The Stechlin (novel)

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Title of the first book edition

The Stechlin is a novel by Theodor Fontane . It was created between 1895 and 1897 and was first published under the title Stechlin in 1897/98 in the journal Über Land und Meer . The book edition appeared (predated in the imprint to 1899) in October 1898. The Stechlin is Fontane's last novel. Its main character, old Dubslav von Stechlin, bears the same name as the actually existing nearby lake, which is atmospherically embedded in the Brandenburg landscape. The novel takes place at the time of its writing. Carelessly conducted conversations and profound conversations convey the melancholy of a late period, full of skepticism and yet forgiving. The main character, drawn with sympathy, bears the traits of its author, who died the month before publication.


The novel has about 400 to 500 pages, which are divided into nine sections with headings. Each of these sections consists of several chapters numbered from 1 to 46 consecutively.


Cover of the first book edition

The plot is about the old Brandenburg noble family von Stechlin, who have their seat on the Großer Stechlinsee in the Ruppin district . The novel describes only a few events. Fontane himself described the plot ironically: “In the end, an old man dies and two boys marry; - that's pretty much all that happens on 500 pages. "

The 66-year-old, widowed Dubslav von Stechlin, major out of service, lives at Stechlin Castle (like the village of Stechlin, a fictional setting). He is of a friendly disposition and “likes to hear a free opinion, the more drastic and extreme the better”. His only son Woldemar, a guard officer in Berlin , visits him with two friends, Ministerialassessor Rex and Captain von Czako. Numerous other people arrive, among them the chief forester Katzler, who is married to a princess, the married couple von Gundermann, who have moved in and are rejected by the long-established nobility, and Pastor Lorenzen, so that there are many discussions. While most of the villagers are morally strict, Lorenzen shows social democratic ideas and is a supporter of João de Deus . Current events are discussed; above all, the old, conservative views are weighed against new, liberal and social-democratic tendencies. On the return trip to Berlin, Woldemar and his friends visit Dubslav's half-sister Adelheid in the Wutz monastery . She runs the women's pen there , is ultra-conservative and disapproves of her brother's liberal views.

Count Barby lives in Berlin , also widowed, with his two daughters. Melusine is over 30 years old, divorced after a short marriage and has the surname Ghiberti. She is educated and expresses her views frankly and wittily. Her younger sister Armgard is silent and rarely appears. Woldemar is fascinated by the count, who resembles his father, as well as by the two women and often visits the family. Melusine is interested in Dubslav and the secrets around Lake Stechlin. She invites Woldemar to take a boat trip to the “ Eierhäuschen ” on the Spree , together with her father, her sister and another noble couple who hang out with the Barbies. In the end, Melusine implies that an engagement is about to take place.

Shortly afterwards there is a meeting in Stechlin, at which Dubslav is chosen as the conservative candidate for a by-election to the Reichstag . The election is finally carried out. The polling station is in Rheinsberg . The election ends with a clear victory for the social democratic candidate. Dubslav is secretly relieved to have lost the election and returns to Stechlin.

At another meeting in the house of Count Barby, Woldemar announced that he had been called to a "mission" to the British royal family. Earl Barby and his daughters lived in England for a long time, so they talk about it. Woldemar is leaving for England for a few weeks. On his return he visits the Barbies. When asked whether she was more inclined to Elisabeth Tudor or Maria Stuart , Armgard had decided in favor of Elisabeth of Thuringia and then had the feeling of being engaged to Woldemar. A few days later they are actually engaged. Melusine, Armgard and Woldemar are going to Stechlin for two days on Boxing Day. The engagement is celebrated there with numerous guests. In a private conversation, Melusine asks Lorenzen to continue to be available to Woldemar as "support". The wedding ceremony will take place at the end of February in Count Barby's house.

After his return from Berlin, Dubslav falls seriously ill, while Woldemar and Armgard go on their honeymoon. Adelheid visits her brother, who is also terminally ill and retains his character. To get her to leave, he takes Agnes, an illegitimate child of “low” origin, into his home, so that Adelheid leaves him in an irritable mood. Eventually Dubslav dies. Count Barby and Melusine are present at the funeral that Pastor Lorenzen is holding. The bride and groom learn of Dubslav's death on Capri and return to Stechlin. You then live in Berlin for a short time, but then long for Stechlin and move there. The closing words belong to Melusine, who in a letter to Lorenzen recalls her conversation on Boxing Day in Stechlin, when she said: "Everything old, as far as it is entitled, we should love, but we should really live for the new."


The weight of the novel is not on the plot, but on the diverse dialogues that reveal the social reality at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. As with all of Fontane's works, it is characteristic that he recognizes the weaknesses of his time and does not deny them in his literary presentation, but is nevertheless characterized by a deep sympathy for what should make up the Brandenburg nobility. This is exemplified by the character drawing of old Dubslav von Stechlin, whose death also symbolizes the farewell to an old world.

What is new in the novel is social democracy, whose historical and political rights are recognized in the novel, but whose weaknesses are also discussed. Pastor Lorenzen utters the following words, which perhaps express the main content of the novel: “Not so necessarily with the new. Better with the old as far as possible and with the new only as far as it has to. "

Allusions to the pagan Elbe Slavic heritage

For the old there are various allusions to the apparently long past but still secretly present pagan- Elbslavic history of the Mark:

  • Stechlin's formally Lutheran half-sister Adel heid , whose mother was born Radegast ,
  • her congregation Miss von Triglaff from the Triglaff house ,
  • the noble Herr von Altenfriesack and his idol face,
  • the yellow (heretic) color of the manor house,
  • the mistletoe instead of the Christmas tree,
  • Dubslav's subversive collection of roosters (resurrection symbols) dismantled from church towers,
  • his dealings with the "herb witch" and the friendly reception of her granddaughter,
  • his not entirely unrequited affection for Melusine, who bears the name of the mermaid Melusine ,
  • but above all the Stechlinsee ("our pièce de résistance "), which heralds distant catastrophes, mourns the death of the old man and seems to pass the news of this on to distant Vesuvius ,
  • and old Dubslav himself, "with a wotan-like black felt hat and a heavy oak stick", who, like the priest of a natural sanctuary, dwells in its forest and lake solitude, maintains a partly ironic-skeptical, but partly uncomfortable distance from Christianity maintains a way of dealing with the pastor that is reminiscent of a collegial relationship between a pagan and a Christian hermit, each of whom has to define and find his position between the old and the new.

Criticism of the "superman"

The novel contains a criticism of Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of the superman when old Stechlin says: “Now instead of the real human, the so-called superman has been established; but actually there are only subhumans, and sometimes it is precisely those who you definitely want to turn into an “over”. I have read from such people and also seen some. It is lucky that, in my perception, they are always decidedly comical characters, otherwise one could despair. "


With regard to his attitude towards Jews , Fontane is rated by research "as a writer who shares and transports the widespread enemy images and prejudices without appearing as a committed anti-Semite". He had thus mirrored the zeitgeist in a literary and journalistic way.

The portrayal of the most important Jewish figure, Baruch Hirschfeld, corresponds to the anti-Semitic cliché of the " Jewish usurer ": Hirschfeld regularly lends Dubslav money. But, although he "clings to the Stechlin lord of the castle with a kind of tenderness," he regularly demands high interest rates and speculates on one day being able to take over the property of an overindebted and insolvent Dubslav (Chapter 1). He wants to persuade the seriously ill Dubslav to take out another mortgage (Chapter 36).

The sympathetic pastor Lorenzen reveals himself as a supporter of the court preacher Stoecker , who as a politician and theologian wanted to combine a social reorientation of Christianity with a strongly emphasized anti-Semitism.

Comments Fontane on his work

In letters from the time he wrote, among other things:

  • “In the winter I wrote a political novel (comparison of nobility as they should be with us and as they are )” (June 8, 1896).
  • With reference to Before the Storm : The Stechlin "is also patriotic, but cuts the sausage from the other side and leans more towards a refined Bebel - or Stoeckertum than an old Zieten- and Blüchertum ..." (November 29, 1897).
  • “My new fat novel, which you so kindly mention, deals almost exclusively with this question; Dynasty, government, aristocracy, army, scholarship, all are sincerely convinced that we Germans in particular represent a high culture; I deny that… ”(May 14, 1898).


The Stechlin was included in the ZEIT library of 100 books . Peter Härtling wrote the essay on the novel .



The novel was made into a three-part film for television by Norddeutscher Rundfunk in 1975 under the title Der Stechlin .


  • Matthias Vogel: "Melusine, ... but that gives a deep insight." Studies on the figure of the water woman in poetic and artistic evidence of the 19th century. Bern 1989

Web links

Wikisource: The Stechlin  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. In Vol. 79 of Über Land und Meer , No. 1-19, from October 1897 to February 1898. “In addition to the folio edition of 'Über Land und Meer', the 'Stechlin' was also published in the octave edition of the magazine [ ...], which appeared monthly. ”(Wolfgang Rasch: Theodor Fontane Bibliographie. Vol. 1. De Gruyter, Berlin, New York, 2006, p. 832. Here is also p. 833 the second preprint in Über Land und Meer . Illustrirte Oktav-Hefte from December 1897 to June 1898 proven.)
  2. ^ Wolfgang Rasch: Theodor Fontane Bibliography. Vol. 1. De Gruyter, Berlin, New York, 2006, p. 83.
  3. ^ After Helmuth Nürnberger : Theodor Fontane. 23rd edition. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1998, ISBN 3499501457 , p. 157.
  4. The Stechlin. Structure, Berlin / Weimar 1984, p. 7
  5. The Stechlin. Structure, Berlin / Weimar 1984, p. 255
  6. ^ Edition: with an afterword by Walter Müller-Seidel, Insel, Frankfurt 1975, p. 347
  7. Wolfgang Benz: Anti-Semitism as a current trend. In: Hanna Delf von Wolzüge, Helmuth Nürnberger (Ed.): Theodor Fontane. At the end of the century. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2000, ISBN 3-8260-1794-3 , pp. 157–168, here p. 167.
  8. ^ Entry on Baruch Hirschfeld in the online literature dictionary