‘A pharmacist hoping to live by poetry rather than pharmacy is the utmost absurdity imaginable’: in a letter to his wife in 1891, the greatest German novelist of the nineteenth century looks back on a precarious writer’s existence and a late breakthrough. His first novel, ‘Before The Storm’, appeared in 1878, in his sixth decade. From now on, the author of the ‘Ramblings’ could live of his henceforth annually published novels.
He had been well on the way to become an unhappy pharmacist, like his father before him. After initial minor success as a writer of ballads, the Prussian Huguenot had tried his hand at politics: in March 1848 on the barricades, fourteen years later for king and country on the conservative party list. The author would try to hide his tracks later on, as he turned from early admirer to embittered opponent of Bismarck. Hans Dieter Zimmermann traces Fontane’s testing life, as it brought him into contact with all segments of Prussian society. Zimmerman attends not only to the novels and ballads, but also to travel reports, war diaries, theatre criticism, occasional poems – and to the letters of the remarkable humanitarian and greatest Realist writer of German literature.
‘Of our great authors Fontane is the most entertaining, and of the entertaining, the most intelligent’
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