Trials and Tribulations (1887) and Stine (1890) were the first German novels absolutely to avoid the introduction of exciting scenes merely for effect. These histories of mismated couples from different social strata are recounted with hearty simplicity, deep understanding of life, and frank recognition of human weakness, but without condemnation, tears, or pointing a moral. They made Fontane famous. Frau Jenny Treibel (1892), an exquisitely humorous picture of the Berlin bourgeoisie, and Effi Briest “the most profound miracle of Fontane’s youthful art,” added considerably to the fame of the gray-haired “modern,” while The Poggenpuhls (1896) and Stechlin (1898) won him further laurels at a time when most writers would long ago have been resting on those they had already achieved. If a line were drawn to represent graphically his productivity from his sixtieth year on, it would take the form of a gradually rising curve.
His career as a novelist began so late in life that when he once discovered his particular field he cultivated it with persistent diligence and would not allow himself to be drawn away by enthusiasts into other fields. Strength of character was not, however, a new phenomenon in his life, for as long ago as the days when he was an active member of the “Tunnel” he had come in close contact with the Kugler coterie in Berlin, where the so-called Munich school originated, and yet he did not follow his friends in that eclectic movement. So when the naturalistic school of writers began to win enthusiastic support, even though he found himself in the main in sympathy with their announced creed, he did not join them in practice. He felt that what the literature of the Fatherland needed was “originality,” and he sought to attain it in his own way, apart from storm and stress. As his mind matured through accumulated knowledge of the world, and his heart mellowed through years of experience and observation, he rose to a point of view above sentiment and prejudice, where the fogs of passion melt away and the light of kindly wisdom shines.
[Illustration: FONTANE MONUMENT AT NEU RUPPIN.]
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TRANSLATED AND ABRIDGED BY WILLIAM A. COOPER, A.M.