Fontane's "Unwiederbringlich": A Bakhtinian Reading

by Peter James Bowman
Fontane's "Unwiederbringlich": A Bakhtinian Reading
Peter James Bowman
The German Quarterly
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Cambridge, UK

Fontane's Unwiederbringlich: A Bakhtinian Reading

It is often said that the speech of characters in Theodor Fontane's novels is pervaded by his own distinctive voice-urbane, amused, expansive, and tolerant. Thomas Mann's well-known quip that Fontane submits all of God's creation to his Pentane-Ton (13) is echoed, in less memorable terms, by Glogauer (30), Manthey (118), and Nurnberger(11-12), to name but three. Others, however, find great variety in Fontane's fictional dialogues: Mecklenburg hears a plurality of voices and dismisses the notion of an ever-present authorial tone (84), while Martini asserts that, beginning with Cecile (1887), Fontane succeeds in tailoring speech to speaker (768). A third group, including Mommsen (332), Meyer (184), and Paulsen (192), takes the middle position: that Fontane's characters all have a peculiar idiom, but that in each case it is blended with the author's own.

Different again is Brinkmann's view that Fontane's novels exhibit a number of Crundhaltungen which take shape in depicted speech but can be expressed by more than one character (147). Similarly, Preisendanz writes of a recurring repertoire of "disponible Idiolekt-Rollen, die in wechselnder Besetzung konkretisiert werden" (481). Both critics make their observations as parts of larger discussions and without giving textual examples, but the interpretive possibilities of what they say here merit further consideration. To this end, I shall use Mikhail Bakhtin's idea of the novel as a representation of social discourses embodied in the speech of characters to analyze Fontane'sUnwiederbringlich (1891). I shall describe the discourses animating the novel's characters, chart the interaction of these discourses, delineate the author's implicit presence in the text as it emerges from this interaction, * and ask whether this presence embodies the values of the so-called


Bakhtin postulates a basic distinction between the way the human subject becomes aware of his own consciousness and the way he cognizes other subjects: "I, as once-occurrent, issue or come forth from within myself, whereas all others I find on hand, I come upon them" (Philosophy of the Act 74). However, his very ontological uniqueness obliges the subject to invest himself with an identity in relation to his human environment, and as this

The German Quarterly 77.2 (Spring2004) 170

self-realization cannot come from within it must be gained through the prism provided by the words of others: "I realize myself initially through others: from them I receive words, forms, and tonalities for the formation of my initial idea of myself" (Speech Genres [SG] 138). Bakhtin is thinking here not of the self-enclosed system of a language, but of the medley of discourses contained within it. Any language system, he says, "is heteroglot from top to bottom: it represents the co-existence of socio-ideological contradictions between the present and the past, between differing epochs of the past, between different socio-ideological groups in the present, between tendencies, schools, circles and so forth, all given a bodily form" (Dialogic Imagination [DI] 291). Importantly, the subject's assimilation of this verbal-ideological material is not passive, but active. For while any given discourse has always already existed in other people's contexts and served other people's purposes, in making it his own the subject renews or "re-accentuates" it (SG 89). Hence, identity is founded on the interaction, or "dialogue," between the basic categories of self and other. And this"dialogism" applies equally to language itself: as the subject re-accentuates discourses, so his speech contributes to the endless ideological reworking of language, becoming"an ac

tive participant in social dialogue" (DI 276).

For Bakhtin, the novel is the only literary genre capable of representing this dialogic reality: "The novel can be defined as a diversity of social speech types (sometimes even diversity of languages) and a diversity of individual voices, artistically organized" (DI 262). These "speech types," or discourses, are given voice by characters, but any single character is only a surface manifestation of a deeper heteroglossia (DI 325-26). Equally, a richly drawn character will display more than one discourse, because "[e]very experience, every thought of a character is internally dialogic" (Problems of Dostoevsky IS Poetics [PDP] 32). A good novelist avoids subordinating the various discourses he presents to his own explicit agenda: "he does not violate those socio-ideological cultural horizons (big and little worlds) that open up behind heteroglot languages-rather, he welcomes them into his work" (DI 299). Free from the smothering hand of the author, the ideological life of each discourse plays out in a dialogic environment: "The idea begins to live, that is, to take shape, to develop, to find and renew its verbal expression, to give birth to new ideas, only when it enters into genuine dialogic relationships with other ideas, with the ideas of others" (PDP 88).

Although this account of the novel seems rather to marginalize the author, in fact it envisages a "special interrelationship between the author's and the other's truth. The author is profoundly active, but his activity is of a special dialogic sort" (PDP285). It is from dialogic interaction among the discourses of the novel that the perspective of the author emerges: "The author (as creator of the novelistic whole) cannot be found at anyone of the novel's language levels: he is to be found at the center of organization where all levels intersect" (DI 48-49). This implicit authorial position or "ultimate semantic authority" emerges in large part indirectly from the depicted speech of characters, which embodies the novel's discourses (PDP 188). Hence this speech is "double-voiced discourse. It serves two speakers at the same time and expresses simultaneously two different intentions: the direct intention of the character who is speaking, and the refracted intention of the author" (DI 324). And just as character speech refracts the ultimate semantic authority, so that authority is itself colored by character speech; they co-exist in a "zone of dialogical contact" (DI 45).

As with many of Fontane's novels, the plot of Unwiederbringlich is simple. At the opening of the narrative, the seventeen-year marriage between the easy-going, impressionable Graf Holk and his more intelligent but rather austere and melancholy wife, Christine, has become rather frosty. Soon, Holk leaves their home, Holkenas, in the then Danish-ruled province of Schleswig, for a few months to take up duties as chamberlain to Princess Maria Eleonore in Copenhagen. There he falls in love with Ebba von Rosenberg, the Princess's lady of the chamber. While the Princess and her entourage sojourn in Frederiksborg Castle, a royal retreat, Holk and Ebba consummate what for him is an affair of the heart but for her a mere dalliance. Eager to make a wife of his new mistress, Holk returns to Holkenas to divorce Christine, only then to learn that Ebba has no desire to marry him. After a lengthy period abroad, Holk remarries Christine, but soon afterwards she, realizing that their earlier happiness is irrecoverable, commits suicide.

Unwiederbring/ich is a prime example of Bakhtin's definition of the novel as a "microcosm of heteroglossia" (DI 411), with four discourses prominently discernible which I shall label "righteous," "sentimental," "mischievous," and "courtly." The righteous discourse is associated primarily with Christine Holk, whose religious convictions are allied with strict notions of social and parental responsibility: "das Gluck meiner Kinder gilt mir mehr als mein Behagen, und das, was die Pflicht vorschreibt, fragt nicht nach Wohlbefinden" (36). Such earnestness gives her speech an honest dignity, but can in less felicitous moments cause a humorless, severe, even sanctimonious note to sound. A tendency to dogmatism reveals itself in the Lutheran Christine's dismissive view of Calvinism (21-22) and in her contrast between Prussians and Danes: "bei den Preufsen wurzelt alles [... ] in Pflicht und in Gottvertrauen. Und wenn das zuviel gesagt ist, so doch wenigstens in dem alten Katechismus Lutheri [... ]. In Kopenhagen ist alles von dieser Welt, alles Cenufs und Sinnendienst und Rausch, und das gibt keine Kraft. Die Kraft ist bei denen, die nuchtern sind und sich bezwingen" (25). This righteous mode is also expressed by Christine's companion Julie von Dobschutz,

notably in her praise for the Holks as embodiments of "ein deutsches Haus und deutsche Sitte" (57). Solemn and devout characters are present, too, in the otherwise dissipatedDanishcapital.BaronErichsendisapprovesoftitillating banter, dislikes all extravagance, and warns against the cult of Bacchus; hence his nickname "Erichsendas Gewissen" (62-63). Equallydemure is Crafin Schimmelmann, a former court beauty whose piety has waxed as her attractiveness has waned; she is presented as serious-minded, irritable, uncompromisingly truthful, and as an enemy of court gossip (80).

The sentimentaldiscourse,whilequite unlikethe righteous,isalsomost often evinced by Christine, whose friend Seminardirektor Schwarzkoppen describesher as "in gleichemMa~e phantasievoll und nachdenklich" (33). In chapter four, her tearful departure from the room after a musical rendition of Waiblinger's "Der Kirchhof" by Elisabeth Petersen, the local pastor's granddaughter, comes as no surprise to those who know her "sensitives Wesen" (27). With itsyearning forinner peace,evocationofthe transienceof spring,andimageoflifeasavaleoftears,the poemitselfwellrepresentsthe sentimental mode (42),and the handwritten copy found on Christine's desk after her suicide shows what her emotional vulnerability owes to such lyricism.Inretrospect, the account shegivesJulieofherfirstmeetingwithGraf Holk sounds ominously overwrought: "Nun, ein Leuchtturm war es gewifs, furdichund mich,einLichtfursLebenundhoffentlich bisindenTod" (59). Romantic idealism and melancholy are aspects of the same sensibility, and the events of the narrative cause the latter to prevail in Christine. Her suicidefollowsElisabeth'ssingingofaseconddolefulpoem,and the samescene with the same guests again ends with her leaving the room in distress(219-20). The sentimental style is also evident in Julie, whom Christine's brother Baron Arne describes as "ganz schone Seele, nachgeborene Jean Paulsche Figur" (28), and nowhere more than in her maudlin portrayal of Christine in death: "Der Ausbruch [sic] stillen Leidens, den ihr Gesicht so lange getragen hatte, war dem einer beinah heiteren Verklarunggewichen, so sehr bedurftig war ihr Herz der Ruhe gewesen" (223). Finally, Princess MariaEleonoreoccasionallyadopts thisdiscourseinitswistful aspect.During a visit to Klampenborg she muses dreamily on her life and, coincidentally, repeats the first line of the Waiblinger poem: "Ich habe nur immer erquickliche Ruhe hier gefunden, Ruhe, die weniger ist als Gluck, aber auch mehr. Die Ruh' ist wohl das Beste" (90).

The mischievousdiscourseisfirstvoicedbyArne,whose speechisthat of an amiable and self-possessed man of settled years. Arne's affability has a tendency todevelopinto asportiveand mildlyimpropertone,audibleinsly jests about card-playing and venial sins (17-18) and teasing allusion to the loveletters HolkandChristine exchangedinpreviousyears (SO). This mode gains more pungent expression in a gossipy letter to Holk from the Copenhagen courtier Baron Pentz in chapter six: 'Adda Nielsen quittiert die Buhne und wird Crafin Brede, nachdem sie vierzehn Tage lang geschwankt, ob sie nicht Heber in ihrer freieren und finanziell vorteilhafteren Stellung bei GrossiererHoptrupverbleiben solIe.DasLegitimehat aberdochaucheinen Reiz, und nun gar eine legitime Crafin!" (38-39). Pentz's impish senseofhumor is indulged most fully with Holk's Copenhagen landlady, the dubiously respectable Witwe Hansen. When in chapter ten she counters his taunts by assertingherfidelitytoherlatehusband, heretorts: "Nun,FrauHansen,was einem die Frauen sagen, das muf man glauben, das geht nicht anders. Und ich will's auch versuchen" (61). He later makes intimations to Holk in the same tone about a likely liaison between Frau Hansen's captivating daughter Brigitte and a chief of police (67). The mischievous discourse is unthinkable without the Hansens, for while neither woman much uses it, both are very responsive to its insinuations, and as demimondaines they incarnate the lifestyle that accompanies its bolder variants. Finally, the jovial Dr. Bie, who appears in the chapters set in Frederiksborg, resemblesArne in that his geniality easily modulates into indelicacy; as becomes evident in an asidehemakesabout the King'smistressCrafinDannerwhiledescribingthe difficulties of heating Frederiksborg Castle: "Ein Gluck, da8 die Danner nicht hier ist. Die hat freilich ihren Leibarzt, und nicht zu vergessen, auch mehr naturliche Warme. Sonst ware sie nicht die, die sie ist" (169).

Thecourtlydiscourse,embodiedinthe speechofPrincessMariaEleonore and herladyofthe chamber Ebbavon Rosenberg, isthe last to emerge.The nimble-witted PrincessisdescribedbyPentzashavingan ancien regime temperament (66) andbyEbbaaswantingto playthe part ofa"geistreicheFrau des vorigen [ahrhunderts" (84). Ebba displays the same verbal virtuosity as her mistress, not least in her bravura extemporizing on the subject of naval battles in chapter twenty (133). Debates between members of the court circle are generated, not by real differences of opinion, but by the desire to dazzle,andsotheirspeech,asLorenzpointsout (499),ischaracterizedbyan evacuation ofcontent infavorofbrilliant badinage.Typicalofthis arethe responses to the performance of Shakespeare'sHenry IV in chapter seventeen, given in indirect speech (109-10). The Princess always enjoys such verbal sparring matches, and during one exchange between Ebba and Holk she goads the disputants: '''Er zieht sich gut heraus', sagte die Prinzessin. 'Nun Ebba,fuhre deineSacheweiter" (149).MariaEleonoreisa free-thinkerwho abhors philistinemoralizingandadopts acynicallyamusedattitude toward human nature, even producing a piquant French maxim to prove she is no prude (148--49). Ebba, still less coy, openly expounds her libertine views (116, 202-03). Like the mischievous mode, courtly speech contains a good dealofsexualinnuendo, but rather thanearthyandgood-humored,itispolishedandratherjoyless,asinthe reflectionson"Schuldund Sunde"inchapter nineteen (126-27). Mocking aspersion, or Medisance, is another feature of this mode, and the Princess is an avid reader of scandal-sheets (66). As a

result, personal loyalty has no place at court: the Princess regales Holk with jibes about his fellow chamberlains, Pentz and Erichsen (76), and then tells him that discretion cannot be a courtier's first principle (82-83). Ebba, as Pentz notes, displays the same scoffing approach (111).

None of these four discourses is assigned exclusively to a single character; each is voiced by characters who have assimilated it, but has a socio-verbal typicality that transcends them all. "In an authentic novel," Bakhtin writes, "there can be sensed behind each utterance the elemental force of social languages, with their internal logic and internal necessity" (DI 356). AndUnwiederbringlich is not just a novel of heteroglossia; it also exhibits dialogic relations between the different discourses it represents. Of the major characters, only Ebba consistently produces a single discourse. Pentz uses both mischievous and courtly modes, the former with Frau Hansen and in Vincents Weinstube and the latter in the Prinzessinnenpalais. His letter to Holk in chapter six mixes the two, juxtaposing gleeful anecdotes about the sexual opportunism of actresses with acerbic observations about political actors. Holk comments that the letter is both "[vjoll guter Laune" and 'voll Medisance" (39). What Pentz owes to the humane mischievous style sets him apart from the much more mordant Ebba, whom he calls a "Spruhteufel" (111), and from the Princess, who, for her part, notes his lack of "Zeitungsmalize" (106). A more tragic case is Christine, who is "halb gereizt, halb sentimental" (30) as a result of the tension between sentimental and righteous strains in her personality. Her mystical tendencies, like the superstition that everyone is born under a particular symbol (26), are hard to square with her sober Christian faith. So, too, are her liking for "kleine Liebesgeschichten aus dem Kreise der Irrglaubigen" (28) and her belief in omens contained in dreams, which she herself concedes is godless (55).

The interplay of rival discourses in a single consciousness is most clearly evident in the novel's main character, Graf Holk. In his assimilation of discourses already voiced by others, Holk resembles Bakhtin's model dialogic character, Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky's Crime andPunishment: "Each individual [... ] enters Raskolnikov's inner speech not as a character or a type, not as a personage in the plot of his life (sister, sister's fiance, etc.), but as a symbol of a certain orientation to life and an ideological position" (PDP 238). Of the four discourses identified in Unwiederbringlich, only the sentimental has no resonance for Holk, and he tends to poke fun at it (14). His changing interaction with the other three modes can be studied in the novel's four geographically demarcated narrative phases: Holkenas, Copenhagen, Frederiksborg, and Holkenas again.

In the first phase (chapters one to nine), Holk's indifference to Christine's sentimentality contrasts with his sensitivity to her righteous expression of religious, social and pedagogical principles. In the early years of their marriage, he made his wife's wishes his own, so impressed was he by her piety (30), and even now he accedes to her plans for their children's education and for a new family vault (36, 52). But he has come to find her earnest manner increasingly unpalatable, is wearily aware of his subordinate position (36), and wishes he had a less perfectly virtuous wife (9). Holk objects to the idea of sending their children away to board in a religious school (35), and his unwillingness to countenance rebuilding the family vault even makes him forget his customary courtesy (16). And yet, for all his exasperation, and although he never thinks or speaks in the righteous mode at this stage, he has been influenced by it, as later becomes obvious. For the moment, he is under the sway of the mischievous style which he acquires from Arne, as Christine disapprovingly notes (50), and he vents his frustration with her righteousness in daring jokes. It is Arne who tells him of the colorfully expressed theories of the veterinarian Lissauer on ways to increase the milk yield of cattle, which Holk then provocatively relays to Christine: "Er gibt seine Streukugelchen und ist im ubrigen, als Hauptsache, fur Stallreinlichkeit und Marmorkrippen, und ich mochte sagen, die Troge mussen so blank sein wie ein Taufbecken" (14). His partiality to this tone is also clear from his delighted reaction to Pentz's letter from Copenhagen.

The mischievous mode dominates the second, Copenhagen phase in Holk's discursive journey (chapters ten to nineteen). Buoyed up by his temporary release from the dreary idyll of Holkenas, he is quick to embrace the febrile gaiety of the capital. After hearing Pentz's banter with Frau Hansen on his first day there (60-61), he casts off Arne's more restrained playfulness in favor of this racier version. He facetiously tells the widow she could be mistaken for her daughter and repeats Pentz's insinuation that Brigitte's husband is foolhardy to leave so alluring a wife at home during his long sea voyages (69-70). A few chapters later, he predicts that the King himself might succumb to Brigitte's beauty (96), and follows this with a spirited comparison between her and Rubens's models (98). Holk is soon infatuated with Brigitte, who, aided by her mother, hopes to draw him into a liaison. His resistance, though less than steadfast, indicates that the moral stiffening he has acquired in his marriage has not yet quite worn off, and he is eventually rescued by the order to leave for Frederiksborg.

During the chapters set in Copenhagen, Holk gets his first taste of life in the Princess's entourage since the arrival of Ebba von Rosenberg. As a royal chamberlain he must adapt to the courtly tone, but his early efforts are clumsy. He is ill at ease during his first day of attendance, and his discomfiture grows when he is introduced to Ebba and notices her supercilious mien (78). In their first conversation, his flat-footed speculation about her genealogy elicits sardonic correction, and in their second, he is uncomfortably aware of being bested by her readier wit (86-89). For her part, Ebba senses that Holk is unsuited for court life (83-84), but nevertheless fascinated by its savor of elegant dissipation (118). He is indeed tantalized by the "Macht sogenannter pikanter Verhaltnisse" that Ebba represents (116), and yet he also perceives the insubstantiality of her charm, which he compares with the stunning but short-lived brilliance of a firework display (121-22). Holk senses the loneliness of palace life on his first day there, and when his eye alights on a portrait of a Thuringian Landgrave, he disapprovingly ponders the man's likely lasciviousness (75-76), a detail which reveals the vestigial influence of Christine's dislike of courtly mores. Despite such moments, though, Holk's rejection of the righteous mode intensifies in Copenhagen. After a single week there, Holkenas seems very distant to him (90-91), and he repeatedly contrasts the excitement of the capital with the tedium of life on his estate (94, 122,123). He finds writing to Christine a chore and in one letter complains of her rigidity of character (100).

The third phase (chapters twenty to twenty-six) further reconfigures the discourses acting on Holk. With the removal of the Princess's circle to Frederiksborg Castle, Brigitte's intoxicating but unsophisticated seductiveness is supplanted by Ebba's more enigmatic wiles, and the mischievous tone temporarily disappears from the novel. Holk's only engagement with it is to defend the uninhibited tone of his letters to Christine from Copenhagen, which he contrasts with the "Vorstellung einer besonderen Rechtglaubigkeit" he finds in her replies(162-63).He now takes an ever more dismissive attitude toward Christine, thinking of her as laughably jealous (141), as feigning illness to make him feel guilty (152), and as the very embodiment of moral severity (161-62). It is Ebba's courtly speech that exerts the greatest influence on Holk at this stage. All the same, his impressions of her remain inconsistent, for while her verbal sparkle enthralls him, he is still troubled by her astringent wit, to which she sacrifices even her benefactress, the Princess (153). His misgivings check his pursuit of her, and he passes up opportunities to declare himself when they are walking alone near the castle (144-45) and during the ice-skating escapade on the Arresee (167).

This all changes in chapter twenty-six, when the mischievous and courtly discourses join forces to overcome his scruples. The Princess's party is joined by two high-spirited royal adjutants, Lundbye and Westergaard, and the conversation, lubricated by the freely flowing drink, begins to shed some of its gentility. Dr. Bie's boisterous toast to Ebba is followed by an animated exchange about whether men performed greater deeds in the name of love in ancient times than in the present (173-74).Ebba, staying within the decorous courtly style, provocatively denigrates her contemporaries' fervor, while Pentz and Lundbye loudly take the opposite view. The discussion never quite loses its refinement, but is close enough to being ribald to constitute a fusion of the polished piquancy of the courtly mode and the more blatant sexual suggestiveness of the mischievous mode. As Liebrand observes ("Geschlechterkonfigurationen" 164-65),Ebba uses speech about seduction to fire Holk's imagination and precipitate the reality of seduction. This finally turns his head, and his act of adultery ensues later the same evening. What Brigitte cannot achieve solely through mischievous discourse, or Ebba solely through courtly discourse, is brought about by a combination of the two.

The fourth and final phase (chapters twenty-seven to thirty-four) opens after the consummation of Holk's affair with his mistress, and ends with the funeral of his wife. No single discourse dominates here; instead, the hero vacillates between those that have influenced him up to this point. These chapters contain lengthy passages of his interior monologue, much of it devoted to recrimination against Christine. When Holk confronts her directly in Holkenas, he tells her that he is no longer awed by her moral certainties (193). Yet despite these protestations, Holk is far from having expelled the righteous discourse from his mind, for the paradoxical effect of his adultery is that he adopts some of the earnestness and scrupulousness he has rejected in his wife. His efforts to justify his infidelity in his own mind are troubled by a nagging conscience (183,191).More significantly, in reasoning through his decision to seek a divorce, he adopts a distinctly righteous tone: "die Trennung selbst ist notig, und ich darf wohl hinzusetzen, ist Pflicht, weil wir uns innerlich fremd geworden sind"(182). Holk's new-found solemnity leads him to disdain the very company that has so exhilarated him in Copenhagen:

alles, die schone Frau Brigitte mit eingerechnet, hatte gleichmafsig seinen Reiz fur ihn verloren, und wenn er gar an Pentz dachte, befiel ihn ein Grauen. Das war das letzte, was er aushalten konnte; Heberwollte er die Nichtigkeiten Erichsens und die Steifheiten der Schimmelmann ertragen, als die Pentzschen Bonmots und Wortspiele. (185)

His assimilation of the mischievous and courtly discourses was only ever partial, and by falling seriously in love he disqualifies himself as an exponent of either, even though both fanned his passion for Ebba. He hankers after the "Kunst des Leichtnehmens" (199), but his definition of it is as ponderous as his attempts to acquire it by holding Ebba to the tender words she spoke to him at Frederiksborg (201).

These dilemmas and contradictions cause such confusion in Holk that he fluctuates wildly between competing impressions; he suffers, one might say, from "discursive overload." Eager to secure his happiness with Ebba, he is also plagued by guilt and uncertainty, and his mind becomes feverish (185). After Ebba's rejection of his offer of marriage and eighteen months spent licking his wounds abroad, he is ready to be reconciled with Christine, although his resentment toward her is still keen (209-10). During his aimless existence in exile, Holk is both emotionally and discursively adrift. His predicament is even more acute at the end of the novel, when his remarriage to Christine is followed by her suicide. In true dialogic fashion, then, the hero of Unwiederbringlich assimilates a wide range of social discourses, but without ever resolving or transcending them. For Holk's mutability, deplored by both Christine and Ebba (41, 117), is more than just a feature of his individual personality: as the novel's richest character, he is the one who best displays the "extreme internal dialogization" that Bakhtin sees as proper to the fictional hero (PDP 237).

So far, my analysis of discourses and their interaction in Unwiederbringlich has left out the author, who must now be admitted to complete the picture. Most critics see the novel as depicting the opposition between Holk's cheerful sensuality and Christine's austere piety (Iolles 69-70;Liebrand, Das Ich 280; Schillemeit 58-73; Strech 20; Zimmermann 303).The assumption that authorial sympathies must lie with either hero or heroine frequently accompanies this dichotomous view. Both McDonald (198) and Jolles (70) hold that the author has a far warmer regard for Holk than for Christine, and for Sakrawa this preference is so marked that it upsets the narrative balance (24, 28-29). Taking precisely the contrary view, Spiero complains that the novel is distorted by an "unverkennbare Parteinahme Fontanes gegen Holk" (260); similarly, Reuter (2: 678), Subiotto (306) and Eilert (530) claim that the author's primary interest and sympathy focuses on his female protagonist. Either way, this polarity does not do justice to the complexity of characterization in the novel, as Aust has pointed out(144). My contention is that, rather than the author taking the side of one character over another, we may discern what Bakhtin calls an "ultimate semantic authority." This is indicated in various ways by the interaction between depicted discourses, and relates only indirectly to the principal characters, most of whom embody two or more of them.

The relationships between the ultimate semantic authority and the mischievous and sentimental discourses are fairly easy to gauge. In the first narrative segment, the author clearly identifies with the playful comments of Holk and Arne rather than with the reproaches they draw from Christine, but his stance begins to alter when the focus shifts to Copenhagen. Pentz's risque exchanges with the Hansens are reported with obvious relish, but Pentz himself is introduced to the reader as a slightly ridiculous figure (61-62),and in the second half of the novel, the reporting of his salacious humor notably decreases, as if the author shared Holk's growing impatience with it. This correlates with a noticeable change in attitude to the Hansens, with whom the mischievous discourse is associated. At the beginning of Holk's stay in the capital, both women are ironically but indulgently viewed; later, the author seems less amused, and when sensational rumors about the Frederiksborg fire turn out to be false, Brigitte's disappointment is conveyed in strongly satirized free indirect speech: "Und nun war der Graf doch am Leben und das Fraulein vielleicht auch oder wohl eigentlich ganz gewifs, Es war doch auf nichts Verla& mehr und gerade immer das Interessanteste versagte" (180).

There is more consistency with regard to the sentimental mode. In chapter five, Arne criticizes Christine and Julie's liking for mawkish literature, and the positioning of these remarks on the heels of Christine's clearlyexcessive reaction to the jejune Waiblinger lyric confers the weight of authorial sanction upon them. Furthermore, Christine's adherence to the sentimental mode is shown to be responsible for her losing the will to live after Holk's infidelity. The author's remark after her suicide that "Ein Herz, das sich nach Ruhe sehnte, hatte Ruhe gefunden" (221) is the one moment of rapprochement between him and the sentimental discourse; otherwise the novel maintains an emotionally detached style, well described by Demetz as "ohne Schlacke und Sentimentalitat: kuhl, gefafst, kontrolliert" (166).

The relationships of the ultimate semantic authority with the righteous and courtly discourses are too intertwined to be considered separately. In the first phase, the righteous discourse is always respectfully portrayed: Christine's conscientiousness is stoutly defended by her daughter Asta without any admixture of authorial irony, and the estimable Schwarzkoppen's admiration for her underscores her commendable qualities (32). Nonetheless, there is a distinct coolness in the presentation of Christine's speech manner, for example when her barbs about the compatibility of Calvinism and commercialism are followed by the author's observation that she exhibits the trait, so typical for the pious, of doubting the religious convictions of others (20-21). Shortly afterwards, Christine announces to her husband and brother: "Ich habe mich eben sehr erheitert," and their skeptical reaction is then explained and justified: "Christine war eigentlich nie heiter" (21). Authorial distance is also suggested by Arne's friendly but ironic interjection of one of her favorite words, "Pflicht," during her tirade about the moral superiority of Prussia over Denmark (25). In chapter five, Arne describes Christine's flaws at length and predicts that her treatment of Holk will have dire consequences, an extended example of a character voicing what Bakhtin calls the "refracted intention" of the author. The same process of refraction occurs in chapter two, when Schwarzkoppen advises Christine to be more tolerant of her husband (12), and in chapter eight, when Arne pleads with her to temper her dogmatism: "Ich habe nicht den Mut mehr, Standpunkte zu verwerfen. [... JDer Standpunkt macht es nicht, die Art macht es, wie man ihn vertritt" (51). We may agree with Avery, then, that the first part of the novel offers "a secularist's critique of behaviour derived from religious principles in the place of an open disavowal" (528).

In the Copenhagen and Frederiksborg chapters, the dominant discourse is that of the court, and its sheer quantity can be taken as evidence of the author's enjoyment of its brilliancy. All the same, it gradually recedes from the ultimate semantic authority as the novel progresses. Of the two women

who give voice to the courtly mode, Ebba is the more unsympathetically portrayed. Her thoughts are laced with considerable authorial irony, as when she hopes that the Princess and her entourage will soon return to Copenhagen:

Denn einen so fein ausgebildeten Natursinn sie hatte, und so gut ihr Schleppegrell [...]gefiel,so warihr allesinallem dieHauptstadt, womandieNeuigkeiten sechs Stunden fruher und aufserdem abends eine Theaterloge hatte, doch urn ein Erhebliches lieber. (158)

Disapproval of Ebba is further conveyed through allusions to her whimsicality and habitual insincerity (92-93), and through the dislikeable traits and conduct assigned to her, such as her sharp tongue when she does not get the attention she seeks (137), her mockery of the Princess behind her back (143-44), her taunting praise of Christine's virtue when Holk proposes marriage (200-01), and, most seriously, her seduction of the hapless hero out of sheer boredom. Another indicator is the use of a parallel caricatural figure in Karin, Ebba's maid and "beinah Freundin" (131). In her lack of shame (154), her penchant for fleeting love affairs (168), her tendency to see everything in terms of romantic dalliance (184), and her clear sexual opportunism (204), Karin displays a coarser version of her mistress's mores. Ebba disappears from view when Holk leaves court, and the news of her contemptible marriage, archly related in Pentz's letter to him in chapter thirty-one, constitutes a summary dismissal of her by the author (208-09).

The Princess is treated more kindly than her lady of the chamber, but her speech, inasmuch as it embodies the courtly manner, is increasingly distanced from the ultimate semantic authority. Her superstitious bent reveals the hollowness of her rationalism (158), and her failure to prevent the seduction reveals the fecklessness of her libertinism. Too late she has a change of heart and casts off her Voltairean haughtiness:

Von der freigeistigen Prinzessin, die sonst ein Herz oder doch mindestens ein Interesse fur Eskapaden und Mesalliancen, fur Ehescheidungen und Ehekampfe hatte, war in der alten Dame, die da vollkommen greisenhaft unter dem feierlichen Konigsbilde sa~, auch nicht das Geringste mehr wahrzunehmen, und was stattdessenausihremeingefallenenGesicht herauszulesenwar,daspredigte nur das eine, daf bei Lebenskuhnheiten und Extravaganzen in der Regel nicht viel herauskomme, und dafs Worthalten unci Cesetzerfullen das allein Empfehlenswerte, vor allem aber eine richtige Ehe (nicht eine gewaltsame) der einzig sichere Hafen sei. (187)

This passage is telling in its unrealistic interpretation of a person's facial expression, which could never communicate such distinct sentiments. The reader must conclude that this description is the author's own verdict on the sanctityofmarriage, thefollyofsexualadventures,and themoral bankruptcy of the court. In this scene, the Princess becomes associated with the righteous discourse, marking a further step in its gradual assumption of authority in the latter part of the novel. The situation is not quite so clear-cut, though, for Arne's eloquent advocacy of tolerance in chapter eight is reiterated later by Frau Schleppegrell, who visits the royal party in Frederiksborg with her husband, a pastor and former royal tutor. In response to an insignificant remark byHolk, sheproduces aheartfelteulogy to forgivenessand generosityofspirit in marriage (142), qualities in which, the reader is bound to reflect, the righteous Christine has not been rich. That this clearly important statement is made by an otherwise inarticulate character signals its status as a refracted authorial judgement.

The general impression, nevertheless, is of an increasing closeness of the ultimate semantic authority to the righteous discourse. This is reinforced by the treatment of Holk, who is granted almost all the novel's directly and indirectly reported inner speech. What happens here is a double refraction, with the author evaluating the hero's evaluation of the speech modes he encounters. Initially, the author is well-disposed toward Holk, sharing his enjoyment of Danish scenes (59, 81) and his appreciation of the languid charm of Brigitte Hansen, who is repeatedly described as "schon." Holk's distaste for Christine's tone is presented as natural, and, in chapter seventeen, his irritation seems warrantable given the coldness of a letter he has just received from her (115). But by degrees, an ambivalence creeps into the shared perspective of author and hero:

Christine war in allem so sicher; was stand denn aber fest? Nichts, gar nichts, und jedes Cesprach mitderPrinzessinodergarmit Ebbawarnurzusehrdazuangetan,ihnin dieserAnschauungzubestarken, Alles warAbkommen aufZeit,allesjeweiliger Majoritatsbeschlufs: Moral, Dogma, Geschmack, alles schwankte, undnurfurChristinewaren aHe Fragengelost, nurChristinewufsteganzgenau, da~ die Pradestinarionslehre falsch und zu verwerfen und die calvinistische Abendmahlsform ein '~front" sei; siewufstemit gleicherBestimmtheit,welche Bucher gelesen und nicht gelesen, welche Menschen und Crundsatze gesucht und nicht gesucht werden mu~ten, und vor allem wufste sie, wie man Erziehungsfragenzubehandelnhabe.WieklugdieFrauwarl (122)

Here, Holk's frustrated musings are presented with sympathy, but at the same time it is pointed out that they derive "nur zu sehr " from exposure to the court, which, as the reader knows by now, is not so much tolerantly openminded as cynically nihilistic.

This ambivalence slowly develops into estrangement. Bychapter twenty-four, Holk's negative view of his wife and his refusal to accept Arne's assurance that she is too ill to write are perceptibly distanced from the ultimate semantic authority:

Undwaswaresdennaucham Ende? Christinewareine FraumitwenigerVergnuglichkeit aIswunschenswertundmit mehrCrundsatzenaIsnotig,daswar einealteGeschichte, dievonniemandembestrittenwurde,kaumvonChristine selbst.In diesemSinnesprachernocheineWeile vorsichhin, und alsersichmehr und mehr in die Vorstellung hineingeredet hatte, da~alles, genau betrachtet, eine blo~ aufgebauschteGeschichte sei,wei!jadocheigentlichnichts vorlage, nahmer schliefslichseinenPlatzamSchreibtisch [...]. (161-62)

Because of Holk's lack of self-knowledge in this passage, the shared perspective between him and the author has become heavily freighted with irony. Eventually it breaks down altogether and the author begins to comment directly on his errant hero: "wenn er sich aufserhalb seiner selbst harte stellen und seinem eigenen Cesprache zuhoren konnen, so wurde er bemerkt haben, da~ er in allem, was er sich vorredete, zwei Worte geflissentlich vermied: Gott und Himmel" (183). Such hypothetical self-analysis stands for the author's evaluative position, from which judgements are made according to the dictates of God and heaven.

The flimsiness of Holk's arguments and his inability to soothe his conscience are hereafter unambiguously revealed. In the confrontation scene in chapter twenty-nine, Christine is a model of dignity, whereas Holk fiddles awkwardly with the figurine of the baby Jesus in the nativity scene and then tosses it back in its crib (192-93), a hint perhaps of a connection between his infidelity and his lack of Christian piety. The last we hear of him, in Julie's letter that closes the novel, is that he may have overheard the reproaches of mourners at Christine's funeral, as though a chorus were being used to deliver a final verdict on his conduct (223). All this amounts to more than a simple shift in the author's sympathies from Holk to Christine, who as well as moral rigor has sentimental traits which are shown to have disastrous effects and are treated aloofly in the narrative. Holk, for his part, represents more than his antipathy for the righteous mode, and indeed he acquires some of the thought patterns associated with it. If the author judges the characters in this novel, this judgment is filtered through an evaluation of the discourses they adopt.

To recapitulate: the depicted speech styles in Unwiederbringlich are neither unique to each character, nor are they variations on the author's own personal style, nor yet a compromise between the two; rather, they are the expression of a number of social discourses variously assimilated and combined by individual speakers. These discourses exist in a fluid and complex dialogic relationship with one another, and it is from this relationship that the evaluative position or ultimate semantic authority of the author emerges. But does this mean that the idea of a Pentane-Ion has no value, at least for the understanding of this novel? The notion that Fontane's characters speak in a tone unique in German literature, and that the author's own personality resonates through this tone, is too well established to be so easily dismissed.

So what characterizes the Pentane-Ion? Gilbert enumerates the following attributes: paradoxes, wilful exaggerations and generalizations, chattiness, anecdotalism, jeuxd'.esprit and qualifications (121). Grawe draws up a longer list: "reiche Schichtung und Symbolisierung der Texte, Bildungsfulle, Lebensreife und -erfahrung, Abgeklartheit, Skepsis, Toleranz, Humor, aber auch Sentimentalitat, Resignation, Plauderhaftigkeit und Mangel an Leidenschaft" ("Der Fontanesche Roman" 467). Such features certainly mark Fontane's direct self-expression in his letters, which have been praised for their openmindedness (Mittenzwei 318-19, 325), their love of Causerie (Gilbert 18), their effortlessness and concision (Muller-Seidel 481), and their amused resignation (Richter 166). The same features are found in the speech of many of Fontane's fictional characters, but here they have a crucially different status. For the novel, according to Bakhtin, is the product of "exotopy" (outsidedness), which means that it externalizes the various discourses that constitute the author's own identity. The novel represents "the struggle with all types of internally persuasive alien discourse that had at one time held sway over the author" (DI 348).Through the act of representation, the novelist is in the unique position of being able, temporarily, to extract himself from the influence of the discourses he has assimilated. And so, when his characters speak like him, we should not simply assume they speak for him or with his approval.

Unwiederbringlich contains all the salient features of the Fontane-Ton, elegant Causerie, irreverence, sentimentality, resignation, humane tolerance, and skepticism. But all of them are presented exotopically. In a letter of August 24, 1882, to his daughter Martha, Fontane calls himself a Causeur and remarks that "Das Geistreiche" is what flows most readily from his pen (Briefe 3: 206), and yet conversational fluency and wit are ambivalently, not to say censoriously, presented in Unwiederbringlich in the courtly speech of the Princess's circle. Irreverence is embodied in what I have called the mischievous discourse, and this, at least in its stronger form, sounds increasingly dissonant as the novel progresses. Sentimentality, which Grawe includes in his list, is held at a distance in this impassively narrated work. Resignation is expressed in Pentz's adage "Wundere dich allenfalls, aber argere dich nicht" (61), but such a spokesman hardly confers dignity on this principle. As for humane tolerance, the impression is more mixed-the shift of the ultimate semantic authority toward righteousness is offset by the calls for tolerance placed in the mouths of Baron Arne and Frau Schleppegrell. Finally; skepticism, especially regarding conventional sexual morality, whichisvindicated inIrrungen, Wirrungen and EffiBriest, is seen far more negatively here, with both the amused indulgence of the mischievous mode and the morally enervating cleverness of the courtly mode precipitating Holk's disastrous adultery.

The need to distinguish between the language of Fontane the private individual and the representation of similar language in the mouths of his fictional characters is illustrated by the example of Ebba's maxim "Leichtes Leben verdirbt die Sitten, aber die 'Iugendkomodie verdirbt den ganzen Menschen" (150). Both Grawe ("Die wahre hohe Schule" 152) and Ohl(24748) have claimed that Ebba speaks for the author here. However, although her statement resembles sentiments Fontane expresses in his letters, the narrative context places it at a distance from the ultimate semantic authority of the novel. The Fontane-Ion is not identical to the authorial perspective of the novel. Rather, Fontane the novelist exotopically explores the merits and demerits of some of the discourses forming his own identity; he uses the genre not to put his sensibility on display, but, consciously or subconsciously, to scrutinize and evaluate it.

Moreover, seeing the presentation of the Pentane-Ton as exotopic confutes the claims advanced by a small but prestigious group of commentators that Fontane is a superficial, conciliatory writer whose resigned tolerance amounts to little more than intellectual feebleness and ideological vacuity. One such is Alfred Doblin, who writes: "Pentane hatte einen Blick fur die menschliche Schwache: das Wort ist symptomatisch: 'menschliche Schwache' [... ]. Mir wird flau bei dem Ausdruck. Es ist etwas Philistroses daran, nicht etwas, peinlich viel"(82). Another is Gottfried Benn, who uses the term "das Plasierliche" to define what he sees as Fontane's tendency to downplay iniquitous aspects of the society he portrays by means of hackneyed urbane chatter (4: 344--45). Georg Lukacs similarly admonishes that Fontane's fiction often exhibits a purely self-preserving and hollow irony, making him no more than an agreeable belletrist (276-91). Lastly, Erich Auerbach declares that Fontane does not succeed as a chronicler of his time "wei! sein Ton doch nicht uber den halben Ernst eines liebenswurdigen, teils optimistischen, teils resignierten Geplauders hinausgeht" (482). Fontane scholars have variously defended their author against these reproofs, but an understanding that the celebrated Fontane-Ton is not so much something that pervades his fiction as something critically represented therein should lay them permanently to rest.


*Bakhtin tends to use the word "author" indiscriminately for narrator and author (real and implied). As the problems this could create in the case of an ironically distanced narrator do not arise in Unwiederbringlich, I shall do likewise. In all cases, the emphasis in quoted material is original.

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