German Literature Month – Effi Briest Group Read Week III

The picture is taken from the latest film version Effi Briest (2009) starring Julia Jentsch and Sebastian Koch as Effi and Instetten. Here is more about the movie including trailers and pictures.

This is the final week of our Effi Briest Group Read. The questions have been provided by Lizzy. Please, if you haven’t read the book, don’t read the answers. They are not spoiler free.

Why do you think Effi kept Crampas’s letters?

I was wondering exactly this the whole time. Why did she keep those letters? On the other hand it is understandable. They were probably full of flatteries and compliments that she enjoyed re-reading. Knowing Instetten it was very unlikely he would search her things. It was a pure accident that he found them. I think it clearly shows that she thought he really wasn’t too interested in her or she wouldn’t have been so careless. If she’d been married to a man who seemed to have been in love with her and very jealous, I doubt, she would have kept them.

Did Innstetten have a choice?

Yes, I really think he did have a choice. The man he called, who would be his second, advised against it as well. Hee could just have pretended he never found those letters. In the end, I believe, he doubts his own choice. If he had found out while it happened, I think one could debate, whether or not, he had a choice, but six years later…

Are there any events in this final section that make you feel outraged?  Is that how Fontane wants you to feel?

I was not outraged, it made me very sad. My feeling for Effi was stronger than a feeling of outrage. I thought it was utterly pointless. Wasted lives, for nothing else but pride.

Is there a villain in this piece?

The mother is the worst character, closely followed by Instetten. I could imagine that her decision to be so hard on Effi was because she wondered how Effi could have cheated on a husband she would have loved to have. But precisely this history between her and Instetten might have been part of the source why Instetten never really opened up to Effi. I think that a lot of social injustice could have been stopped earlier if the members of a given society didn’t tacitly endure the rules – or even reinforce them – and I find it especially horrible when mothers think their daughters or sons should go through the same experiences they had to go through, no matter how bad they were. It’s as if the mother was thinking “If I was able to endure it, you should be able too.”     

The lot of the real-life Effi, Elizabeth von Plotho, was a much happier one. Why do you think Fontane made the outcome for Effi much harder?

To prove a point, I guess. He clearly condemns the ways of Prussian society, the regulations and rules. To make it crystal clear the ending had to be more drastic.

Were you surprised by the ending?

The first time I read it I was shocked. I don’t know how I thought it would end but not the way it did. Not after such a long time. I’m outraged to think what consequences adultery had for women in these days.

Where would you place Effi in the pantheon of C19th fictional adulteresses?

I found Mme Bovary very annoying and never really had any feeling for her. In the case of Anna Karenina I thought the book was so much more about Vronsky and Lewin than about her but to a certain degree she is more tragic as she loves Vronsky. Effi doesn’t love Crampas. The tragedy in Effi is very different. I think what makes it so harrowing is that it seems so pointless. More than 6 years have passed since the affair and if Instetten hadn’t found the letters accidentally, nothing would have happened.

Do you think you would ever reread Effi Briest?

Yes, I think so. In a few years, I can see myself re-read it.