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Theodor Fontane Biography | Poet

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Theodor Fontane (1819-1898), German poet and novelist, was born at Neu-Ruppin on the 30th of December 1819. At the age of sixteen he was apprenticed to a chemist, and after qualifying as an apothecary, he found employment in Leipzig and Dresden. In 1844 he travelled in England, and settling in Berlin devoted himself from 1849 to literature. He made repeated journeys to England, interesting himself in old English ballads, and as the first fruits of his tours published Ein Sommer in London (1854); Aus England, Studien und Briefe (1860) and Jenseit des Tweed, Bilder und Briefe aus Schottland (1860). Fontane was particularly attached to the Mark of Brandenburg, in which his home lay; he was proud of its past achievements, and delighted in the growth of the capital city, Berlin. The fascination which the country of his birth had for him may be seen in his delightfully picturesque Wanderungen durch die Mark Brandenburg (1862-1882, 4 vols.). He also described the wars of Prussia in Der schleswig-holsteinische Krieg im Jahre 1864 (1866) and Der deutsche Krieg von 1866 (1869). He proceeded to the theatre of war in 1870, and, being taken prisoner at Vaucouleurs, remained three months in captivity. His experiences he narrates in Kriegsgefangen. Erlebtes 1870 (1871), and he published the result of his observations of the campaign in Der Krieg gegen Frankreich 1870-71 (1874-1876). Like most of his contemporaries, he at first sought inspiration for his poetry in the heroes of other countries. His Gedichte (1851) and ballads Manner und Helden (1860) tell of England’s glories in bygone days. Then the achievements of his own countrymen entered into rivalry, and these, as an ardent patriot, he immortalized in poem and narrative. It is, however, as a novelist that Fontane is best known. His fine historical romance Vor dem Sturm (1878) was followed by a series of novels of modern life: L’Adultera (1882); Schach von Wuthenow (1883); Irrungen, Wirrungen (1888); Stine (1890); Unwiederbringlich (1891); Effi Briest (1895); Der Stechlin (1899), in which with fine literary tact Fontane adapted the realistic methods and social criticism of contemporary French fiction to the conditions of Prussian life. He died on the 20th of September 1898 at Berlin.

Fontane’s Gesammelte Romane und Erzählungen were published in 12 vols. (1890-1891; 2nd ed., 1905). For his life see the autobiographical works Meine Kinderjahre (1894) and Von zwanzig bis dreissig (1898), also Briefe an seine Familie (1905); also F. Servaes, Theodor Fontane(1900).

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Book: Reflection on the Important Things