Study Guide

Effi Briest

by Theodor Fontane

Effi Briest Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Effi von Briest is sixteen years old when her mother cheerfully announces that Baron von Innstetten has asked for her hand in marriage. Effi had seen Innstetten only once, but she knows he had wanted to marry her mother years before. During a time when Baron von Innstetten was absent for a long period, her mother married Effi’s father, Ritterschaftsrat von Briest, for he seemed too good a match to give up. Since then Innstetten has become a government official with a promising future.

Half an hour earlier, Effi was sitting on a swing enjoying her happy childhood. Now she is to be a bride, and in a few weeks, she will be the wife of an important government official. After the excitement of the preparations, the wedding, and a honeymoon trip to Italy, the couple arrives in Kessin, a small town on the Baltic Sea. At first, Effi finds her new surroundings interesting, but soon she begins to feel uncomfortable in the strange house, which was formerly owned by a seafaring captain; his relics and souvenirs give the place a bizarre character. A stuffed shark, stories about the captain’s mysterious Chinese servant, and a mentally ill maidservant, who sits in the kitchen with a black chicken on her lap, give Effi nightmares, and she claims that she hears noises in an unoccupied upstairs room. Innstetten is considerate toward his young wife and never fails to show his devotion. A practical man, however, he pays no attention to Effi’s tales of supernatural happenings in the house. He is convinced that his wife’s childish imagination will soon calm down.

After having paid the obligatory social visits to the local aristocracy, Effi realizes that she will not find friends in that circle. The first friend she makes is the town apothecary. Her second friend is Roswitha, her maid, whom she meets in the graveyard where the girl is grieving for the loss of her former mistress. Effi is pregnant and needs a maid. Once she learns that Roswitha is Catholic, she is convinced that Roswitha’s faith will conquer the unexplained noises in the house. Roswitha never hears ghosts, and her straightforward manner is a relief from the formal stiffness of Effi’s social world. The birth of her daughter, Annie, gives Effi new activities, but she continues to be bored in Kessin.

The new military commander in Kessin, Major von Crampas, is another addition to Effi’s social world. The major’s carefree behavior and witty conversation are quite a contrast to the well-disciplined and formal Innstetten, but the two men respect each...

(The entire section is 1038 words.)