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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

NATURALISM                                       7

flawless perfection of form and the priest-like pose of Platen and
the consecration of self in symbol of Stefan George.

THEODOR FONTANE (1818-98) was - like his forerunner as a
writer of tales of Brandenburg, Willibald Alexis (1798-1871) - of
Huguenot descent (phoneticians give both French and German
pronunciation for his name). He had lived a busy life as a journal-
ist when, at the age of sixty, he began to write novels. His social
novels deal mainly, and with complete freedom from prejudice,
with three problems: das Verbatims or liaison between gentleman
and working-class girl, mesalliances, and adultery. UAdultera (1882)
is a tale in which a woman is seen gliding, not passionately but
inevitably, into adultery with a baptized Jew; the husband has the
good qualities of that husband from whom Dorothea Veit ran
away to Friedrich Schlegel, but she feels the physical repugnance
to him which Irene in The Forsjte Saga feels for Soames; she is
made to feel - her own children recoil from her - that she has
outraged society, but in the end she is forgiven even by the hus-
band she has deserted; her action is questioned, but not judged;
there is indeed symbolic reference to Tintoretto's picture of Christ
and the woman taken in adultery. The central theme of Irrungen^
Wirrungen (1888) is a love-affair between an officer and a working-
class girl - *das landesubliche Techtelmechtel\ as Otto Erich Hartleben
in Rosenmontag calls such a Verhdltnis\ the girl is practical and far-
sighted, gives up her lover, marries one of her own class, and lives -
happily ? In the girl's leave-taking there is a dramatic poignancy
as of the old ballads Fontane loved - he wrote some of the best
(modelled on our old border ballads) in German literature: eAnd
so/ she says, 'this is the last time I shall hold your hand in mine?'
After Irrungen, Wirrungen the naturalists claimed Fontane for their
own, and he with his wise old generosity acknowledged their right
to a place in the sun. They were writing 'Berliner E,omaney which
are now forgotten; his remain. In EjfiBriesf (1895) a young girl
marries an old lover of her own mother; he is a man of high
position who is rather above her than with her; she falls to a
lover rather from boredom than from passion, and returns to her
paternal home to die; there is no pronouncement that she was
guilty. Here again Fontane shows forces working, but does not
judge those who are overcome by these forces. Frau Jenny Treibel
(1892) shows Fontane at his best as a sly humorist: Frau Jenny
is a parvenue with a mouth full of enthusiasm for higher things