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Effi Briest (Penguin Classics) Paperback – July 1, 2001
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If you love Mann, you can find the deep influence of Effi Briest in his Buddenbrook's saga. Even a character with that name appears in Effi. Mann also hides to the reader the fact, the action, but the reader is able to have a very clear idea of what's happening. Tony have a lot of Effi's charming facets and Thomas is near to Geert. The maids are also great characters, and reminds me Proust's Françoise.
I strongly recommend to go directly to the novel, finish it and then read the introduction. This way you will feel the glee of deeper understanding without knowing in advance some facts of the plot, and the possible meaning of some symbols. Helen Chambers knows pretty well her stuff. It is as perfect introduction as a dessert. The notes are really good but unfortunately didn't appear the links to them in the text, in my iPad, and I had to go to Wikipedia often.
Two final words (I could talk for hours about Effi Briest). First, this is a novel about human rights, women's rights. Second, very related, is a strong critic to Kantianism. I used to love Kantian moral philosophy when I was around eighteen. Passing time I began to relate it with stiffness and mediocrity. This novel, the very end of it, notwithstanding its half farce tone, is a manifesto against the Kantian way to deal with life, which has deep consequences in social and political matters. We, human beings, are only amateurs, good sports at the best, in moral issues; we can't really believe we can decide as if we were professional rulers about absolutes values. To rely on that, to judge and live relying on that, it's only possible, and even plausible, for those totally deprived of the feeling of love. But "that's too vast a subject."
What would occurred to me if I would read Effi in my younger days?
EDIT: In addition, the entirety of chapter 11 is missing. In its place is a paragraph summary of the actual events.
The book explores the nineteenth-century German society which is ridden by strict moral codes, male dominance and ambitious Junkers. Baron von Innstetten is an ex-officer who fought against France in Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and came out as a hero with an iron cross. He's highly regarded by Bismarck and even the Kaiser. Innstetten marries Effi Briest who's twice as young as him. The contrast of differences between them suggests that the marriage will be ill-fated. They move to Kessin, a small town by the Baltic Sea and the drama begins to unfold...
The narrative is beautifully written, but it wasn't enough to keep me interested in the novel. The story unfolds very slowly and leads to a tear-jerking finale. Some chapters could have been deleted and the content would remain the same. That was my biggest problem with Effi Briest. At times, it feels as if Fontane wrote a draft and didn't try to edit it.
Effi Briest is a well-written novel, which has little relevance for the contemporary reader. Unless, you're a history buff and interested in the nineteenth-century Germany, I suggest you skip this one.
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.