Heinrich Theodor Fontane (30 December 1819 20 September 1898) is generally considered the greatest German novelist of the 19th century, mostly for Effi Briest and Der Stechlin. The scion of a Huguenot family in Neuruppin in Brandenburg, he was first trained to be follow in his father's footsteps as an apothecary. After participating in the failed Revolution of 1848 he decided to become a professional writer, working for a time as a government-sponsored journalist in Britain. Returning to Prussia after the death of Frederick William IV, he first came to greater public attention as a travel writer and war correspondent, writing the Wanderungen durch die Mark Brandenburg (five volumes, describing towns, castles and places in the province of Brandenburg) and non-fiction books about the wars of 1864, 1866 and 1870/71. From 1851 to 1870 he was under contract to the ultra-conservative Neue Preußische Zeitung, which numbered Otto von Bismarck among its founders. He then became a theatre critic for the Vossische Zeitung.
In 1878 Theodor Fontane published his first novel, Before the Storm, set in the winter of 1812/13 during The Napoleonic Wars. Others followed, some set in the past, but most in the analytically observed present, which to this day makes Fontane one of the "go-to authors" for readers wanting to learn about German and Prussian society in the second half of the 19th century. Fontane also wrote poetry, especially ballads, many of which are among the most frequently quoted in German literature.
Works by Theodor Fontane with their own pages include:
Other works by Theodor Fontane include examples of:
- Cavalry Officer: The hero Schach von Wuthenow (which was also filmed) is an officer of an elite Prussian horse guards regiment, the Gens d'armes, the aristocratic officers of which were notorious for their arrogance and boisterousness. As it is set on the eve of the catastrophic defeat of 1806, there is a sense of dark foreboding.
- The Gay '90s
- Loads and Loads of Characters
- Meaningful Name: Quite a number of Fontane's characters have these.
- Ripped from the Headlines: L'Adultera was based on a headline-making incident from real life. Some of Fontane's ballads also reflect sensational events from real life, e. g. Das Trauerspiel von Afghanistan Lord Elphinstone's disastrous retreat during the First Afghan War and Die Brück' am Tay the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879.
- Theme Naming: Fontane often liked to name his characters after geographic locations, especially obscure hamlets in Brandenburg.
- Write What You Know: Most of his works are set in northeastern Germany, mainly Brandenburg, and in social circles similar to the ones he himself lived in