Posted in Book Stuff

the best German novelist of his time–new to me

The novels of Theodor Fontane (1819–1898) are so sparkling, tender, sympathetic, delicately ironic, and psychologically astute that it is a wonder they are not better known by American readers.

I haven’t heard of him either, and I am fascinated, not least because he was a late bloomer, his first novel published when he was turning 60. Several of his books are available in English and in German at Gutenberg.

Theodor Fontane and his daughter Martha
Reference letter for Theodor Fontane from his father, 1845

Transliteration of the letter below:

Meinem Sohne Theodor, Heinrich Fontane, geboren in Neu-Ruppin, stelle ich hiermit gern und pflichtgemäß dies Zeugnis darüber aus: daß er während des Zeitraums vom 1ten Januar bis 1ten July 1845 – der Receptur in meiner Apotheke mit Eifer und Geschicklichkeit vorgestanden hat.
Mehr zu seinem Lobe zu sagen, was ich wohl könnte und möchte, verbietet mir meine Stellung als Vater dieses jungen Mannes.
Weshalb denn ich das unterlaße, und damit ende, ihm das beste Glück in seiner neuen Stellung recht aufrichtig zu wünschen.
Letschin den 2ten July 1845.
L. Fontane, Besitzer der hiesigen Apotheke.

Translation anyone?



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

4 thoughts on “the best German novelist of his time–new to me

  1. I ought to be able to translate that, but, alas, meine Deutsche is not what it was. However, I will recommend Fontane’s Effi Briest. I read it as a student and loved it (sad book, though).

  2. He hasn’t crossed my radar either, but Effie Briest sounds familiar. Will have to hunt it down. The letter is written in very formal German and I speak street, but I’ll give it a go:

    ‘It is my pleasant responsibility to attest that my son, Theodor Heinrich Fontane, born in Neu-Ruppin, worked during the period 1 January to 1 July 1845 as cashier in my chemist and carried out his duties with eagerness and adroitness. I am prevented from praising him more, though I would easily and gladly do so, by being the young man’s father.

    ‘Which is why I omit that and end here by cordially wishing him the best success in his new position.

    ‘Letschin, 2 July 1845,
    L. Fontane, Owner of the chemist of the same name.’

  3. Litlove, one of the Gutenberg volumes of German classics (linked) includes that one as well as several others, also the work of Gustav Freytag (and bios of both writers). Gutenberg also offers “Harvard classics” of the German novel with Trials and Tribulations by Fontane and work by Goethe and a couple of others.

    Charlotte, thanks so much for the translation! It’s such a sweet reference letter. It makes me smile.

    Dorothy, I am so excited now every time I come across another writer whose work I can read on my Kobo!

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