It’s the third and final week of our readalong. At this point I’m assuming everyone knows the story so I’m not going to edit any spoilers from my answers. Don’t read on if this is going to bother you.
Why do you think Effi kept Crampas’s letters?
Because she doesn’t know what fires and stoves are for! Effi is incredibly naive. She didn’t love Crampas but his letters might just remind her of a time when she wasn’t bored to death. and there was a man in her life who wasn’t a cold fish.
Did Innstetten have a choice?
I know how I used to feel about this when I was a teenager. Of course he did. She was a young girl, not knowing what she was doing and no harm came of it really. But now I can put myself in Innstetten’s shoes. Would I stay with a spouse who betrayed me in that way – even if it was seven years ago? The sin might have been ancient but there would be no statute of limitations on the hurt he would feel when discovering Effi’s treachery. I don’t blame him for putting Effi aside. Though he could have done so without killing Crampas (as outlined in chapter 29). That would have been living a lie and I can’t reconcile that idea with Innstetten or Effi, for that matter, at all.
Are there any events in this final section that make you feel outraged? Is that how Fontane wants you to feel?
Again not any longer. I used to rail against Effi’s parents for refusing to let her return to Hohen-Cremmen. But parents too must be allowed to stand up for their principles. In the end though they came good and decided their daughter meant more to them than their social life. Neither do I feel Effi’s outrage after her disastrous meeting with her daughter! I don’t think Innstetten had purposely poisoned her against her mother. Wenn ich darf/If I may surely is the appropriate response of an obedient non-questioning child knowing her place and needing to seek permission from her parent. I can understand though how this repeated refrain would break Effi’s heart and I can feel it happening in that pivotal scene.
I do, however, think Fontane wants the reader to be outraged, but not at his characters. See next answer for my reasoning.
Is there a villain in this piece?
People are who they are, products of their personalities, upbringing and society. This is true of Effi’s parents, Effi and Innstetten. I don’t believe there’s malice in any of them. Left to their own devices, it still wouldn’t have been a happy story but it wouldn’t have been tragic. I reserve all my approbation for Crampas – a seasoned womaniser, who chose to lead a young impressionable girl astray for his own pleasure. However, Fontane’s approbation is reserved for the mores and expectations of the code of honour; an infernal code which demands much sacrifice and claims many victims, including Innstetten, the man who chooses to live by it.
Discuss Effi’s reaction to her mother’s accusation “You brought it on yourself”.
Frau von Briest: Because if you’ll forgive me my dear Effi for saying this now, it was you who brought suffering on both of you.
Effi’s response: Yes, mamma. And it’s sad that it should be so.
Effi accepts responsibility for her actions. Her bitterness towards Innstetten has evaporated and she has even accepted that his actions were correct. In some ways this is the old Effi talking , the one who never questioned what was expected of her. In other respects, it shows a hard won maturity.
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?
Effi’s story is based on the that of Elizabeth von Ardenne, nee von Plotho. However, after her lover was killed in a duel by her cuckolded spouse, von Plotho became a valuable member of society by becoming a nurse. While sad – she was disowned by her family and separated from her children for almost two decades – her story wasn’t the unmiitigated disaster that Effi’s became.
There’s an interesting section on the Wikipedia page that documents the differences between the two stories. Changed for reasons of dramatic intensity and to strengthen the indictment of an archaic set of values. Interestingly though, Fontane wrote another adulteress novel, L’Adultera, which doesn’t have the tragic arc of Effi Briest. Neither is it in the same literary league.
Were you surprised by the ending?
I always find it difficult to accept that Effi had to die and I do wish that Fontane could have found a less tragic ending. Yet, as we’ve noted in the past few weeks, nothing happens that isn’t foreshadowed and in this case, the ending is foreshadowed in the game Effi is playing with her friends in chapter 1. While sinking a bag of gooseberry skins, Effi remarks: Hertha, your guilt is now consigned to the deep … oh and that reminds me, this is how they used to drown poor unfortunate women, from boats like this, for infidelity, of course.
Where would you place Effi in the pantheon of C19th fictional adulteresses?
On a par with Anna Karenina and certainly above Madame Bovary, simply because I can’t stand Emma Bovary. I do wonder though why Effi Briest isn’t as well known. Not sexy or passionate enough for a modern day audience, probably.
Do you think you would ever reread Effi Briest?
I’m sure there’ll be a sixth reading somewhere down the line in which I’ll pay particular attention to the symbolism of the flowers. Or maybe the 6th reading will be a comfort read – there’s nothing like returning to an old favourite is there?
Thanks to everyone who joined in this readalong. I’ve reallly enjoyed revisiting my desert island book with you and reading your comments. And I have loved watching first time readers discover one of my favourite reads. I hope you’ve had as much fun as I have. Thank you.
Posts from other readalong participants: