Theodor Fontane as a theater critic: sportsman on a big hunt – culture


Whether “Frau Jenny Treibel”, “Errungen, Wirrungen” or “Effi Briest”: Fontane's novels always find their way onto German stages. Adaptations determine the schedules – and enjoy mixed popularity. They were already in Fontane's lifetime, even though the genuinely pieces dominated: Flaubert's “Madame Bovary”, for example, or Wilhelmine von Hiller's lesser-known “Geier-Wally,” which the author still worked on most of her own.

Theodor Fontane was present at the performance on 8 October 1881 and praises it in his subsequent criticism as a “great success”. Fontane was a professional theater critic for the liberal Vossische Zeitung for almost twenty years, from 1870 to 1889. In the Royal Playhouse on the Gendarmenmarkt, he had his regular place, the Parquet Place No. 23. There he sat and took notes. One or two days later his reviews were in the sheet, 649 in total.

Fontane never writes about direct services

They have now appeared completely in a four-volume, annotated cassette as a section of the “Great Brandenburg Edition”, a huge editorial achievement of the literary scholars Gabriele Radecke and Debora Hermer at the Theodor Fontane-Arbeitsstelle of the University of Göttingen. The reviews do not only depict which pieces were played – by classics such as Shakespeare, Goethe, Kleist, contemporaries and authors forgotten today. They also show what was the focus in the second half of the nineteenth century: on the pieces themselves. Fontane summarizes them in detail, sometimes takes their “morality” to the grain and goes into the achievements of the actors. On the other hand, he never writes about the directing achievement.

In the best years. Theodor Fontane was photographed for this portrait in 1869. He was 50 years old then.Reproduction: Andreas Klaer

He could deal violently and evilly

Occasionally Fontane digresses and devotes himself to conversations with Lutter and Wegner. Also there – as so often in his novels – one speaks about theater. Once he quotes the actor Theodor Döring, who says nothing about the criticism of Berlin – “a very own plant”. “Other critics take it as it comes, and bring the desire with. A critic from Berlin but not with … “He is” actually a sportsman and goes hunting “. Fontane might have felt addressed, he could deal violently and evilly. That makes the reading so entertaining. “The beautiful positions have Mrs. Clara Ziegler”, it says about the once well-known Munich actress who guested as Phädra in Berlin, “the fine art does not have them.”

Commitment to the young Gerhard Hauptmann

“There sits the monster again,” Fontane wants to have often read in the faces of the audience around. The sentence graces the title of a “best of” band in Aufbau Verlag. But Fontane has recognized important things without prejudice and named them precisely. He supported Ibsen and Tolstoy and the young naturalists, namely Gerhart Hauptmann.

Theodor Fontane: Theater Critic 1870-1894. Four volumes. Edited by Debora Helmer and Gabriele Radecke. Berlin 2018 (Great Brandenburg Edition).


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