vast subject” and then moves on to another topic. He does seem to avoid anything that is too problematic! At first I also thought Instetten didn’t seem such a bad guy, but he seems so wrapped up in his own ambitions that he just ignores or condescends to Effi. She is growing on me now as a character–she seemed so young at first and flighty, but now I feel sorry for her to be in such a situation. I think this is one that really does need to be reread to catch everything. I am reading very slowly, but I still think I am not getting all the nuances.

    • For one reason or the other I liked her immediately although she is so different form me or how I was. I think the first time I reda it, I didn’t mind Intsetten, I was much more attentive this time and captured his littel side remarks that are quite hurtful.
      I think she is by far the youngest of the three heroines and I think she would even in real life, at that time been a very young wife.
      And the idea that her mother and her husband wre in love is really a bit off putting.
      Of course, Instetten is a product of his time but I think we cannot always excuse things with that.

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