Theodor Fontane

A Life Sketch

Skizze eines Lebenslaufs

Henri Theodor Fontane – born on the 30th of December 1819 in Neuruppin. Went to school (or maybe not) here as well as in Swinemünde (Świnoujście) and Berlin. Both parents are descended from Huguenot families. Father Pharmacist, first in Neuruppinm, later in Swinemünde, Mühlberg and Letschin. Fontane began his pharmacy apprenticeship in Berlin and worked as a pharmacist in Burg, Leipzig, Dresden and Berlin. 

  • In 1835, his first meeting with Emilie Rouanet-Kummer his later wife. First poems- First attempts in prose. First tranlsations from English: poems, ballads, Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Through a childhood friend he becomes a member of the literary Sunday society ‘Tunnel über der Spree’ (Tunnel over the Spree), to which he belongs for more than 20 years.
  • Military service in 1844 as a one-year volunteer. First trips abroad with a childhood friend, who pays for the trip to London.
  • According to his own accounts, took part in the barricade fights in Berlin in 1848.
  • Political journalism, among others, the article “Preußens Zukunft” (Prussia’s future) in the newspaper “Berliner Zeitungshalle”. Purchase of his own Pharmacy not possible out of material reasons.
  • From 1849 freelance writer. The first books appear: Männer und Helden. Acht Preußenlieder  and the ballad cycle von der schönen Rosamunde.

Literature for additional information

These sketches outline Theodor Fontane’s life and (Reception—Wirken). We suggest the following titles for an in-depth look:

Roland Berbig: Theodor Fontane Chronik. 5 Bände. Berlin/New York 2010

as well as the recently published biographies:

Iwan-Michelangelo D’Aprile: Fontane. Ein Jahrhundert in Bewegung. Reinbek b. Hamburg 2018. – Regina Dieterle: Theodor Fontane. Biografie. München 2018. – Hans-Dieter Rutsch: Der Wanderer. Das Leben des Theodor Fontane. Berlin 2018. – Hans Dieter Zimmermann: Theodor Fontane. Der Romancier Preußens. München 2019.

  • In 1850 his parents separate without a divorce. Fontane receives a small position in the Prussian State and marries. Loss of position due to dissolution of the bureau.
  • He is sent to London in 1851 in conjunction with a new position at the “Zentralstelle für Preßangelegenheiten” (Central Department for Press Affairs).
  • From 1855 to 1859 as a press agent on government mandate in London. Political and feuilletonistic reports for German newspapers.
  • Birth of six sons, three of which die shortly thereafter, and a daughter, Martha. Return to Berlin.
  • In 1860 employed by the Neue Preußische Zeitung a.k.a. Kreuzzeitung as “mock correspondent” (unechte Korrespondenzen) of the English article until he left in 1870.
  • In the following years, publication of travel books from England and Scotland. Commencement of the Wanderungen durch die Mark Brandenburg as a consequence of newspaper and magazine articles, which first appear as a book in 1861 and undergo several revisions and volumes.
  • Trips to the war theatres in 1864 (against Denmark), 1866 (against Austria) and 1870/71 (against France). Subsequently comprehensive war books appear in the deceptive hope of kingly recognition.
  • In 1870 start of twenty years of work as a theatre critic at the Vossische Zeitung.
  • In 1876 an attempt at civil service occupation, which Fontane abandons after a few months of his own volition.
  • From 1878, 16 novels and novellas appear in 20 years beginning with Vor dem Sturm until Der Stechlin, concurrently, among others, autobiographical works and reprints of Gedichte and the Wanderungen.
  • In 1894 Fontane becomes an honorary doctor of the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität zu Berlin.

Theodor Fontane dies on the 20th of September 1898 in his Berlin apartment.