For a change (and because this book was part of the birthday gift from my sister, intended to educate me in terms of better reading), I have read another* classic of German literature: Der Stechlin by Theodor Fontane.
Stechlin simply means "The Stechlin", and refers to a lake in
North-East Germany by this name. The lake really exists; the village,
the palace (actually, a large mansion) and the aristocratic family by
the same name are the author's invention.
in the years 1895 to 1897, it was first published (as used to be the
case for so many books) in installments in a magazine in 1897, and two
years later appeared in the shape of a book for the first time.
It was one of the last works Fontane ever wrote; he died a year after publication.
The plot is quickly
told: Dubslav von Stechlin, member of an old aristocratic family, a man
in his mid-sixties, is a quirky, lovable character with very liberal
views not shared by many of his fellow aristocrats and village dwellers.
He has one son, Woldemar, who spends most of his time in Berlin, working at his military career.
loves discussions and conversations and surrounds himself with people
from all walks of life and with different political and religious
in Berlin, Woldemar strikes up a friendship with another aristrocratic
family: an elderly widower - not unlike his father in character - with
two daughters, Armgard and Melusine. Armgard is pale and beautiful,
quiet and ladylike, while Melusine, already in her 30s and of a more
vital beauty, is divorced, very clever and witty. After one of
Woldemar's visits, the reader expects an engagement, without at first
knowing which of the women Woldemar will choose, as he seems on equally
friendly terms with both of them.
anything further happens, though, Woldemar is called to the Royal Court
of England for a mission that is never really explained in detail. He
spends several weeks away, and upon his return, immediately visits his
friends in Berlin again. A few days later, the engagement of Woldemar
and Armgard is announced.
couple and Melusine visit Dubslav at his country mansion over
Christmas. At the end of February, Woldemar's and Armgard's wedding
takes place in Berlin. While the newlyweds leave for their honeymoon in
Italy, Dubslav returns to the country, where he falls ill.
His illness turns out
to be rather severe, but right until the end, the old gentleman does not
lose his characteristical wit. He dies without having seen his son and
daughter-in-law again. After their return from the honeymoon, the young
couple live in Berlin for a while, but move to the old country mansion
eventually. The novel ends with a letter from Melusine.
Although this sounds like a family story, Fontane's intention was to write a political novel. And there is a lot of politics going on, mainly referred to in conversations between the various characters. This was a time when old and new ideas in Germany clashed on so many levels, and the characters represent this Old and New very well. Dubslav himself is a good example; his liberal ideas represent the New, but his mere existence as a retired Major, offspring of a long line of aristocrats, is Old.
I enjoyed this book very much. The language is different from the way a modern German author would write; the people are interesting and well written, the places are as full of character as are the people.
* Click here for my review of the "Buddenbrooks", maybe THE classic German novel.