Cécile (novel)

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Cécile is a novel by Theodor Fontane . It deals with the fate of a woman who is repeatedly caught up with her past and who eventually breaks up because of it.

The novel was written between 1884 and 1886 and was preprinted in Universum magazine from April to September 1886 . The first book was published the following year by Emil Dominik in Berlin .


Hotel ten pounds
Hotel zur Rosstrappe

The reader meets the protagonists, Cécile von St. Arnaud, a young, beautiful and apparently nervous woman, and her husband Pierre, a former colonel . D., who is already well over 50 years old, for the first time when they went on a vacation trip from their residence in Berlin to the Hotel Zehnpfund in Thale in the Harz Mountains . There the couple quickly met the well-traveled civil engineer Robert von Gordon, with whom they went on various excursions. During the first venture of this kind, which took the company out onto the terrace of the hotel on the Rosstrappe , Gordon discovered that the beautiful Cécile was strangely illiterate - she reveals herself in a conversation with the painter Rosa Hexel, whose acquaintance is at this stage power. Another excursion, this time to Quedlinburg , where the castle and the abbey church can be visited, puzzles him further: the young lady has obviously never heard of Klopstock , whose birthplace one passes, and suffers a kind of weakness in the gallery of the castle when one chats about the obnoxious genesis of most of the picture collections that have beautiful young women as their subject.

Since he was very interested in the young woman, he wrote a letter to his sister Klothilde that same evening, who he hoped could explain the history of St. Arnaud's marriage to him.

Arrow monument at the time of the novel

Another excursion takes the company to Altenbrak . While the colonel and two other new acquaintances, the private scholar Eginhard from the bottom and a retired clergyman, walk the distance, Cécile and Gordon ride two donkeys. On the way, a cuckoo, who only calls once when Gordon asks how many years left he has to live, causes an upset. A little later, the two of them pass the Jagdschloss Todtenrode , and Gordon finds out once more that Cécile reacts sensitively to the mention of immoral circumstances in aristocratic circles. But shortly afterwards, when you meet the painter Rosa again in Altenbrak and then reunite with the hikers at the Gasthof zum Rodenstein for lunch, these critical moments are forgotten again. Cécile, her husband and Gordon make the way back on horseback. Although Cécile is shivering and tired, St. Arnaud makes a detour to the monument to the forest scientist Pfeil , while Gordon stays with the young woman.

"'Aren't you attracted too?" Asked Cécile with a touch of mockery and bitter humor. 'St. Arnaud sees me shivering and knows that I am counting the minutes. But what does it mean to him? '
'And is otherwise full of attention and consideration.'
'Yes,' she said slowly, drawn out. And there was a world of negation in that yes. But Gordon took her casually hanging hand and held and kissed it what she let happen. "

The next day, Gordon, informed by a telegram , suddenly has to leave for professional reasons. On the train he puzzles as to why a reunion with Cécile should be impractical, but is sure that it would be better if he didn't meet her again: “What she expects from me is courtship, service, homage. And homage is like phosphor wood, a coincidental friction and the fire is there. ”Nevertheless, a little later he wrote a letter to Cécile and, knowing about the St. Arnauds' summer plans, she tried to find something in her vacation home on the North Sea but does not succeed, and finally, after returning to Berlin, goes to see her in her apartment on Hafenplatz. This only succeeds on a second attempt. On this occasion he met the court preacher Dörffel, a confidante of the young woman, to whom she expressed her fears when Gordon had finished his visit: “He [Gordon] knows nothing of the tragedy that bears the name of St. Arnauds, and knows even less of what led to this tragedy. But for how long? He will quickly settle in here again, establish old relationships and one day he will know everything. And on the same day… ”Cécile has a gloomy premonition and says:“ Oh, my friend, let's not try to hold him, we're not keeping him for his and my happiness. ”Dörffel tries to calm her down, which he succeeds to some extent .

While these hints make it clear to the reader that there must really be an unusual history, Gordon calms down in a self-talk: “I think I can see clearly now. She was very beautiful and very spoiled, and when the prince, who was surely counted on, refused to come, she took the colonel. And a year later she was nervous, and two years later she was melancholy. Of course, an old colonel is always melancholy. But that's all. "

In the next few weeks Gordon frequented the St. Arnaud's house and got to know the not very pleasant company that gathered there. Rosa, who is also a regular guest, confirms his suspicions that Cecile's marriage is not too happy. Rosa also indirectly predicts a catastrophe : "God grant that it will end well."

A little later, Gordon receives the long-awaited letter from his sister Klothilde. She informs him that St. Arnaud got engaged to Cécile Voronezh von Zacha four years ago and then had to endure a duel because he was told that this engagement was not going well. Because Cécile has a history: at a very young age, after her father shot himself out of money, she was appointed reader of the Princess of Welfen-Echingen - pro forma , because in reality she became the old prince's lover. After his death, she stayed in the same position with his nephew at Cyrillenort Castle. After this nephew too soon had the time, she should have married a chamberlain, but moved back to her mother, where St. Arnaud met her.

After this past as a princely lover has been revealed, Gordon can also explain Cécile's strange reactions to the mention of pleasure palaces etc. Shocked as he is, he refrains from visiting the port square for a few days, but then he calls on Cécile again. She notices that his attitude towards her has changed, and in the course of their conversation she implores him not to exceed certain limits: “[...] I want these homage to be given a certain limit. I swore, don't ask when and on what occasion, and I want to keep this oath, and if I should die over it. ”Shortly afterwards she even asked him in a letter to either return to his earlier tone or to break off contact - without to know that he has since found out her history.

painting by John Collier

At this explosive moment, he again received a telegram and temporarily saved the situation. Gordon is on the road for several months, writes a letter to Cécile, as he did last time, but receives no answer, just like the previous time. In November he will return to Berlin. On the very first evening he went to the opera to pass the time . But it is precisely this Tannhauser performance that Cécile attends, accompanied by the cynical privy councilor Hedemeyer, whom Gordon found an unpleasant contemporary during his visits to Hafenplatz. Full of jealousy, he visits Cécile in her box during the first break, and there is a sharp argument with Hedemeyer. When Gordon notices that Cécile and the privy councilor are leaving the opera house during the second act, he also leaves to appear immediately at the harbor square. Cécile is outraged: “You […] are jealous because of arrogance and moral judgments. There it is. One fine day you heard the life story of poor Fraulein von Zacha [...] this life story, at least you believe, gives you the right to a freer tone, a right to demands and recklessness [...] I don't have the right to the other to have. But I want him back [...] ”But at this moment Gordon is unable to comply with Cecile's appeal and rushes out of the apartment, confused.

The next day St. Arnaud, who learned of the incident from Hedemeyer, asked Cécile to confirm that she had given Gordon no reason to take liberties. Outraged by the engineer's presumption, he sends him a harsh letter, the consequences of which are clear to him: Gordon will have to challenge him to a duel .

He calculated correctly. It was agreed that the matter would be carried out in Dresden , Saxony , and Cécile already suspected the moment she received Gordon's farewell letter that what was supposed to come true: The requests for forgiveness are Gordon's last words.

In order to avoid further imprisonment after this second rencontre of his career, St. Arnaud goes to Mentone , where he wants to have Cécile follow him. But a few days later he had to find out from Dörffel that the young woman had committed suicide. In their last decrees you can read: “I wish to be transferred to Cyrillenort and to be buried in the parish church yard there, to the left of the princely grave chapel. I want to be at least close to the place where those rest who gave me in abundance what the world denied me: love and friendship, and for the sake of love also respect [...] Refinement and kindness of heart are not everything, but they are much."

Cécile - an out of date woman

“[…] I'm not interested in the big questions, and even now I prefer to take life as a picture book to leaf through. Drive across the country and sit at the edge of a forest, watch how the grain is cut and the children pick the poppies, or maybe go there yourself and weave a wreath and talk to little people about little things, a Geis that was lost, or about a son who came back, this is my world [...] "

This is how Cécile characterizes herself once, and in keeping with this self-assessment she behaves in various situations. When talking about topics that go beyond her horizon and do not directly concern herself, she immediately looks exhausted and disinterested and sometimes even reacts quite annoyed by dealing more or less demonstratively with the dog Boncœur or directly in the conversation intervenes. She embodies an image of women that no longer corresponds to the time in which she lives: the beautiful lady who is pampered by her knights and who receives homage.

Both St. Arnaud and Gordon understand this on the one hand, but on the other hand do not always act accordingly. Cécile only pays unconditional homage to nature on the one hand by not only placing the Newfoundland dog Boncœur at her side as a "knight", but also "pampering" her with rose petals or flocks of butterflies, and on the other hand her co-parent Rosa, who is not by chance eating loaches Altenbrak is the last to find a rhyme, and Cécile is apostrophized as a "pearl" with a kiss of homage.

Rosa Hexel embodies, like the Baroness von Snatterlöw, who frequented the St. Arnaud house, or Marietta Trippelli in “Effi Briest” , a new image of women: She is emancipated and independent, can have a say in all topics, does not care too much social conventions and - therefore no longer has any erotic charm for the male world. Gordon once said that you could travel around the world with her, and yet there would be no rapprochement.

But if women of the old style like Cécile are no longer in vogue and women of Rosa Hexel's caliber are uninteresting for the gentlemen, the logical consequence is that the men in the novel put other interests in the foreground of their everyday life: St. Arnaud spends most of the time in the Casino playing, Gordon chatting away many evenings with an industrialist friend, and the two Berlin tourists, who keep observing and commenting on society, prefer to let Berlin live instead of a knitting needle or a plug .

The fate of women at Fontane

Cécile is one of Fontane's tragic female figures who perish because of the social realities of their time. Like Effi Briest , she has a husband who cannot respond to the emotional damage done to him by the rival other than by demanding a duel. In both cases, however, the main focus is not on encroaching on their marital rights, but rather they follow the template socially intended for such cases - Innstetten, because he carelessly created a confidante in his confidante Wüllersdorf and now believes that nothing else to be able to react without making a fool of himself in front of him, St. Arnaud, because he is indignant that Gordon had the presumption to provoke him. For both women this reaction of their husbands leads to catastrophe and - also with Effi - ultimately to death.

As about Effi, as about Melanie van der Straaten , decisions were made about Cecile's “career” in her early youth without her being able to foresee the consequences and intervene in any way. Only after the first duel of St. Arnaud, when she felt guilty for the death of the opponent, did she make a firm decision: never again to undertake anything socially contestable and in her marriage to St. Arnaud, even though it did not develop happily, always remembering their duties. But although, unlike Effi, she is not guilty of misconduct in marriage, her past catches up with her and she is helpless in her situation. Effi also made such a decision, albeit only after her affair with Crampas - this decision also came too late. Melanie's decision, on the other hand, leads to an open break with her husband and with society, but in return to her personal happiness in life - although for some reasons the reader is not necessarily convincing.

Fontane's female figures rarely find both - private happiness and freedom from conflicts with social guidelines. Korinna and Lene have to stay in their social class and enter into marriages of reason, Stine has to experience that her noble admirer, who cannot come to terms with the circumstances, parted ways and will probably die from it herself, Mathilde Möhring and the Poggenpuhls spend their lives without a partner and in poor circumstances. Nowhere in Fontane's women's novels is a direct accusation against these fates loud, but the criticism of the conditions that cost these women the happiness of life cannot be ignored.


Victory Column

A conflict with the Prussian living conditions towards the end of the 19th century is evident not only in the portrayal of Cecile, who no longer fits into her time, but in almost all of the characters in the novel. Right at the beginning of the novel, Cécile, shaking her head, points to the Berlin Victory Column , at the first stop of the train in Potsdam , where numerous military men are on the platform, the St. Arnauds are more or less cut, and not just St. Arnaud and Gordon have said goodbye and retired into civil life, but z. B. also the Preceptor von Altenbrak, who did not find his services sufficiently recognized, whereas the emeritus was suspended from service "for Mümmeln's sake", the private scholar apparently never got an official job at all and the unsympathetic Hedemeyer has long been "sidelined" and can no longer change this state of affairs even through flattery.

The main characters of the book stand out from the people of their time, who always appear "en masse" and mostly with military drill, such as the gymnasts in Altenbrak. Another characteristic of the time is the hunt for money (which neither the player St. Arnaud nor the debtor Gordon, who left the army, apparently cannot handle). As a result, the climatic health resort of Thale is polluted by the smoke of a factory, and an enamel factory is listed as a sight , in which worthless metal is made to shine. The huge flower fields in the area are also used for commercial purposes.

Behind these innovations is mainly the business spirit of the rising bourgeoisie, which contrasts with the fading splendor of the nobility. This contrast also pervades the book as a recurring motif, for example during a conversation about the Regensteiner who was imprisoned in Quedlinburg under inhumane conditions :

"The bourgeoisie , who never drank deep from the cup of humanity , was particularly abstinent at that time [...]"

The description of the tour of the city itself is also revealing: the busts of the bourgeoisie, such as Klopstock in the once princely Brühl, who came to the fore through their own achievements, are left behind, and Cécile can only think of the criticism of its green color, which is a symbolic contrast to the main one red furnishings of the castle. This castle is disappointing for society because apart from the elegant red wallpaper there is nothing left of the old, “noble” sheen and the castellan can only refer to the past.

A striking symbol of Prussia at that time is also that a world-famous and modern engineer cannot avoid facing a traditional ritual , a duel, in which he falls.

Color symbolism

Burning Love. "Do I have to tell you, my lady, how heavy the consumption is?" ( Gordon )

Red is not only the color of the declining nobility, but - not only for Fontane - the color of love. In this capacity she appears in the novel z. B. when speaking of flowers, but indirectly also in the name of the painter Rosa Hexel. As mentioned, this lady exudes no erotic charm, so it is certainly no coincidence that Fontane gives her a first name that not only reminds of the painter Rosa Bonheur (her nickname is Rosa Malheur, as she was when she first met on the horse bustard says), but is also a name for a faded, watered-down, faded red. Another obvious association with the color red is the theme of “blood” and “death”, and indeed Cécile Gordon sees one day in the red glow of the evening sun and interprets this as a bad omen .


Cécile is also alien to Prussian society, in which she moves without being really recognized, as she grew up a Catholic and evidently only converted later. In death, however, she turns back to her original denomination, as she writes in her farewell letter to court preacher Dörffel:

“Every church has rich gifts, and I owe much to theirs too; the but, where I was born and raised, makes us dying easier and embeds us soft. "

A turn to Catholicism can also be found in Count Petöfy , where the heroine Franziska, originally Protestant, full of remorse for her misconduct and her husband's suicide, seeks consolation in the Catholic Church. For Effi Briest, Roswitha's Catholic faith is also comforting and even decisive for the servant's attitude - she sees it as a counterforce to the dreaded Chinese haunted house.

Anyone who does not need consolation in Fontane's novels and does not come from the servant sphere is and as a rule does not become Catholic either. St. Arnaud wrote tactlessly to his wife in the letter after the duel:

"By the way, it will be good if Marie accompanies you, who here, which may make it easier for her to say goodbye to Fritz, has the Catholic closer and more comfortably than in Berlin."

And Ms. Dörr declares the loneliness in the nursery to be so bad that it is even “becoming a kattolsch” - which clearly shows that in Berlin during the time of Cecile, Catholicism was seen as something extremely remote and almost exotic.

Real backgrounds

The view from the hotel balcony

In 1882 Fontane had learned of a near duel between a young Count Eulenburg and his superior, Count Alten. The latter had said to the young man when he announced his intention to marry: “Dear Eulenburg, you love women like that, but you don't get married.” However, the case could be settled without a physical argument; Eulenburg married his lady and became happy with her.

Fontane was very familiar with the locations described in great detail. He lived several times in the Hotel Zehnpfund - which, by the way, still exists today, albeit as a renovation property. In 1884 he stayed for three weeks, this time in a different quarter, in Thale. From his letters to his family it can be seen that he has adopted various people and situations that caught his eye during this time almost unchanged in his work. B. the old "Rodensteiner" and his daughter who dished up the loaches that give rise to a liver rhyme competition in the book . Fontane also tasted these fish in the service of the novel - on June 22, 1884.

The hotels where Gordon stops for professional reasons are less detailed, but also historically documented. In Bremen, this is the Hotel Hillmann , built in 1847 , which at the time of the novel was considered the most elegant hotel in the suburb of Bremen's train station and was located where a Mariott Hotel is today. In Berlin, Gordon lives in the equally luxurious Hôtel du Parc .


  • Theodor Fontane: Cécile. Edited by Hans-Joachim Funke and Christine Hehle. Berlin 2000 ( Great Brandenburger Edition, Das Narrellische Werk, Vol. 9), ISBN 3-351-03121-1 .


  • Peter James Bowman: Theodor Fontane's Cecile. To Allegory of Reading. In: German Life and Letters 53, 1, 2000, ISSN  0016-8777 , pp. 17-36.
  • Daragh Downes: Cecile. In: Christian Grawe; Helmuth Nürnberger (Ed.): Fontane-Handbuch , Kröner, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-520-83201-1 , pp. 563-575.
  • Michael Ewert: The Harz as a space for history and memory. Historical spatial experience in Theodor Fontane's “Cécile”. In: Cord-Friedrich Berghahn; Herbert Blume; Gabriele Henkel; Eberhard Rohse (Ed.): Literary Harz Travel. Images and reality of a region between romanticism and modernity. Verlag für Regionalgeschichte, Bielefeld 2008 (= Braunschweiger Contributions to German Language and Literature, Vol. 10), ISBN 3-89534-680-2 , pp. 233-256.
  • Gerhard Friedrich: The question of guilt in Fontane's “Cécile”. In: Yearbook of the German Schiller Society 14, 1970, ISSN  0070-4318 , pp. 520-545.
  • Henry Garland: The Berlin Novels of Theodor Fontane. Oxford 1980, ISBN 0-19-815765-7 , pp. 73-98.
  • Magdalene Heuser: Fontane's "Cécile". To the problem of the omitted beginning. In: ZfdPh 92, 1973, ISSN  0044-2496 , pp. 36-58.
  • Peter Uwe Hohendahl; Theodor Fontane: "Cécile". On the problem of ambiguity. In: Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift (GRM), NF, 18, 1968, ISSN  0016-8904 , pp. 381-405.
  • Paul Holz: "... that was the Prince of Werle". Research and comments on a liver rhyme in Fontanes Cécile. In: Fontane-Blätter 3, 1976, H. 7, ISSN  0015-6175 , pp. 524-527.
  • Charlotte Jolles : Theodor Fontane. JB Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 1993 (4th edition), ISBN 3-476-14114-4 [especially the Cécile chapter, pp. 58-61].
  • Winfried Jung: "Pictures, and always pictures ...". Pictures as characteristics of critical narration in Theodor Fontanes Cécile. In: Wirkendes Wort 40, 1990, ISSN  0935-879X , pp. 197-208.
  • Helmuth Nürnberger : "You made the singer Rizzio happy ...". Schiller's Mortimer and Fontanes Gordon-Leslie. A motif in Cécile. In: Helmuth Nürnberger: The nurse's castle. Small contributions to the literature of the 19th and 20th centuries. Baltica Verlag 2000, ISBN 3-934097-07-3 , pp. 19-29.
  • Eberhard Rohse : Harz tourists as literary figures in the works of Theodor Fontane and Wilhelm Raabe: "Cécile" - "Frau Salome" - "Restless guests". In: Cord-Friedrich-Berghahn, Herbert Blume, Gabriele Henkel; Eberhard Rohse (Ed.): Literary Harz Travel. Images and reality of a region between romanticism and modernity. Verlag für Regionalgeschichte, Bielefeld 2008 (= Braunschweiger Contributions to German Language and Literature, Vol. 10), pp. 175–231, especially pp. 190–210, ISBN 978-3-89534-680-4 .
  • Eda Sagarra: Prejudice in Fontane's narrative. On the question of the wrong optics in “Cécile”. In: Roland Berbig (Ed.): Theodorus victor. Theodor Fontane, the writer of the 19th at the end of the 20th century. A collection of contributions. Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 3-631-35227-1 , pp. 121-136.
  • Ursula Schmalbruch: On the Melusine motif in Fontanes Cécile. In: Text and Context 8, 1980, H. 1, ISSN  0105-7014 , pp. 127-144.
  • Inge Stephan: "I've been attracted to the natural for a long time". On the relationship between women and nature in Fontane's “Cécile”. In: R. Grimm, J. Hermand (Ed.): Nature and naturalness. Stations of the Green in German Literature. Königstein 1981, ISBN 3-7610-8147-2 , pp. 118-149.
  • Cornelie Ueding: Utopia on the wrong track. Two scenes in Fontane's novel Cécile. In: Gert Ueding (Hrsg.): Literature is utopia. Frankfurt 1978, ISBN 3-518-10935-9 , pp. 220-253.

Web links

Individual evidence

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