Theodor Fontane

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Theodor Fontane (German pronunciation: [ˈtʰeodoɐ̯ fɔnˈtaːnə]; 30 December 1819 – 20 September 1898) was a German novelist and poet, regarded by many to be the most important 19th-century German-language realist writer.



Fontane was born in Neuruppin into a Huguenot family. At the age of sixteen he was apprenticed to an apothecary, his father's profession, subsequently becoming an apothecary himself, and in 1839, at the age of 20, wrote his first work (Heinrichs IV. erste Liebe, now lost). His further education was in Leipzig where he came into contact with the progressives of the Vormärz. Fontane's first published work, the novella Geschwisterliebe (or "Sibling Love"), appeared in the Berlin Figaro in December 1839.

His biographer Gordon A. Craig in Theodor Fontane: Literature and History in the Bismarck Reich (Oxford University Press, 1999) observes that this work gave few indications of his promise as a gifted writer: "Although the theme of incest, which was to occupy Fontane on later occasions, is touched upon here, the mawkishness of the tale... is equaled by the lameness of its plot and the inertness of the style in which it is told, and [the characters] Clärchen and her brother are both so colorless that no one could have guessed that their creator had a future as a writer."

His first job as apothecary was in Dresden after which he returned to his father's shop, now in the provincial town of Letschin in the Oderbruch region. Fleeing the provincial atmosphere there, Fontane published articles in the Leipzig newspaper Die Eisenbahn and translated Shakespeare. In 1843, he joined a literary club called Tunnel über der Spree (i.e. Tunnel over the river Spree) in Berlin where he came into contact with many of the most renowned German writers such as Theodor Storm, Joseph von Eichendorff and Gottfried Keller.

Newspaper writer and critic

In 1844 Fontane enrolled in the Prussian army and set out on the first of numerous journeys to England which fostered his interest in Old English ballads, a form he began to imitate then. At that time he became engaged to his future wife, Emilie Rouanet-Kummer, whom he had first met when still at school.

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