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High Infidelity

Books | August Issue

Effi Briest By Theodor Fontane, translated by Walter Wallich, with an afterword by Charlie Lee-Potter, reviewed by Jane O'Grady

Thank goodness for Persephone Books, which has had the good sense to bring out a handsome new edition of the late 19th century novel Effi Briest. Although we have numerous translations of French and Russian novels among our classics, we tend to neglect German literature. Since the Huguenot-German writer Theodor Fontane is not a familiar name, it is Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina, rather than poor Effi, who spring to mind as the pre-eminent heroines of the novel of adultery. First published in 1895, Effi Briest is set in southern Germany at a period when upper-class parents are still uncontentiously arranging their daughters’ marriages; duelling is the honourable response to being cuckolded; convention suffocates spontaneity – all this more than a century after Rousseau and the cult of primitivism.  Literary critics uniformly insist that Fontane is criticising the social, sexual and military mores of his society, but he often seems...

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