Last Updated September 5, 2023.
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.
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.