German Literature Month – Effi Briest Group Read Week II

This is the second week of our Effi Briest Group Read. This week the questions have been sent out by me.

What strikes you most in this novel,  what do you like or dislike the most?

What strikes me personally most is that I don’t dislike anything. I find no superfluous words, no false tones in this novel. I think it’s an incredibly accomplished book that is as moving the second time as it was the first time I read it.

I really love everything about the book but I do have pretty strong reactions towards some of the characters. Instetten is for me, this time, a pompous insufferable git. I truly hate people who think they are superior. He patronizes Effi wherever he can. He is very rigid and follows rules and orders.

Do you think Fontane likes Effi? Whose side is he on?

I was wondering very often and think, he must like her a great deal or I wouldn’t feel for her. As a person she is quite opposite to myself or people I’m usually interested in, now as well as when I was 17. She isn’t introspective but fun-seeking. I think if Fontane didn’t like her, I wouldn’t feel the way I feel about her. She is a bit like a little animal that needs protection.

What do you make of the story of the Chinese and the haunted house. How would you interpret it? And what about Crampas’ interpretation?

I’m surprised how important this story is as this is something I had completely forgotten although I love a good ghost story. I think Effi is extremely isolated and all sorts of things play tricks on her mind. I also think it’s foreshadowing things to come but for fear of spoilers I’m not going to elaborate on this.

Crampas interpretation strikes me as spot on and it does enforce my negative feelings for Instetten. Wanting to educate or drilling Effi is so like him.

Descriptions are an important part in Effi Briest. How do you like them and how important do you think they are for the novel?

This question is tied to the next one. I had a feeling that the novel moves back and forth from outdoor to indoor scenes and in the outdoor scenes the descriptions are very important.

The region in which Kessin is located bears a lot of dangers for humans. There are the marshes that can swallow you, the snow can cut you off from the outside, the storms make ships sink. This seems very symbolic and full of foreboding.

The contrast between the loveliness of Effi’s family’s garden compared to the bleak landscape around Kessin emphasizes her loneliness. She would need a welcoming home but the house she lives in scares her as well.

The descriptions of the outside world also seem to point to things to come and the night in which Effi and Crampas sit together in the carriage and almost sink into the “Schloon” (that’s the German expression and I have no clue what the corresponding English word is, I guess marsh) seems full of foreboding.

It struck me while I was reading this novel how Fontane pairs descriptions of cozy and scary. Did you notice this as well and if so, what did you make of this?

For a tormented soul like Effi’s the idea that feet are running over her head and that she is all alone in the dark unwelcoming house in Kessin is very scary. I found the whole novel much more “gothic” this time around than when I first read it. The contrast to her family home, in which everything was cozy is very striking.

Another scene where I saw this pairing was when she walks in the wood with Crampas and it begins to snow. It might be a scary idea usually to be snowed in but Effi mentions a poem set druing the war, in which an old woman was snowed in and the snow-covered her up so the soldiers couldn’t find her. The idea warms Effi, she feels that being snowed in means being sheltered from the outside world.

What do you think of Crampas?

I didn’t think Crampas was such an unlikable character but he is a very irresponsible man. He should have thought of Effi and not start something with her. Of course he is trapped in a loveless marriage as well but he doesn’t seem to love Effi either. He is clearly a player. He likes to break rules and says so early on. I think it’s maybe as much about having an affair for him as about doing something forbidden. Still in the scenes in which we see them together he is far nicer to Effi than her husband and she seems a more mature person in his presence, not a little child that fears to be criticized at any moment.

Fontane chose to describe more than one Christmas in this novel, what do you think Christmas signifies?

Christmas is traditionally a family holiday. There is more than one Christmas in the novel and they are all slightly different. They do mark the passing of time but also show what it means for Effi to have left Hohen-Cremmen. Her first Christmas is a very lonely one. The second is slightly better but she misses her family. What struck me is that there was no attempt at spending Christmas together. I found that unrealistic. I can’t imagine a reason why they didn’t visit Effi’s parents. It felt like a punishment when I read it, as if she was an outcast.

What kind of mother is Effi?

I think she is quite a devoted mother. The child turns her into a grown up but, as it was usual then, someone else, in this case Roswitha, spends much more time with the child.

Where will the novel go from here? What do you think will happen next?

As I have read it before I’ll skip the question of course.

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