Supernatural and irrational elements in the works of Theodor Fontane

Chambers, Helen E. (1977) Supernatural and irrational elements in the works of Theodor Fontane. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The purpose of this thesis is to examine in the fictional works of Theodor Fontane, the ironic realist, those elements which may be appropriately termed supernatural or irrational. While noting these elements, previous studies have usually singled out individual themes or motifs in selected works. This is an attempt to examine in detail
the full range of such irrational material which, at first sight, would seem incongruous and alien in the context of novels celebrated for their representation of social reality.
The central supernatural motifs under consideration are ghosts and fairy-tales; irrational concepts examined include fate and predestination, with the attendant themes of grace, prophecy, premonition and omen, together with the closely allied concepts of superstition and religion, and the motif of the character with elemental affinities.
A more or less chronological approach has been adopted, in order to
bring out the progression or development in the employment of the material; although the novels have, on occasion, been arranged in groups (Chapters IV-VII) in order to facilitate a comparative study, The section on the fictional works is preceded by an examination of the Wanderunven durch die Mark Brandenburg and autobiographical works, as possible sources of supernatural and irrational motifs and themes.
The study reveals a complex range of functions performed by the elements under examination, and a degree of progression can be discerned.
Broadly speaking, irrational and supernatural material is presented indirectly in the novels, through the perception or utterances of the characters, and the references become more oblique in the later novels.
The irrational material can be seen, in many cases, to be fundamental to the structural development of the work in question, and whereas in earlier works the irrationally contrived structure is often obtrusive, in later
novels, such as Effi Briest, the integration of these elements with more realistic aspects of motivation and structure is complete.
elements which appear in Vor dem Sturm (Chapter III) and the
crime stories (Chapter IV) as directly experienced phenomena recur in the early social novels (Chapter V) solely in conversational contexts. Supernatural references scarcely figure in the later Berlin novels (Chapter VI), which explore social themes other than marital discord.
They re-emerge, however, in Unwiederbringlich and Effi Briest (Chapter VII), where disharmony in marriage is again a central theme. Fairy tale imagery, at first invoked to symbolise ideal or alluring feminine qualities, later serves to deny the validity of the idyll in modern life.
In Der Stechlin (Chapter VIII), where the majority of irrational and supernatural elements recur in a conciliatory and reflective context, their conventional functions have been largely superseded, but their continued presence confirms that they are essential features of Fontane's
expressive diction, and it is in his final novel that the elemental figure finds her most developed and enigmatic form, in Melusine.
The consideration of irrational and supernatural features in the works has resulted in an examination of any of the central themes and distinctive stylistic qualities of Fontane's fictional writing: a fact which clearly
indicates the significance of such features as integral, indeed fundamental, aspects of his art.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PT Germanic literature
Colleges/Schools: Precurrent Departments
Supervisor's Name: Supervisor, not known
Date of Award: 1977
Depositing User: Ms Mary Anne Meyering
Unique ID: glathesis:1977-5328
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 26 Jun 2014 15:13
Last Modified: 26 Jun 2014 15:14

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