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  • Theodor Fontane: ängstliche Moderne. Über das Imaginäre von Gerhart von Graevenitz
  • Frederick Betz
Theodor Fontane: ängstliche Moderne. Über das Imaginäre.
Von Gerhart von Graevenitz. Konstanz: Konstanz University Press, 2014. 818 Seiten + 121 s/w Abbildungen + 5 farbige Tafeln. €29,90.

In The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century (Princeton UP 2014; originally Die Verwandlung der Welt, Beck 2009), Jürgen Osterhammel singles out Fontane as the only German, grouping him with American, English, French, and Russian Realists who were “among the most important witnesses to the history of nineteenth-century society, mores, and attitudes” (19). Fontane, however, did not directly treat the great themes of 19th-century modernity, but rather told, according to Graevenitz, “anrührende Lebensgeschichten von Individuen [ . . . ], die in diesen großen Veränderungen aushalten mußten” (9), presenting to readers “mit virtuoser Oberflächentechnik Psychen als Seismographen der Epoche” (10). Graevenitz examines Fontane’s life and work in the context of three overarching aspects of his century: “Vielfalt der Moderne” (Eisenstadt, 2000), “Globalisierung des Imaginären” (Iser, 1991), and “Zeitalter der Ängste” (Gay, 1996, 2002).

The Prussian path to modernity was marked in the middle of the 19th century, following the failed 1848 revolutions, by a pronounced Heterochronie of rapid economic change, political authoritarianism, and social hierarchy (17-18). Poetic Realism is for Graevenitz “der Stil für die Vielfalt der Moderne” (18), for its central doctrine of “Verklärung” “machte aus der simulierten Teilwirklichkeit der Moderne ein realistisches Phantasma” (19). Contemporary art, photography, illustrations, and techniques of their reproduction in the press (especially in family journals) produced a “Bilderflut,” fostering a “Globalisierung des Imaginären” (19).

Graevenitz illustrates “Globalisierung des Imaginären” in an issue of Die Gartenlaube of 1885, which begins with the seventh installment of Fontane’s Unterm Birnbaum. The first word “ Ängstlichkeit” (19) suggests Abel Hradscheck’s motive for murder, for he is heavily in debt and afraid of losing his social status and falling into poverty. He fears exposure by the neighbor, “die Hexe des Dorfes,” and his belief in ghosts (Spuk) is a typical “Ueberlebsel” (Tylor, 1873) of earlier culture in contemporary [End Page 135] society. Die Gartenlaube had taken up the cause against modern spiritualism, and Fontane contributes here his “Lehrstück [ . . . ] über die Wirkungen des Imaginären” (21). Unterm Birnbaum is “ein gutes Beispiel für Fontanes ‘medialen Realismus’ ” (33), and the issue of Die Gartenlaube contains pictures of women (its main readers) unrelated to Fontane’s novel or to articles on the latest scientific and technological achievements, which Graevenitz characterizes as “Zeugnisse aus einem Gesamtkunstwerk des kollektiven Imaginären” (33).

Not Ängstlichkeiten, but rather the blessings of Behaglichkeit are the key concern of Bourgeois Realism (33). Fear of the unknown was only one fear of the time. Europeans experienced, according to Peter Gay (2002), “einen kollektiven Angstanfall” (35) following the trauma of failed revolutions in 1848, fear of destabilization and change (36). Nationalism became more aggressive, colonialism, more violent. The German ritual of dueling, motivated by fear of loss of honor, was a particular form of domestic violence ruining lives (36), as Fontane would portray in Effi Briest (1896), whose heroine dies of “Todesangst” (623).

Fontane is “ein vielfach geteilter Autor” (47), with both “Teilungen im Nacheinander” and “Teilungen im Nebeneinander” (48), with breaks and turns throughout his career, changes in political outlook, and differences between his journalism and his literary writing, between the public and private Fontane. “Der Revolutionär wurde Reaktionär, der in vielen Einzelpunkten liberale Konservative fand zum Altersradikalismus seiner Adelskritik, seiner Sympathien für den ‘Vierten Stand’ und alles überwölbt sein lebenslanger Antisemitismus” (48). Fontane’s turn to the novel, publishing Vor dem Sturm in 1878, is seen as his “Wende zum Eigentlichen,” as suggested by Fontane himself writing about his father in Meine Kinderjahre (1894): “So wie er zuletzt war, so war er eigentlich” (49). Traditional scholarship (cf. Nürnberger, 1967) has reduced “die Vielzahl der Fontaneschen Teilungen” into simple differentiation between the young and the old Fontane, but “seine Biographie bleibt Stückwerk wie alle modernen Biographien” (51).

In the rigid social hierarchy of Prussian society there were “Rand...


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