Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Effi Briest is a novel by German author Theodor Fontane. The story examines the complex and realistic nature of marriages among the upper-class in nineteenth-century continental Europe.
If it can't be love and affection, for love, as Papa says, is just stuff and nonsense (which I don't actually believe), well then I'm for wealth and a grand house, a very grand house . . .
The titular character is a tragic figure who represents the common mentality of the period among middle-class and upper-class people. Effi's character is relevant even today as more young women dream of becoming famous, all the while believing they can balance such ambitions with a traditional marriage. In the beginning of the story, the readers may not feel sympathetic towards Effi, as she is blatantly shallow and manipulative. The feeling of contempt for her character increases when the readers find out that she cheats on her husband, whose sad backstory wins the readers over. However, Effi is a product of her society and her household. She comes from a family that prizes social status, power, and wealth over genuine human connections. The quote illustrates that, especially when Effi references her father's teachings. The materialism she displays is simply a mirror image of her own family's own values.
I'm almost ashamed to say it, I'm not really in favour of what is known as an ideal marriage.
Effi tells this to her mother, and her mother is not surprised. Effi may display what many people think are flaws—materialism, narcissism, selfishness, etc.—but this excerpt from their dialogue actually shows Effi's maturity in regards to her perception of marriage. Effi is realistic, and she believes that there is no such thing as a perfect or ideal marriage. Perhaps that is why she places social status and material wealth over emotions; the former is something she can hold, whereas an "ideal marriage" is just an illusion. Unfortunately for her husband, this way of thinking partially influences Effi into having an affair.
Variety is the spice of life, a truth which, of course, every happy marriage seems to contradict.
This quote further shows Effi's way of thinking. She is realistic about the dynamics between a husband and wife and knows that a marriage is fueled by many factors, not just "love," the way relationships are portrayed in literature and poetry. She admits that gaining new experiences will lead to personal enrichment. However, in the end, she learns that stability is more important in a long-lasting, happy marriage.