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.

26 thoughts on “German Literature Month – Effi Briest Group Read Week III

  1. Oh, didn’t know there was a “new” film version. I didn’t like the Fassbinder one – too long, too boring. I can feel a book to movie follow-up post coming on in December ….

    • I think this one looks promising. I didn’t wtch the Fassbinder although I like his moviea and I like Hanna Schygulla, I don’t see her as Effi.
      I want to see this one. Judging from the trailer, the affair is quite explicit.

    • I always pictured her blonde. Yes, Julia Jentsch is a bit older (29 in the movie) but still fits better than Hanna Schygulla. I think she is a great actress (Jentsch). Have you seen Sophie Scholl? I’m not sure about the choice for Instetten but thought Crampas a good choice.

  2. I just watched the trailer, and I’m not sure I’d agree. I imagined Crampas to be older and more masculine – in fact, I’d swap the actors for Innstetten and Crampas! As for Effi… that’s a Hollywood choice if ever I saw one 😉

    • I see what you mean but Koch can play an unlikable guy very well. I think they turned the affair into a love story, or so it seesm, and therefore they maybe decided to choose a Crampas closer in age.
      I think Jentsch is a good choice. She is like I would have pictured Effi. And the mother is perfect.

  3. Effi’s lovely. Koch-Innstetten is a bit of a dish, isn’t he? Crampas, verging towards sleazy. Good casting on first glance at the trailer.
    Just ordered the film. Couldn’t get it from my DVD rental company.

    • I just read a German review that was unkind but seemed to have a point. The ending has been changed quite a bit, it seems. I did order it too. I’m still looking forward to watching it. I think the cast isn’t bad at all.

  4. Halfway through the 1968 version (yay for Youtube!). Innstetten is exactly how I imagined him, Crampas not quite as dashing. I quite like Effi, as long as she grows up a bit later on…

      • Yes, it was the GDR (DDR!) version, and it was fairly faithful to the book for the first half, but it drifted slightly away in the second half. In the film, Crampas takes the lead in the play, and there is a long scene where they basically play out their relationship in fiction!

        Seeing the film made me (a little) more sympathetic to Innstetten and a lot more hostile towards Prussian society. As for Annie… well, obviously they didn’t have good child actors in the DDR 😉

        • I see. I’m not sure it’s one of the better versions but it seems to have tried staying close to the original. All in all one could say for Fontane the culprit was Prussian society.

  5. Tony, are you watching the DDR movie? I don’t think the Fassbinder is available on YouTube or is it?. I just saw that there was this version from 1968 – DDR. Lizzy and I were referring to the one from 1974. Schygulla is great but too old for the role. The one in 68 version seems younger.

  6. Pingback: German Literature Month – Week 3 : Part 2 – Effi Briest Readalong « Vishy’s Blog

  7. Wonderful post, Caroline! I liked very much your reply to the ‘Is there a villain’ question. Effi’s mother definitely played an important role in the way things evolved, because of her past history with Innstetten. I remember thinking after Effi’s engagement is finalized on how Innstetten who was really interested in Effi’s mother is now engaged to Effi and how this might impact the relationships at home between different people. Thanks for posting a still from the latest movie version of ‘Effi Briest’ and giving a link to the trailers. I would love to watch the movie version. I will look for the DVD.

    • Thanks, Vishy. I feel I’m not so kind but I think there would have been an option for the mother to influence more. I hope the movies is available subtitled. As far as I read it’s a very conroversial version and some of what you wrote reminded me of some of the choices the film director seems to have made. I’l looking froward to watching it.

  8. I find your thoughts on why Effi kept the letters interesting. Probably right, the pleasure of re-reading the compliments and flatteries.
    As I read the book, I wondered a lot about the earlier relationship between Innstetten and Effi’s mother, and why Fontane even brought this element into the book. He doesn’t spell out his meaning very clearly… would the plot have worked just as well without it, if Effi’s husband had simply been any older, uncharming man?

    • I didn’t pay as much attentio to the fact that Effi married someone her mother cared for the first time I read it. I therefore think it wouldn’t have mattered but it would still be a slithly different novel. I only realize now how many layers it has. All this foreshadowing and all the things that are not outspoken.
      It just made me think much more that the mother was to blame to a large extent. From what I read I think Fontane blamed the Prussian society as a whole but unconsciously he seesm to point the finger much more towards the mother.

  9. Oh how I wish I could recall this better! But your response to the conclusion is very much the same as mine was, I think. I felt that it was all a dreadful waste. I remember it being awfully sad.

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  11. Scattered thoughts:

    I think she kept the letters because they’re the only piece of romance she ever had in her life. I didn’t get if the relationship was consumated or not. (they seemed to do pretty naughty things in carriages and sleighs in that time but Fontane is very discreet)

    Innstetten did have a choice but his instincts led him to follow the rules. He’s totally unable to walk on a path not designed by society. He can’t think by himself.

    In the end, I think that’s what Elizabeth Bennet would have become if she hadn’t been brave enough to reject Mr Collins. Effi’s father reminded me of Mr Bennett too. Affectionate but unable to tame his wife.

    The mother is the worst character of the story. The descriptions of other older ladies tend to show that she was worse than her fellow ladies. She should have married Innstetten, they were right for each other.

    I don’t want to see that 2009 movie, I didn’t imagine the characters like that. I hate it when they transform a brunette into a blond or a woman with black hair into a redhead actress (Isabelle Huppert in Madame Bovary)

    I wouldn’t put Effi in the same bag as Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina. She’s a victim of the society not of her foolish or careless behaviour

    I thought the ending was highly predictable. I didn’t imagine anything else. The whole book was rather predictable by the way.

    • I think it’s quite celar the affair was consumated. The letter says so and that’s why she feesl so guilty. And there is kissing in the carriage, it probabaly started in the carriage but one can easily overead it. It’s far from explicit. I think he really wanted to focus on the consequences. Of course the movie will show it. I’d like to watch it. In my head Effi was blond, I’m suprised everybody says she was brunette. Weird.
      I didn’t think it was all that predictable. I mean, yes, that something would happen but not when and how and that she would be banned by the family as well.
      I felt much more for her, because she seemed so joyful and happy and he was so condescending, treated her like a child or worse. He didn’t accept her as his equal. Very sad. I think Anna Karenina is more tragigc as she really loves Vronsky. Effi didn’t love Crampas, I think.
      I think Instetten and the mother would have been a perfect match.

  12. I hadn’t thought of the angle of the mother–was she harder on Effi because she betrayed her husband–a man her mother once had feelings for! Very interesting to think about. I think if I had been in a loveless marriage and been flattered by an attractive/charming man and he wrote letters to me, I might well keep them, too. They were locked away and who would think someone would break the lock looking for something else! I watched this trailer as well–I wanted to get a taste for what everything looked like. Unfortunately didn’t get any of the dialog except for words like daughter or father, but still you can get a sense of emotions. And I think also that Anna K was as much about other people (maybe almost more so) than Anna herself! I was disappointed that she was ‘off screen’ so to speak so much. Thanks for having the readalong–I think the book would still be sitting on my pile otherwise, and it was a much richer read to be able to read other peoples comments!

    • I think it is very possible the mother wouldn’t understand why her daughter betrays a man that she fancied. And also keeping the letters didn’t seem all that unrealistic.
      I really like to watch the movie also for the landscape. It’s quite a wild part of Germany.
      I thought it was a very interesting readalong, some liked Effi, some despised her, mayn had a huge problem with the mother and the society of course.
      I’m glad you joined. Maybe you will like it even better if you re-read it.

  13. Pingback: German Literature Month: Effi Briest Readalong Wk 3 « Lizzy’s Literary Life

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