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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The protagonist of Theodor Fontane’s tragic realist novel is the title character, Effi Briest. With little preparation, she enters an arranged marriage with Baron von Innstetten. The imaginative, romantic girl is then sixteen, and he is not only her parents’ age but a former suitor of her mother. She has grown up with her parents on their estate, Hohen-Cremmen, in northeastern Germany. The novel traces Effi’s role in this ill-matched couple and her general decline through disgrace and divorce, ending with her death. Along with her unhappiness with her aloof, inattentive husband, Effie suffers because she paid inadequate attention to social norms; while living in Kessin, already a married woman, she became friends and spent time alone with Major von Crampas. The appearance of impropriety leads her husband to rash actions. Effi and the baron have one child, Annie.

The Baron von Innstetten, Effi’s husband, is obsessed with correctly observing the rules of conventional society. After their marriage, he accepts a post in Kessin, a port town on the Baltic Sea, and later is transferred to Berlin. When he believes that Major von Crampas tried to seduce his wife, he kills him in a duel. He strongly contributes to Effi’s decline by divorcing her and taking Annie, who becomes loyal to her father and distant from her mother.

Major von Crampas becomes friends first with the Innstettens in Kessin and then tries to initiate a sexual relationship with Effi. When she meets him, he is single but reputedly has had several affairs, but she ignores his reputation. His carefree, charming manner is a marked contrast to the stiffly formal Innstetten, who kills Crampas is a duel.

Roswitha becomes Effi’s maid while they are living in the Baltic town. After she becomes a loyal confidant, she moves with the family to Berlin.

Hertha is Effi’s childhood friend, from whom she must part when she marries.

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