William Dean Howells's Indian Summer and Theodor Fontane's Effi Briest: forms and phases of the realist novel.
In his essay 'My Favorite Novelist and his Best Book' (1897) William Dean Howells says that he has no favourites among contemporary German novelists because 'there do not seem to be any. [...] I cannot explain the fact that a great nation like Germany has no representative novelist at present. It is very curious.' (1) We do not know how Howells overlooked Theodor Fontane. Howells knew German, visited Germany, and read widely in European literature. Both Howells and Fontane were acquainted with Bayard Taylor (1825-78), poet and translator, who became American ambassador to Germany in 1878, but Taylor did not live long enough to become a possible contact between them. (2) Nor could Howells have known that Fontane had written an essay about his early novel A Foregone Conclusion, a German edition of which was published in Berlin in 1876, a year after it first appeared. (3) Howells's oversight may be simply circumstantial, but his comment also raises questions about taste and sympathy, and about what these contribute to a sense of contemporaneity.
In his essay on Fontane's review of Howells's A Foregone Conclusion Werner Hoffmeister finds parallels in the two writers' careers and in their thinking about the realist novel. (4) He points out that both began as journalists; both require novels to be credible, the characters' behaviour and motivation to be plausible, and social and historical material to be treated with adequate specificity; both look to English and European models of realism, reacting against the attenuated romanticism that lingers in the literature of their respective countries. But Hoffmeister's parallels depend on criteria that have become commonplaces of realism; these disguise its successive forms of stylization and overlook the complex encodings that reflect shifting intra- and extra-textual conditions. Further, while their tastes in models of realism fluctuate over time, Howells ultimately prefers the work of writers whom Fontane tends to view--if at all--as unsympathetic, even as rivals, such as Turgenev, Tolstoy, or Zola. In practice, then, their similar pronouncements may not always mean the same thing.
Following Hoffmeister's suggestion that a comparison between individual novels would be fruitful, I shall compare Howells's Indian Summer (1886) and Fontane's Effi Briest (1895) in order to show a more differentiated relationship between their conceptions of realism. Although Indian Summer is an early novel in its author's oeuvre and Effi Briest a late one, both are set in the 1870s and 1880s. Both contrast old and new worlds: in Effi Briest the old Prussia and Bismarck's new Germany, which is also represented in Indian Summer, where the new world of American expatriates meets old Europe on the cosmopolitan fringes of Florentine society. Both treat the 'multiplicity or repetition of desire and attraction across women of different generations', (5) and owe something to the legends of Antiochus and Apollonius, with which Regina Dieterle links Effi Briest through versions known to Fontane, including Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale and Pericles, and Paul Lindau's play Johannistrieb (1878). (6) The legends involve a hero who returns after a long absence to find his lost beloved again in her daughter, who may also be his daughter; the quasi-incestuous father figure may give the daughter away; there may be other suitors with similar desires; the hero may ultimately be punished but, equally, his beloved may be restored to him. Underpinning the hero's quest is an inability or refusal to acknowledge the passage of time. In the nineteenth century the material is revived, not only in Lindau's play, Effi Briest, and Indian Summer, but more drastically in Thomas Hardy's The Well-Beloved (1892), which may, in turn, have been prompted by a motif in Tennyson's poem 'The Brook' (1855). (7) In The Well-Beloved a man falls in love over a period of forty years with a woman, her daughter, and her granddaughter, and finally marries the granddaughter's mother-in-law. As Dieterle suggests, the legends and their modern variations shed light on the bourgeois patriarchal family. Through their mature heroes, however, they also show how the narrative of chivalric quest disappears into the domestic spaces of the realist novel.
'A hero', says Thackeray in Rebecca and Rowena (1850), his 'parodic sequel' to Scott's Ivanhoe, 'is much too valuable a gentleman to be put upon the retired list in the prime and vigour of his youth.' (8) Heroes retire when youthful marriages bring novels to an end: 'Look at Mr James's heroes: they invariably marry young. Look at Mr Dickens's: they disappear from the scene when they are mere chits'. (9) Like Thackeray Howells is reluctant to retire his heroes prematurely. He often discussed with Henry James 'a kind of novel that would not be obsessed with the monotonous themes of young people in love'. (10) Like Ivanhoe, Theodore Colville in Indian Summer and Geert von Innstetten in Effi Briest are given second chances. As mature men, after various changes of career, they return to places where they first fell in love but lost the beloved to an older, richer man. Each meets the lost beloved, or a woman who is interchangeable with her, and her young daughter. In both novels the daughter's name is Effi(e). They are ambiguously named; both are daughters of Eve--Effie Bowen's mother is called Evalina and Effi Briest is described as an 'Evastochter comme il faut' when she feigns illness (Effi Briest, NFA, VII, 342); but both may also be named after Euphemia Gray, the wife of Ruskin and later of Millais, Effie Bowen as a tribute to Ruskin's writing about Italy, Effi Briest because her divorce from Ruskin was a scandal during Fontane's time in London; and both because they appear in novels where mature heroes court young women. (11)
Howells's hero, Theodore Colville, has scarcely met Imogene Graham, the twenty-year-old ward of his newly rediscovered friend Mrs Bowen, when Imogene echoes her author's view of heroes:
'If I were going to write a novel, I should take an old person for a hero--thirty-five or forty.' She looked at Colville, and blushing a little, hastened to add, 'I don't believe that they begin to be interesting much before that time.' (Indian Summer, XI, 32)
Imogene does not write, but she does take Colville for her hero, albeit a hero who needs to be rejuvenated. Howells sees his novel as a reckoning with lost youth. He writes to Edmund Gosse:
It is that of a man whose youth was broken sharp off in Florence twenty years ago, and who after a busy newspaper life in our West, fancies that he can renew his youth by going back to Italy. There he falls in love with a girl young enough to be his daughter. It is largely a study of the feelings of middle-life in contrast with those of earlier years. (Selected Letters, XXXIII, iii, 86)
The opening chapter repeats the phrase about the sharp break:
He had, in fact, taken the prodigious risk of breaking his life sharp off from the course in which it had been set for many years, and of attempting to renew it in a direction from which it had long been diverted. (Indian Summer, XI, 4)
Colville returns to Florence with 'an ache of old regret [...] that he had not yet lived his life, that his was a baffled destiny, an arrested fate' (Indian Summer, XI, 66). He has two strategies for restoring its continuity: first, to recover his past feelings through someone else, 'the only way to get at your old emotions in regard to Florence is to borrow them from somebody who's having them afresh' (Indian Summer, XI, 33). He discovers, however, that the city is inseparable from the early crisis of rejection in love, which he can resolve only through someone who, unlike Imogene, shared his past. Secondly, he opposes rejection both in love and more recently in politics with narrative solutions. He re-establishes contact with Florence by writing a short history of the city for Effie; he sends occasional reports to his old newspaper; and he tells stories, culminating in a series of miraculous tales about Florentine saints involving transformation and resurrection. Marion W. Cumpiano argues that, from the point when Colville meets Lina Bowen halfway across the Ponte Vecchio to their married life in Rome, the eternal city, he enacts a tale of death and rebirth along the lines of Dante's Paradiso. (12) Cumpiano's reading interprets Colville's progress as the tale of a pilgrim, with Mr Waters, a retired clergyman, and the angelic Effie, whose tears persuade her mother to forgive Colville, guiding his progress towards salvation. But his longer journey from the mid-western town of Prairie des Vaches to Rome might also be read as an evolutionary narrative of a more mundane kind, while his successive careers as young lover, traveller, architect, journalist, and would-be politician, ending in retirement from the public world to the small accommodations of domestic harmony, mimic patterns of narrative from chivalric romance through the Bildungsroman to the social novel. Innstetten's narrative solution to rejection by Luise Belling is his curriculum vitae. Effi's reference to a 'Liebesgeschichte mit Held and Heldin, and zuletzt mit Entsagung' (Effi Briest, NFA, VII, 173) presumably reflects Luise's view of events. It is, as Rudolf Helmstetter points out, a sentimental nonsense after the fashion of stories in illustrated magazines and, like Crampas's account of Innstetten as a fellow officer, biased and unreliable. (13) Innstetten's own story of the past remains inaccessible to the reader, so it is unclear whether he is motivated by disappointment in love or by ambition when he abandons his military career to study law and become a civil servant, but it is certain that in Bismarck's Germany this is a recognized path to success. (14) His purposeful return to Hohen-Cremmen combines faded chivalry with bureaucratic efficiency, making him resemble a latter-day Parsifal who still fails to ask the vital question. If Effi represents a prize or an ideal of womanhood like the heroine of chivalric romance, she does so as a 'metonym' of her mother, (15) to whom Innstetten delegates the task of making his proposal and with whom he conducts all meaningful negotiations. Their courtship is conducted in a fragmentary, almost ghostly correspondence, for Innstetten's letters are so impersonal that, as Effi says, they might be displayed on the community noticeboard. Perhaps ironically, given their impersonal content, they remain largely inaccessible to the reader.
In his essay 'Novel-Writing and Novel-Reading' (1899) Howells contrasts 'the romantic superstition that the hero must do something to win the heroine; perform some valorous or generous act; save her from danger' with what happens in real life, where none of the loved husbands of the happy wives I knew had done anything to 'win' them except pay a certain number of visits, send them flowers, dance or sit out dances with them at parties, then muster courage to ask if they would have them [...] and I asked myself why it should be different in books. (Selected Literary Criticism, XXX, iii, 226)
It is different for the heroes of Indian Summer and Effi Briest because, both as mature men and as literary constructs, they have outlived the chivalric model of valorous acts, and the dancing and flowers of the novel of manners and morals. Colville is too old and tired for dancing or valour--he makes himself ridiculous when he tries either of them; Innstetten does not seem to attempt either--whether he dances or not is unclear, but Effi's flowers are sent by Gieshubler, and it is Crampas who presents himself as rescuing her from the tedium of her marriage. Translated into the metonymic displacements of the realist novel, vestiges of chivalrous romance and of the novel of morals and manners provide Howells and Fontane, who are both considered puritanically fastidious about sexuality in literature, with a means of encoding it. They use traditional metonymic displacements, such as the substitution of one appetite or one activity for another; for example, greed stands in for lust, in a pairing of sins that goes back to medieval theology. Colville prefers Mrs Bowen's delicate appetite to Imogene's rapacious one, and Sidonie von Grasenabb interrupts her polemic against young girls and the sins of the flesh to help herself generously to the roast beef. Activities such as riding and dancing, and unfamiliar, exotic surroundings, also belong to the subcode of metonymic displacements. Such activities and surroundings combine in crucial diversions from the tedium of everyday life that permit not just freedom and pleasure but a temporary change of identity, such as Effi's amateur theatricals or the masked ball in Florence in Indian Summer; and in excursions that culminate in accidents--for Effi the sleigh-ride from the Rings' house, for Colville a trip to Fiesole, when the horses rear up and overturn the carriage. Diversions and excursions mimic the idea of adventure, but they are hollow structures. The excitement and the theatrical locations that they involve make the young people hysterical and the older ones ill at ease.
Both Howells and Fontane find an important intertextual focus for romantic illusion and the unease it entails in the writings of Heine. Heine's evocation of a romantic world constantly hovering on the brink of disillusion reflects the instability of the returning hero's illusions and alliances. In both novels Heine's writing seduces and deludes because it is misquoted and, in every sense, partial. In Indian Summer Imogene engages Colville's interest with a reference to Heine's Reisebilder:
'Don't you remember that passage somewhere in Heine's Pictures of Travel, where he sees the hand of a lady coming out from under her mantle, when she's confessing in church, and he knows that it's the hand of a young person who has enjoyed nothing and suffered nothing, it's so smooth and flower-like [...]' (Indian Summer, XI, 32)
The passage from Heine's Reise von Munchen nach Genua misquotes part of the traveller's meditation on entering the Cathedral of Trent and seeing many women going to confession, a sight that provokes his own sinful thoughts. In fact he suggests that the hand looks as if it has suffered but not sinned, although the woman seems to have much to confess; he leaves before she emerges from the confessional, wishing that he might imprint a kiss on the hand. (16) Imogene remembers only the romance of the incident, perhaps because she has little understanding of sin and less of suffering. Colville, in his turn, appeals successfully to her romantic fantasies and her vanity with a reference to Heine's Florentinische Nachte (1837):
'Do you remember that story of Heine's,' he resumed after a moment, 'of a boy who steals out of the old castle by moonlight, and kisses the lips of the garden statue, fallen among the rank grass of the ruinous parterres? And long afterward, when he looks down on the sleep of the dying girl where she lies on the green sofa, it seems to him that she and the statue are the same?'
'Oh!' deeply sighed the young girl. 'No; I never read it. Tell me what it is. I must read it.' (Indian Summer, XI, 32) (17)
Colville's reference to Heine reveals his own delusional lapse into sentimentality. Like his initial impression of Imogene as 'Junonian' (Indian Summer, XI, 25) that links her with the statue, which is perceived as a vision from Olympus, it soon fades. For Imogene is neither goddess, nor statue, nor insubstantial 'wraith' like the female figures of the Florentinische Nachte; nor can she face the idea of death. (18)
Fontane exploits the Prussian establishment's fear that the subversive energy of Heine's poetry is not redeemed by its elegance. (19) When Crampas seduces Effi with selectively quoted poems of romance, cruelty, and loss, he borrows the poet's powers of subversion. The motifs drawn from Heine follow a similar pattern of piety, seduction, and death, beginning with Effi's own reference to Vineta, the lost city beneath the sea that seems to be an image of her faded happiness. Realizing that she does not know Heine's poem, Crampas gives her a misleading summary of it:
'[...] ubrigens hat Heine dem Gedicht einen anderen Namen gegeben, ich glaube 'Seegespenst' oder so ahnlich. Aber Vineta hat er gemeint. Und er selber--verzeihen Sie, wenn ich Ihnen so ohne weiteres den Inhalt hier weitergebe--, der Dichter also, wahrend er die Stelle passiert, liegt auf dem Schiffsdeck and sieht hinunter and sieht da schmale, mittelalterliche Strassen and trippelnde Frauen in Kapothutchen, and alle haben ein Gesangbuch in Handen und wollen zur Kirche, and alle Glocken lauten. Und als er das hort, da fasst ihn eine Sehnsucht, auch mit in die Kirche zu gehen, wenn auch bloss um der Kapothute willen and vor Verlangen schreit er auf and will sich hinuntersturzen. Aber im selben Augenblicke packt ihn der Kapitan am Bein and ruft ihm zu: "Doktor, sind Sie des Teufels?"' (Effi Briest, NFA, VII, 286)
The banal comment about the poke bonnets, an anachronistic substitute for the black caps of Heine's poem, misrepresents the speaker's nostalgia for a poor, lost girl, and reveals a desire to corrupt like that of the traveller in the misquoted episode from the Reisebilder; and just as the traveller leaves before the woman's confession ends, so the poet's dream is curtailed abruptly. Encouraged by Effi's reaction, which like Imogene's is that she must read it, Crampas pursues his desire to seduce with references to Heine's 'Du hast Diamanten and Perlen' and 'Define weissen Lilienfinger'. Fontane makes Crampas misquote the second of these, substituting 'weichen' for 'weissen', giving him an excuse to brush Effi's hand as well as addressing her in over-familiar language. These are followed by the cruelty of the poems 'Vitzliputzli' and 'Spanische Atriden'. With its constellation of jealous king, chivalrous knight, unhappy queen, and faithful dog, and its confusion of romance and politics, the latter feeds into the broader discourse of the novel. Crampas's success in establishing a provocative link between the poems and Effi's own life can be measured by her ambivalent response, by her resistance to the imposition of the roles drawn from the Heine poem (she insists that his Rollo is not her Rollo), by her move to break up their picnic, and by the mixture of attraction and revulsion in her acknowledgement that it is all very beautiful but that he could have told her other and better stories--that is, other and better stories by Heine.
Romantic illusion fades as it becomes clear that desire across generations involves suppressing the perception of difference. When the returning hero projects the image of his lost love onto a girl young enough to be his daughter, he sees women as interchangeable, as functional rather than as individual. The apparent interchangeability of Lina Ridgley and the friend of her youth, of Lina Bowen and her daughter, of Mrs Bowen and her ward, creates alternative objects of desire, contingent upon but not identical to the original ones, and, with this, the possibility of displacing emotion. Colville remembers Mrs Bowen as the friend of his first love, and realizes that either might have enabled him to fulfil his 'baffled destiny'. In his behaviour towards Mrs Bowen and her daughter, doubling combines with displacement. He finds Effie and her mother 'bewitchingly alike' (Indian Summer, XI, 25), and, confused by the likeness, he projects his attraction to Mrs Bowen onto her child. The confusion begins with his first impression of Effie:
she was not so small as he had thought her at first; an effect of infancy had possibly been studied in the brevity of her skirts and the immaturity of her corsage, but both were in good taste, and really to the advantage of her young figure. There was reason and justice in her being dressed as she was, for she really was not so old as she looked by two or three years. (Indian Slimmer, XI, 13)
Like Effi Briest, this not-so-small but not-so-old Effie in short clothes is both infantilized by her mother and expected to be a model of propriety. Her childlike demeanour reassures him, for it allows him to indulge in familiarity with her that he cannot have with her mother. Indeed, he sees her as a clone avant la lettre--a child in whom there is no trace of her paternity:
[her] youthful resemblance to her mother was in all things so perfect that a fantastic question whether she could ever have had any other parent swept through him. Certainly, if Mrs Bowen were to marry again, there was nothing in this child's looks to suggest the idea of a predecessor to the second husband. (Indian Summer, XI, 15)
The arrival of Imogene's real mother dissolves these doublings and displacements at a stroke, restoring the different generations to their 'proper' roles and relations: Imogene realizes that Colville is too old for her, Mrs Bowen ceases to be Imogene's guardian and silent rival, and Colville assumes the role for which he has been subconsciously measuring himself, namely that of her husband and Effie's stepfather.
In Effi Briest desire across different generations is repressed more drastically. While Frau Niemeyer believes that Innstetten marries Effi because she is the image of her mother, Innstetten and Luise implicitly deny their past. Luise dismisses Briest's comment that she would have suited Innstetten better than Effi, while Innstetten has no room for Luise in his house, except as a painted effigy. Effi is an infantilized substitute, yet she too realizes that her mother would have suited him better: 'die Mama, die hatte hierher gepasst, die hatte, wie's einer Landratin zukommt, den Ton angegeben [...]. Aber ich, ich bin ein Kind and where es auch wohl bleiben' (Effi Briest, NFA, VII, 228). But in Effi's adultery and in Innstetten's and Luise's uncompromising rejection of her, the repressed returns. Although Luise condemns Effi's behaviour on principle, she is also rejecting the daughter who betrayed the man she herself loved. Luise's disordered loyalties are countered, ultimately, when Briest asserts his paternity by calling Effi home. By comparison with that of Indian Summer, this reordering of relationships is more aesthetic than moral, a belated gesture that closes an individual history, but avoids examining the wider causes of disorder.
In Indian Summer and Effi Briest personal histories emerge from a broader concern with the unstable borderlines between the aesthetic, the moral, and the social. In Henry James's Daisy Miller the formidably snobbish Mrs Costello says it is for the metaphysicians to decide whether being 'hopelessly vulgar is being "bad"'. (20) This is a key issue for Howells and Fontane; it explains why their works abound in references to convention and conventionality, for convention, as philosophers see it, spans aesthetic and moral dimensions. Their comparison of old and new takes place in this context. Against the background of Europe Howells examines what a contemporary admirer of Howells calls the 'emotional anarchy' in America, where 'an emotion is so sacred a thing that no outsider but not even its possessor may presume to undertake its regulation', so that no 'emotional code' prevails." (21) Its absence leads to 'the national reproach of Daisy Millerism', the problem of 'the innocently adventurous mettlesome American maiden' who, when travelling in Europe, unknowingly becomes a cause of social scandal and emotional havoc (Howells, The Rise of Silas Lapham, XII, 21). A German acquaintance describes the ambition of American girls to Colville as 'very calculating and worldly' (Indian Summer, XI, 28). Although the Europeanized Mrs Bowen cannot prevent Imogene, with her readiness for emotional experiment, from treading the path of Daisy Miller by trying to engage Colville's affections, she guards Effie against such vices. But Colville himself seems to favour 'that wild, sweet liberty which once made American girlhood a long rapture' and asks whether Effie will 'be any better for her privations, for referring not only every point of conduct, but every thought and feeling to her mother?' (Indian Summer, XI, 15). The clash between liberty and discipline is presented as one of temperament, generation, and culture, reflecting Howells's view that both individuals and countries may seem to belong to different generations. He resolves it by aligning destinies with destinations as Imogene returns to Buffalo and Effie moves on to Rome.
Fontane's concern with the shifts and overlaps between moral and aesthetic categories emerges through the interdependence of private and public roles. Luise and Innstetten are not just thwarted lovers but also representatives of Prussia's social order. While they do not subscribe to the facile patriotism of some of their class, they are among the self-appointed guardians of Prussia who persuade Effi that her actions affect the new German Empire. Effi shares in the history of Prussia through her family history, Innstetten through his career, but the meaning of the link between their personal behaviour and the political circumstances remains ambiguous. Fontane does not specify whether Effi's adultery or Innstetten's loss of nerve contributes more to the process that, as Sebastian Haffner suggests, makes the moment of Prussia's apotheosis in the German Empire also the beginning of its end. (22)
Both Howells and Fontane sharpen the dilemmas of their central characters by surrounding them with a relatively small accidental population. Limiting the accidental population produces a different configuration of characters from that of the mid-nineteenth-century novel, where secondary figures--e.g. in Dickens's novels--have the purposeful randomness of agents in fairy tales. Their secret, silent connection with the central character is directed at ensuring an outcome that rewards the good and punishes the bad. Later realists increasingly abandon the simple aesthetic that links beauty, goodness, and material rewards, replacing the large population with a group of contingent figures in each of whose personal dilemmas the central issue is evident. Howells compares his strategy to that of Turgenev, who dealt 'nearly always with small groups isolated and analyzed in the most American fashion', but he argues that
each man is a microcosm and the writer who is able to acquaint us intimately with half a dozen people, or the conditions of a neighbourhood or a class has done something which cannot in any bad sense be called narrow; his breadth is vertical instead of lateral, that is all [...] (23)
This resembles Fontane's view that the task of the modern novel is to show contemporary life as repeated in a representative circle of people. Within this circle, the central problem is reflected in fragmented, distorted, and peripheral images; for example, the frustrations of the black hen that never goes outside or Roswitha's flirtation with the coachman reflect Effi's dissatisfaction with her marriage. As they intersect with each other they become provocative reminders of the 'chain of complicity' that links human beings with each other, and with the social and natural worlds. (24) In 1877 Howells writes, 'I suppose I shall always have my people so few that their fates can be interwoven and kept constantly in common before the reader' (Howells, Selected Letters, XXII, ii, 160-61). The images of the chain and of interweaving appeal to the construction that Innstetten calls the 'Gesellschafts-Etwas' (Effi Briest, NFA, VII, 374), the power that emerges from the intersubjective agreements of convention, and which suggests that the entire population of a given fictional world is subject to similar laws and conventions, rather than that fate favours one individual:
'Man ist nicht bloss ein einzelner Mensch, man gehort einem Ganzen an, and auf das Ganze haben wir bestandig Rucksicht zu nehmen, wir sind durchaus abhangig von ihm. Ging es, in Einsamkeit zu leben, so konnt ich es gehen lassen [...] Aber im Zusammenleben mit den Menschen hat sich ein Etwas ausgebildet, das nun mal da ist und nach dessen Paragraphen wir uns gewohnt haben, alles zu beurteilen, die andern und uns selbst. Und dagegen zu verstossen, geht nicht.' (Effi Briest, NFA, VII, 373-74)
In Howells's A Modern Instance (1882) Atherton, also a lawyer, echoes Innstetten's views, but explains the abstraction as a series of individual behaviours and obligations framed by Christian morality:
'We're all bound together. No one sins or suffers to himself in a civilized state, or religious state--it's the same thing. Every link in the chain feels the effect of the violence more or less intimately. We rise or fall together in Christian society. It's strange that it should be so hard to realize a thing that every experience of life teaches. We keep on thinking of offenses against the common good as if they were abstractions!' (Howells, A Modern Instance, X, 415)
Innstetten's more secular concern with private morality and public disorder reflects his conviction that his society rises, at least in the short term, by excluding those who offend it. His urge to conform, therefore, reflects not only moral principles but also a concern with appearances, a fear of exposure and ridicule. For its adherents, then, the 'Gesellschafts-Etwas' is located on the continuum of convention at a point where aesthetic and moral categories overlap.
In Indian Summer the 'Gesellschafts-Etwas', and with it the illusion of a larger population, recedes until in the minds of exiles and expatriates it is little more than a fear of scandal reaching their native country. For while the precarious stability of expatriate life, the borrowed scenery and temporary liaisons of this society, make it into a place of experiment, the experiment is always conducted against the background of home and its abiding values. But the expatriate population is also less dependent on the agreements of local convention. There is always somewhere else they can go where there will be 'no inquiry and no interest' (Indian Summer, XI, 280), and so, paradoxically, they maintain the stability of the world that matters to them through the instability of being in transit. Indian Summer resolves itself finally into a series of departures: the Colvilles move to Rome, away from potential gossip about the past. Imogene returns to Buffalo, where she is visited by an old admirer from Florence--perhaps an indication that the process of return and recovery is about to begin again.
By comparison with Howells's expatriates, the population of Effi Briest is entrenched. Innstetten's 'Gesellschafts-Etwas' is a mental construct that expresses itself as a physical constraint. The configuration of characters and the topography of Effi Briest are almost as claustrophobic as those of Goethe's Die Wahlverwandtschaften; Effi moves between the limitations of a secure world in Hohen-Cremmen and the restrictions of an insecure one in Kessin; only life in Berlin opens up her narrow world, while divorce closes everything to her. Innstetten's fear of ridicule and failure mean that he cannot contemplate moving out of the Spukhaus in Kessin or realize his fantasy of escaping to Africa. His desire to revive the past or to escape to another world fails him because he is paralysed by his inability to adjust to the instability of a world in transition. All that is left is the painful reassessment of his own life forced on him by Effi's transgression and his reaction to it.
Both Indian Summer and Effi Briest conclude with an ellipsis from which a traditional ending may be inferred--in Indian Summer a marriage, in Effi Briest a death--and the ellipsis is followed by a conversation between a husband and wife. Indian Summer ends with Colville complimenting Evalina and congratulating himself on marrying a young wife. This banishes his struggle with encroaching middle age, according to Evalina's own logical view that our contemporaries are never old. This light-hearted evasion contrasts with the tragic evasions of the concluding discussion between Effi Briest's parents, which is heavy with the unarticulated fear that it could destroy their fragile accommodation to their daughter's death and shatter a world of illusions. The asymmetry between the returning hero who inaugurates events and the heroine whose death completes their meaning creates tension and tragedy. It contrasts with Indian Summer, where the symmetry between a hero who initiates and completes events gives the narrative a sense of unified movement and direction, however leisurely or vague they may sometimes seem.
Indian Summer and Effi Briest show how the realist's illusion of truth and plausibility actually produces variable forms of stylization. Both authors prefer a single theme, a treatment that is densely layered and allusive, and a sharply configured population that sets private attitudes off against cultural norms. But their view of the directing function of the author/narrator shows them to be members of different generations. Howells dislikes the narrative intrusions and confidential asides of mid-century novels. Writing about Henry James in 1882, he says:
The art of fiction, has, in fact, become a finer art in our day than it was with Dickens and Thackeray. We would not suffer the confidential attitude of the latter now, nor the mannerisms of the former, any more than we would endure the prolixity of a Richardson or the coarseness of a Fielding. (Selected Literary Criticism, XIII, i, 322)
Fontane's attitude to narrative interventions varies. He knows that Spielhagen's theory of objectivity excludes them, and after Vor dem Sturm he does not usually draw attention to his narrative manoeuvres. But he reserves the right to break rules and so he preserves confidential asides that legitimize or evaluate his characters' own view of things. In Effi Briest the main function of Fontane's asides is to invite sympathy for his heroine. This sympathy shows the guiding hand; it creates a text that refers to the old collusion between aesthetic function and moral values that characterizes Dickens, but ultimately Fontane realigns these elements. Howells is more radical about not intervening or directing the reader to his narrative strategies because he does not invite sympathy for individual characters. Further, since he does not believe in the redemptive ending, the teleological function of narrative intrusions becomes redundant.
Fontane's reaction to A Foregone Conclusion illustrates these points. He is taken aback by the denouement of the novel; he objects to the fact that an unsympathetic man of action triumphs over a charming dreamer, for this violates the
Unterschied zwischen Realwelt and Buchwelt, zwischen Wirklichkeit and Dichtung. In der Dichtung ist es nun mal so, dass wit den Liebenswurdigeren uber den Unliebenswurdigeren siegen sehen wollen. (Literarische Essays and Studien, NFA, XXI/2, 328)
The fact that the loser is an Italian Catholic priest, albeit a sceptical one, is immaterial for Fontane's account, but then the priest, too, ignores this obstacle for a time and Howells himself once appeared to support the marriage of the Italian clergy. (25) To Fontane it is not the priest's rejection of celibacy but Howells's resistance to the conventions of the 'Buchwelt' that seems to be unmotivated, with the result that the conclusion is not foregone but unexpected:
Und so steht man uberrascht and etwas verdriesslich da, dass ein Durchschnittsmensch, der ein Jahr lang ein schlechter Konsul and mehrere Jahre lang ein schlechter Maler war, nicht bloss ein hubsches and reiches Madchen heiratet, sondern auch im glucklichen Possess derselben--immer noch fort fahrt, seinen ehemaligen, viel liebenswurdigern and in seinem Ungluck hingestorbenen Nebenbuhler als eine Art lacherliche Figur zu behandeln. (Literarische Essays and Studien, NFA, XXI/2, 328-29)
Clearly the idea of plausible motivation means different things to Fontane and Howells. Fontane demands transparency based on established literary precedent, whereas Howells accepts the unpredictability of human beings and their inability to acknowledge their own feelings. Howells believes the realistic novel must be ethical, but ignores the consolations of fairy tale, creating characters who are neither good nor bad, but often irritable, fractious, and critical of each other, so that--and Fontane is right here--it comes as a surprise when they suddenly declare themselves to be in love. Howells's friend Henry James, who wants the novel to end when the priest dies and so exclude the marriage, also feels the jarring effect of the denouement:
The story passes into another tone, and the new tone seems to jurer, as the French say, with the old. [...] It is a transition from the ideal to the real, from soft to hard, from charming color to something which is not color. (26)
The gaps between 'Wirklichkeit and Dichtung' or the 'ideal' and the 'real' suggest that the conditions of a particular fictional world have suddenly and belatedly shifted. Howells, however, does not elevate his central characters morally or sentimentally above the rest, is not seduced by the notion of closure, and so often avoids pointed resolution because life continues and all solutions are provisional. He admits that, if editorial requirements had not constrained him,
the story would have ended with Don Ippolito's rejection. But I suppose that it is well to work for others in some measure and I feel pretty sure that I deepened the shadows by going on, and achieved a completer verity, also. (27)
'Going on' creates a fictional world in which the crisis of Don Ippolito's rejection inaugurates a series of upheavals from the death of the priest to the marriage of his rival, while avoiding the dramatic resolution of a single tragedy.
Clearly Howells and Fontane believe that fiction presents the 'real' world in due proportion, but this means something different to each of them. While Fontane is in some respects a forward-looking late nineteenth-century realist, his fictional world is still struggling with the loss of certainties, still peopled by characters who command sympathy and hope for redemption. He modifies the collusive link between morality and aesthetics by moving social transgressors to the aesthetic centre and dispersing the moral one. But he retains some narrative practices that Howells sees as outdated. Howells believes in providence but treats collusive narrative configurations or overtly teleological strategies with irony. He depicts an uncertain world and a flawed humanity. His sense of an ending confirms that the border between his fictional world and the 'real' world is especially permeable. This permeability is also clear in modernist touches. Howells not only refers to contemporary novels and novelists in his own fiction--Fontane does this too--but alludes with self-deprecating irony to his own novels in his own novels, offering a small demonstration of the games that fiction can play.
In Thomas Mann's Der Tod in Venedig the narrator suggests that people accord fame to works of art on the basis of sympathy, without knowing that this is what they are doing:
Die Menschen wissen nicht, warum sie einem Kunstwerke Ruhm bereiten. Weit entfernt von Kennerschaft, glauben sie hundert Vorzuge daran zu entdecken, um so viel Teilnahme zu rechtfertigen; aber der eigentliche Grund ihres Beifalls ist ein Unwagbares, ist Sympathie. (28)
This is not a cynical justification of personal prejudice, but a statement about the affinities and mismatches that predetermine aesthetic judgement. Mann's narrator suggests that the fate of the work depends on an inner 'Verwandtschaft, ja, Ubereinstimmung' (ibid.) between the personal destiny of its creator and that of his contemporaries. It is a deeper, more comprehensive version of the affinity that Fontane detects in talents that develop under similar circumstances. It implies, as Martin Swales argues, that the cultural and intellectual temper of the age is manifest in its aesthetic beliefs, and, it might be added, through its aesthetic practice. (29) Indian Summer and Effi Briest suggest that, while there is a substantial overlap in taste, ideas, and practice between Howells and Fontane, the absence of this bond might always have prevented Howells from appreciating Fontane's work, for their shared concern with the relationship between the moral and aesthetic aspects of convention none the less reflects their respective cultures. As writers who open their compatriots' eyes to the wider implications of the social novel, they fulfil similar roles, but their ideas and practices belong to phases of realism that overlap but are not identical or coextensive, and the shifts between one phase and another are, at least in part, responses to cultural contexts. In 'My Favorite Novelist and his Best Book' Howells wonders 'how much the age of a country affects fiction' (Selected Literary Criticism, XXI, ii, 287); if he had discovered the old world of Effi Briest, he might have concluded that Indian Summer with its new world in transit owes its happier outcome to the fact that for its returning hero the past is literally another country.
(1) William Dean Howells, A Selected Edition of W. D. Howells, 30 vols (Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1971-93), Selected Literary Criticism (=vols XIII, XXI, and XXX, all pub. 1993) XXI, II, 284. Further references to essays and letters give the volume number of the edition, followed by the volume number in lower-case roman numerals of the selection of essays or letters, and the page number. References to Howells's novels are from this edition; they appear in the text with the title followed by volume and page numbers.
(2) For accounts of Howells's and Fontane's respective encounters with Bayard Taylor see Howells, Literary Friends and Acquaintances (New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1901), PP 3-9; Christa Schultze, 'Zur Entstehungsgeschichte von Theodor Fontanes Aufzeichnungen uber Paul and Rudolf Lindau', Fontane Blatter, 25 (1977), 27-58
(3) Theodor Fontane, 'William Dean Howells, A Foregone Conclusion', in Samtliche Werke, 24 vols (Munich: Nymphenburger Verlagshandlung, 1959-75), XXI/2: Literarische Essays and Studien (1974) 328-30. Further references to Fontane's works are from this edition and appear in the body of the text abbreviated as NFA, followed by the volume and page number.
(4) Werner Hoffmeister, 'Der realistische Gesellschaftsroman bei Theodor Fontane and William Dean Howells', Fontane Blatter, 24 (1976) 600-07; Hoffmeister describes the essay as 'ein wohl als Rezension geplanter Kurzaufsatz uber Howells' fruhen Roman A Foregone Conclusion (1875), der 1876 in Berlin in deutscher Ubersetzung erschien' (p. 601).
(5) William Dean Howells, Indian Summer, with an introduction by Tony Tanner and notes by John Dugdale (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), Introduction, p. XV.
(6) Regina Dieterle, Vater and Tochter: Erkundung einer erotisierten Beziehung in Leben und Werk Theodor Fontanes (Bern: Peter Lang, 1996).
(7) The editor suggests the similarity between Indian Summer and The Well-Beloved (Tanner, p. XV). Thomas Hardy, The Well-Beloved, edited and with an introduction and notes by Tom Hetherington (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 266-67, suggests Tennyson's poem as a possible source for The Well-Beloved.
(8) W. M. Thackeray, Rebecca and Rowena, with a foreword by Matthew Sweet (London: Hesperus, 2002), p. 4.
(9) Thackeray, Rebecca and Rowena, p. 5. 'Mr James' is George Payne Rainsford James (1799-1860), who wrote historical romances.
(10) Van Wyck Brooks, Howells: His Life and World (London: Dent, 1959), p. 55.
(11) Howells suggests that Euphemia Gray Ruskin also contributes to the picture of Imogene Graham, specifically to her beauty. 'If I were to speak of her as a distinctively beautiful American, I believe I should say la Bella Americana, rather than bellissima [...] I remember the Venetians used to speak of Mrs. Ruskin as la Bella Inglese, as if she were so extremely; and it seems to me as if the superlative would weaken the qualification' (Selected Letters, XXXIII, iii, 126). Peter-Klaus Schuster, Theodor Fontane: 'Effi Briest'. Ein Leben nach christlichen Bildern (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1978), p. 79, suggests that Effi Briest was named after Euphemia Gray.
(12) Marion W. Cumpiano, 'Howells' Bridge: A Study of the Artistry of Indian Summer', Modern Fiction Studies, 16 (1970), 363-82.
(13) Rudolf Helmstetter, Die Geburt des Realismus aus dem Dunst des Fimilienblattes: Fontane und die offentlichkeitsgeschichtlichen Rahmenbedingungen des poetischen Realismus (Munich: Fink, 1998), p. 204.
(14) See David Blackbourn, The Fontana History of Germany 1780-1918: The Long Nineteenth Century (London: Fontana, 1997), p. 210.
(15) Helmstetter, p. 211.
(16) Heinrich Heine, Samtliche Werke, Historisch-Kritische Ausgabe, 16 vols (Dusseldorf: Hoffmann und Campe, 1973-97), VII: Reisebilder, III/IV (1986): Reise von Munchen nach Genua, pp. 42-43.
(17) The episode occurs in Heine, Samtliche Werke, v: Florentinische Nachte (1994), 202-03.
(18) E. M. Butler, Heine. A Biography (London: Hogarth Press, 1956), p. 137.
(19) See Luise Berg-Ehlers, Theodor Fontane und die Literaturkritik: Zur Rezeption eines Autors in der zeitgenossischen konservativen and liberalen Berliner Tagespresse (Bochum: Winkler, 1990), p. 77.
(20) Henry James, Daisy Miller, in The Novels and Tales of Henry James 26 vols (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, [1907-09]) XVIII (1909), 3-93 (p. 46).
(21) Tanner, Indian Summer, Introduction, p. XVI. Tanner does not name the contemporary admirer. (22) Sebastian Haffner, The Rise and Fall of Prussia (London: Phoenix, 1998), p. 4.
(23) William Dean Howells, 'Civilization and Barbarism, Romance and Reality: The Question of Modern Civilization' (1887), in W. D. Howells as Critic, ed. by Edwin H. Cady (London and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973), pp. 111-20 (p. 116).
(24) Joseph H. Gardner, 'Howells: The "Realist" as Dickensian', Modern Fiction Studies, 16 (1970), 323-45 (p. 331).
(25) William M. Gibson, 'Materials and Form in Howells's First Novels', in Critics on William Dean Howells: Readings in Literary Criticism, ed. by Paul A. Eschholz (Coral Gables, FL: University of Miami Press, 1975), pp. 63-70 (p. 65), quotes a New York Times editorial written by Howells in 1866 and entitled 'Marriage among the Italian Priesthood', in which he appears to believe that clerical marriages would alleviate the problems of corruption for which the celibacy of the Italian priesthood is held responsible.
(26) Henry James, 'A Foregone Conclusion', in Literary Reviews and Essays by Henry James: American, English and French Literature, ed. by Albert Mordell (New Haven, CT: College and University Press, 1957), pp. 202-10 (p. 209). A second article with a slightly less critical view of Howells's conclusion follows, pp. 211-15.
(27) Life in Letters of William Dean Howells, ed. by Mildred Howells, 2 vols (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Doran, 1928), 1, 198.
(28) Thomas Mann, Der Tod in Venedig, in Gesammelte Werke in dreizehn Banden (Frankfurt a. M.: Fischer, 1974), VIII: Erzahlungen, p. 452.
(29) Martin Swales, A Student's Guide to Thomas Mann (London: Heinemann, 1980), p. 44
Queen Mary, University of London Patricia Howe
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|Publication:||The Modern Language Review|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
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