Fontane – 200

200 years ago, on December 30, 1819, Theodor Fontane, one of the best-known 19th century German authors, was born. He grew up in Neuruppin, a small town in the Mark Brandenburg north of Berlin. He trained and worked as a pharmacist before embarking on a literary career, starting as a journalist before becoming one of the most prolific novelists of the 19th century.

The 200th anniversary of his birth is being celebrated throughout this year with numerous exhibitions and events in the Brandenburg region (more details here). The main exhibition is being held in Neuruppin from March 30 to December 30 and aims to give an insight into Fontane’s authorial practice. This exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue which the library has acquired (C202.b.3557).

In anticipation of the anniversary, several new biographies have recently been published in Germany. The library has acquired the three most substantial ones:

  • Fontane: ein Jahrhundert in Bewegung by Iwan-Michelangelo d’Aprile (748:37.c.201.250)
  • Theodor Fontane: Biografie by Regina Dieterle (748:37.c.201.247)
  • Theodor Fontane: der Romancier Preussens by Hans Dieter Zimmermann (748:37.c.201.256)

The biography by d‘Aprile was particularly praised in the German press for its approach of placing Fontane’s life and work firmly in the context of 19th century history. Meanwhile Prof Ritchie Robertson reviewed Regina Dieterle’s biography favourably in a recent issue of the TLS (June 28th issue, page 25).

Of course, the best way to honour an author is by making their works available in philologically sound editions. This is happily the case for Fontane as his oeuvre is currently edited in the Grosse Brandenburger Ausgabe, to which the library subscribes. The edition began in 1994 under the editorship of Gotthard Erler, and then in 2013 Gabriele Radecke and Heinrich Detering took over the editorship. The edition encompasses Fontane’s poetic and prose works, his journalism and reviews, travel and biographical writings, as well as his diaries and correspondence. So far, over 40 volumes have been published. The latest volumes, published in 2018, collect Fontane’s theatre reviews into four volumes (746:03.d.26.55-58). These substantial volumes allow us a detailed insight into the rich theatrical life of Berlin in the second half of the 19th century and into Fontane’s artistic preferences.

With the activities of this anniversary year and the progress of the Grosse Brandenburger Ausgabe it is hoped that a new generation of readers will discover the rich oeuvre of Theodor Fontane.

Christian Staufenbiel

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