Fontane, Theodor(tā`ōdôr fôntä`nə), 1819–98, German writer. Although he is primarily important as a novelist, he did not begin to write fiction until he was almost 60 years old. Thereafter, during his last two decades, he produced almost a novel a year. Earlier he had written two volumes of poetry, Gedichte (1851) and Balladen (1861), as well as accounts of his travels and his experiences as a war correspondent and prisoner during the Franco-Prussian War. He was also a drama critic for many years. The first master of the realistic novel in Germany, he wrote 17 perceptive novels that revealed the state of contemporary Berlin society, delineating the characters of its inhabitants largely through dialogue and monologue. He was particularly adept at studies of troubled women. His novels include L'Adultera (1882, tr. The Woman Taken in Adultery, 1979), Irrungen, Wirrungen (1888, tr. Trials and Tribulations, 1917), Frau Jenny Treibel (1893, tr. 1968, 1976), and his masterpiece, Effi Briest (1895, tr. 1976). He also wrote short novels and the autobiographical Meine Kinderjahre (1894, tr. of extracts, My Childhood Days, 1913–15).
See studies by H. Garland (1980), A. Bance (1982), H. Chambers (1997), G. A. Craig (2000), and M. Doebeling, ed. (2000).
Born Dec. 30, 1819, in Neuruppin; died Sept. 20, 1898, in Berlin. German writer.
Fontane began writing poetry in the late 1830’s. His ballads, written in the spirit of Scottish folk poetry, have had a considerable influence on German literature. Fontane gained experience writing realistic prose between the 1850’s and 1870’s, when he wrote essay collections and books about England, Scotland, and France and the four-volume collection of historical and ethnographical sketches Wanderings Through the Mark of Brandenburg (1862–82).
Despite a sympathetic attitude toward certain members of the Prussian nobility and its culture, the novellas Schach von Wuthenow (1883) and The Poggenpuhls (1896) and the novel The Little Thorn (Der Stechlin, 1899) portray the gradual, hopeless decay of the Junker class. Fontane criticized the bourgeoisie even more sharply in the novella L’Adultera (1882) and the novel Frau Jenny Treibel (1892). The novel Trials and Tribulations (1888) and especially the novella Stine (1888) reveal the essentially despotic character of the class prejudices dominating German society. Fontane’s novel Effi Briest (1895; Russian translation, 1960) is outstanding for its psychological depth. Fontane’s novels and novellas are the highest achievements of 19th-century German critical realism.
WORKSSamtliche Werke, vols. 1–24. Edited by E. Gross et al. Munich, 1959–64.
Aufzeichnungen zur Literatur. Berlin-Weimar, 1969.
In Russian translation:
Shakhfon Vutenov, Puti-perepul’ia, Gospozha Zhenni Traibel’. Foreword by I. Fradkin. Moscow, 1971.
REFERENCESIstoriia nemetskoi literatury, vol. 4. Moscow, 1968.
Mann, T. Starik Fontane. Sobr. soch., vol. 9. Moscow, 1960.
Schillemeit, J. Theodor Fontane: Geist und Kunst seines Alterswerks. Zürich, 1961.
Reuter, H. H. Theodor Fontane, vols. 1–2. Berlin, 1968.
Fontanes Realismus. Berlin, 1972.
I. M. FRADKIN