Vor dem Sturm, 1878
Schach von Wuthenow, 1883 (A Man of Honor: Schach von Wuthenow, 1975)
Irrungen, Wirrungen, 1888 (Trials and Tribulations, 1917; also known as A Suitable Match, 1968)
Stine, 1890 (English translation, 1969)
Unwiederbringlich, 1892 (Beyond Recall, 1964)
Frau Jenny Treibel, 1893 (Jenny Treibel, 1976)
Effi Briest, 1895 (English translation, 1914, 1962)
Die Poggenpuhls, 1896
Der Stechlin, 1898 (The Stechlin, 1996)
Ein Sommer in London, 1854
Jenseits des Tweed, 1860 (Across the Tweed, 1965)
Wanderungen durch die Mark Brandenburg, 1865-1882
Theodore Fontane und Martha Fontane: Ein Familienbriefnetz, 2001
Meine liebe Mete: Ein Briefgespräch zwischen Eltern und Tochter, 2001
Sämtliche Werke, 1959-1975 (24 volumes)
German Realism culminated in the late nineteenth century novels of Theodor Fontane (fawn-TAH-nuh). Born into a Huguenot family in Prussia, Fontane later portrayed that north German landscape unforgettably. Initially he chose the same profession as his father and trained as an apothecary, working in Berlin, Burg, Leipzig, and Dresden. When he was twenty-five he joined the apolitical Berlin literary society Der Tunnel Ober der Spree (tunnel over the spree), where he met weekly for many years with prominent writers and artists.
At the age of thirty, Fontane married and became a journalist, working in Germany and England for the Prussian press headquarters. At the same time he began to write ballads. Fontane was familiar with the English and Scottish ballad tradition, and he did not restrict himself to Prussian subject matter. One of his best-known ballads, “Archibald Douglas,” is about the Scotsman.
When he was forty, Fontane returned to Germany, where he worked for a decade as editor of the English section of the Kreuz-Zeitung, then from 1870 to 1889 as the theater critic for the Vossische Zeitung. During this time, Fontane, writing in a genre popular in Germany, reached a wide audience when he published four entertaining and informed accounts of his travels through the Mark Brandenburg region as well as a fifth volume about castles there.
Financial difficulties prevented Fontane from writing his first novel until he was almost sixty. He began with historical novels, as had the Scottish poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), whose work Fontane greatly admired. Vor dem Sturm and A Man of Honor are novels of the Napoleonic Wars. Fontane was almost seventy before he settled on the subject matter he portrayed best: Berlin society and the social issues arising from the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of the middle class. Trials and Tribulations, Jenny Treibel, Effi Briest, and The Stechlin are uncontestedly great works of literature, narrated with the wisdom and tolerance of maturity and economically constructed with rare stylistic finesse. Fontane was a master at writing dialogue; what is not said often reveals as much about a character as what is said.
Fontane’s works exerted a strong influence on many subsequent German novelists, among them Thomas Mann and Günter Grass, who used the well-known last words of Fontane’s masterpiece, Effi Briest, as the title of his 1995 novel Ein weites Feld (a broad subject). Effi Briest was filmed in 1939, 1955, 1968, and 1974. In 1994, the 175th anniversary of Fontane’s birth, the German post office issued a commemorative stamp, and a new, complete edition of his works appeared in German.