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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 356

Effi Briest is a novel by German writer Theodor Fontane. The style of the novel's prose is realism, and the story depicts the realistic dynamics of a marriage in the nineteenth century. The novel's story is from the perspective of a woman, the titular character. She is a seventeen-year-old girl—considered an adult woman in Europe during this period—who is married off to a 38-year-old man named Baron Geert von Innstettenman who once tried to court her mother. The Baron was dissuaded from pursuing his courtship of Effi's mother many years before because he was of low status. Now, Geert is a Baron and is a member of the upper class. What's interesting about the baron and Effi's arrangement is that it seems as if he is trying to use Effi as a proxy for Effi's mother.

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Effi is the literal and figurative extension of her mother. Not only does marrying Effi bring the baron closer to his former flame, but it is a subliminal attack on Effi's mother and her family, who once treated him poorly—a sort of revenge. The other interesting aspect is that Effi is obsessed with social ranking and being of high status, a quality she inherited from her family. This is also a continuation of the baron and Effi's mother's relationship, in which the daughter ends up marrying the wealthy, high-class version of Geert after he was rejected for being the opposite before. An affair that Effi conducts behind Geert's back is what ultimately leads to her fall from grace—with Geert, with society, with her daughter, with her own parents, and, more importantly to her, with the upper class.

When Effi dies after suffering years of depression and nervous breakdowns, her mother realizes that it was social forces that led to Effi's fate, but she does not address it explicitly. This is because she knows that they are all trapped in the social constructs of the period. Both mother and daughter were unable to form a full relationship with a man—in this case, the same man—because of the pressure to put social status above everything else.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 754

Hohen-Cremmen

Hohen-Cremmen (HOH-uhn KREHM-uhn). Large country estate in the Mark Brandenburg region of northeastern Germany whose manor house has belonged to the Briest family since the early seventeenth century. The manor house is covered in ivy, has parklike grounds, a pond, a swing, and colorful flowerbeds. It borders on the churchyard wall, and its pastor is an important mentor to young Effi von Briest. The Briests live securely in the comfort of inherited wealth. Effi’s father need only concern himself with grain prices and can otherwise take long walks through the fields and enjoy his magnificent surroundings.

An early sign that modern life is passing the Briests by is the sound of a modern through-train half a mile away. A change in the grounds at the end of the novel sends a similar message. When Effi dies, her parents remove the sundial from the circular flowerbed and replace it with her gravestone. Her time has run out, as has the time of the landed gentry with their large country estates.

Kessin

Kessin. Small German port in Pomerania on the Baltic Sea. Elements of the fictional town of Kessin are modeled on Theodor Fontane’s memories of Swinemünde, where he lived as a boy. The lodgings that Effi’s new husband, Baron von Innstetten, rents are nothing more than two rooms on the main floor of an old-fashioned framework house formerly owned by a sea captain. In some ways, it seems as if the former inhabitants are still present. Hanging from the ceiling in the front hall are the captain’s model ship in full sail, a stuffed shark, and a crocodile. However, the effect of these unusual objects is negligible in comparison with the apparent...

(The entire section contains 1354 words.)

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