Telling the tragic tale of a socially advantageous but emotionally ruinous match, Theodor Fontane’s Effi Briest is translated from the German by Hugh Rorrison with an introduction by Helen Chambers in Penguin Classics.
Unworldly young Effi Briest is married off to Baron von Innstetten, an austere and ambitious civil servant twice her age, who has little time for his new wife. Isolated and bored, Effi finds comfort and distraction in a brief liaison with Major Crampas, a married man with a dangerous reputation. But years later, when Effi has almost forgotten her affair, the secret returns to haunt her – with fatal consequences. In taut, ironic prose Fontane depicts a world where sexuality and the will to enjoy life are stifled by vain pretences of civilization, and the obligations of circumstance. Considered to be his greatest novel, this is a humane, unsentimental portrait of a young woman torn between her duties as a wife and mother and the instincts of her heart.
Hugh Rorrison’s clear, modern translation is accompanied by an introduction by Helen Chambers, which compares Effi with other literary heroines such as Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina.
Theodor Fontane (1819-98) was a German novelist and potitical reporter. Along with Effi Briest, Fontane is remembered for Frau Jenny Treibel (1892), an ironic criticism of middle-class hypocrisy and small-mindedness.
If you enjoyed Effi Briest you may like Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, also available in Penguin Classics.
‘I have been haunted by it … as I am by those novels that seem to do more than they say, to induce strong emotions that can’t quite be accounted for’
Hermione Lee, Sunday Times