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Effi Briest (Classics) Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 1995

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Novel by Theodor Fontane, written in 1891-93; published in installments in Deutsche Rundschau from October 1894 to March 1895 and in book form in 1895. Known for its deft characterization and accurate portrayal of Brandenburg society, the novel examines the place of women in society by following the corruption and downfall of Effi, married at age 17 to a 38-year-old bureaucrat. Considered Fontane's best novel, Effi Briest is free of didacticism, drawing no clear distinctions between good and evil in its characters while developing sympathy for its female protagonist. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Classics
  • Mass Market Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (November 18, 1976)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140441905
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140441901
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,370,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 70 people found the following review helpful By mp on March 31, 2002
Format: Paperback
Theodor Fontane's 1895 novel, "Effi Briest," is the moving and melancholy story of Effi, a sprightly teenage girl whose limited interactions with society and the moral bearings of that society are brought into direct and terrible conflict. Fontane gives an all too realistic portrayal of late 19th century Victorian morality and the lives of minor German aristocrats. The novel relates Effi's struggle to negotiate the constraints of society as an extremely young woman who in many ways rejects them all.
"Effi Briest" begins as Effi, a fifteen year old girl, enjoys the privileges of wealth and beauty in the small town of Hohen-Cremmen. She plays with the other young girls of her neighbourhood, Herta, Berta, and Hulda. They play childish games and indulge each other in romantic stories and juvenile ambitions. One day, while telling the story of an unrealized love affair between her own mother and a military officer, Geert von Innstetten, Effi is informed that Innstetten, now upwards of forty years old, has come to visit, and has proposed marriage to Effi. Effi cannot but comply. Relocated to the port town of Kessin, Effi finds herself in a commercial center, without the kind of genteel society she is accustomed to, nor the variety or the spontaneity in her lifestyle that she had always enjoyed. Innstetten's workaholism and emotionally detached bearing make life nearly insufferable for her. She is relieved by two men, Gieshubler, a kindly old hunchbacked chemist; and Major Crampas, a 'reformed' libertine whose marriage is unsatisfying. Gieshubler offers Effi a haven of conversation and empathy; Crampas offers her a seductive, liberatory companion. As Innstetten's job absorbs most of his time, he permits and even encourages Effi to spend time with Crampas.
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Jordan M. Poss VINE VOICE on July 23, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Theodor Fontane's novel Effi Briest is one of the finest that I have read. The most famous example of German realism, the novel tells the story of Effi, a teenage girl who is still acting like a child when she is married off to Baron von Innstetten, a man nearly twice her age and a former suitor of her mother's. Effi moves off to the Baltic coast to live with Innstetten, and there faces fear, loneliness, and finally adultery.

What I like about Effi Briest is that Fontane avoids the usual pitfalls of this kind of story: lionizing the young woman's lover, placing the blame at the feet of the cuckolded spouse, etc. Innstetten really is a good man, and Crampas, Effi's lover, is a manipulative lady's man who Effi, despite their affair, is uncomfortable around. Effi is simply too young and immature to have made good decisions, and so the fault, sadly, is her own. In the end, her decisions come back to haunt her years after the fact, changing the lives of all involved.

It's dark, it's depressing in places, but it's a great novel.

The characters are all well-drawn and psychologically deep, and this is true not only of the three primary characters but also of the numerous supporting ones. Each of them bring vigor and flavor to what could have been just another closet drama.

This translation from Penguin Classics is very good, the best way to read it if you have to read it in English. The translation is very faithful to the German, conveying all the nuance and subtlety that was the hallmark of Fontane's writing. All in all, a very good book.

Highly recommended.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 18, 1997
Format: Paperback
This is a sad book but a good book. The time is last century, the place is Germany, her quiet rural cities, and Berlin. We are told the story of a young, happy and innocent girl, Effi, who is thrust into marriage with a somber, insensitive man twice her age. She travels from sunshine to gloominess. Being offered only respectability and boredom, she eventually falls in love with someone else. We are never to know, whether anything else but a kiss happens between them, but her reputation is tarnished and the path to ruin becomes inevitable as she has to move out of the house and away from the farce of its shelter.
When reading this book, I kept on saying „...but...", with the continuing dismay of a woman born to the second half of the 20th century. But why does Effi not speak up? But why does she go along with the bourgeois stupidities required of her? But why does she suffer instead of fight? The answer can only be „because". Because she is a prisoner of her time, because she is uncapable to think the impossible, because she cannot be more free than anyone else. I wonder, who of us can ever, even nowadays? And that, indeed, is „ein weites Feld".
Theodor Fontane is not Jane Austen, although both write on similar topics, and let us glimpse at what life for the landed gentry was like. Only, Fontane does not give way to the pleasing fiction of a happy everafter. So if you can stand a book that has no Happy End, here is a gem piece of literature for you.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Volkswagen Blues on February 9, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"Effi Briest" is considered by many to be THE classic example of German realism, even though it comes late in the movement. Fontane's inspiration for the novel was equal parts "Madame Bovary" and the real-life Ardenne case, in which a respected military officer duelled against and defeated his unfaithful wife's lover. Well crafted and thorough in its sketch of characters and environs, "Effi Briest" articulates tensions rampant in the late nineteenth century but still pertinent today.
Effi is still dangerously young when the older and accomplished Baron von Innstetten swoops into her mother's garden and marries her. The couple settle in a distant port town, in a house that gives Effi the creeps to the point that she imagines she is being haunted by the ghost of a Chinese man who died in the town years before. Innstetten, often away on government business, dismisses her fears, but the Major Crampas listens to her, and a liaison develops between him and Effi. Years later, the affair ended, the Innstettens move to Berlin, and the Baron discovers the old letters of the Effi-Crampas correspondence by accident. Without giving away the ending, there's a duel and a divorce and a death.
At the mere level of plot, there's plenty here to entertain, but there's much more to the novel than the headline story itself. Fontane forces a look at the Prussian involvement in empire-building projects of the nineteenth century, as well as the debilitating effects of indiscriminate secularization; "Effi Briest" depicts a culture alternately hungry for and wary of romance and enchantment, caught between occasional fascination with the newer world and the comforts of burgeoning technology at home.
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