Count Petofy

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Count Petöfy is one of Theodor Fontane's early social novels .

It is about the marriage between a young, Protestant, middle-class actress from Northern Germany and an old, Catholic, Hungarian count.

Fontane made his first notes on the novel in 1880. In 1883 the work was finished, in 1883 it appeared as a preprint in Über Land und Meer and also as a book edition.


The family of the Counts von Petöfy only has three living representatives: the old Count, a bachelor of about seventy and theater habit, his widowed sister Judith von Gundolskirchen, who, unlike her brother, spent her time talking to her confidante Father Feßler and dealing with Catholic Church, and the nephew of the two, Count Egon Asperg, the son of a deceased sister of the two old men.

Petöfy and Judith von Gundolskirchen share a palace in Vienna in winter . It is here that Judith von Gundolskirchen meets the young actress Franziska Franz, for whom Petöfy has developed an affection, and gets the best impression of the young lady. Even when they met again months later in a holiday and health resort - Franziska cured a nervous fever there that attacked her after the old Count had clearly withdrawn from her for the time being - the friendly intercourse continued. Nevertheless, Judith is not happy when her brother confides his late marriage plans to her: He wants to win Franziska over as a kind of Scheherazade and transplant it to his Hungarian Arpa castle, his summer residence. Like Franziska's confidante Hannah, she sees the denominational and class difference as secondary and not too problematic, but not the difference in years between the two partners. Franziska, she fears, will become lonely and bored, the sacrifice she intends to make - admittedly in exchange for social and financial advancement - seems too high to her. For her part, Franziska expresses her fear to her trusted servant Hannah that she will orientate herself more towards the wishes of her future husband than she really can - a clear prediction . But the marriage took place and Franziska took up her life as the old count's “chat bag”. At first she was entertaining herself by acquiring knowledge of the Hungarian language and playing with the servants' children, but when Count Egon came to visit Arpa Castle, she happily exchanged the textbooks for lessons in the saddle and accompanied the young count on long rides. Once, in the course of a somewhat dramatic rescue operation for a child allegedly stolen by gypsies , she and Egon end up in mortal danger on the stormy lake on which the castle is located, but they are rescued.

As autumn sets in with copious rains, it turns out that Judith's fears were not unfounded. Franziska feels the emptiness of her existence in her marriage to the old count more than ever. Judith urgently recommends that her brother move back to Vienna as soon as possible so that his wife can benefit from the winter season's entertainment, but it's too late: one day old Petöfy notices that his nephew is wearing a ring from Franziska's possession. He realizes that his demands on the young woman were too high, does not want to stand in the way of the young couple and decides not to confront Count Egon or even to duel with him, but to part with himself.

Franziska, gripped by remorse, decides after the death of her husband to break off the relationship with Egon, to seek consolation in the Catholic Church and to administer her inheritance alone.

Critical voices

The first criticism of this story comes from Fontane's wife Emilie, who was entrusted with copying the manuscripts. She reproached her husband that the love story between Franziska and Egon was not sufficiently prepared, but surprised the reader and seemed unmotivated - a very justified objection, which Fontane did not take seriously. Franziska's sudden change of heart also belong here. If she is at first almost calculating and apparently only marries out of ambition and without a deeper affection for the old man, she is said to have suddenly developed a violent affection for Egon, who remains a rather pale figure in the novel, and then make another about-face.

Later critics noted above all that, in contrast to his other social novels, Fontane hardly knew the terrain he was describing firsthand. He had only stayed once for three days in Vienna, never in Hungary, and only in Franziska's hometown can one recognize his own hometown Swinoujscie in a somewhat more vivid description. However, this problem is no longer seen by recent research as as serious as it was in previous years, since interest has now turned more to the composition of the conversational novel than to the setting.

Similar motifs in other novels by Fontane

Fontane repeatedly describes the age difference between two partners as a serious problem. Like many others, Cécile tries bravely to overcome this shortcoming, as presumably Lene Nimptsch after she married Gideon Franke, whereas Melanie van der Straaten and Effi Briest , like Franziska, cheat on their husband. Melanie finds happiness in life with her new partner, while Effi ultimately perishes from the dissolved marriage.

Fontane also frequently deals with the difficulties of class differences in his social novels. The combination “bourgeois girl - noble man” can be found in Errungen, Verrungen as well as in Stine ; in both cases, however, there is no permanent connection. However, both Lene, the heroine of the first mentioned novel, and Stine come from a different class than Franziska Franz. They are seamstresses and as such are not able and perhaps not willing to assimilate at least outwardly to the aristocratic society. Lene's appearance, for example, is criticized in Hanke's filing by the paid (!) "Friends" of Botho's regimental comrades, while Franziska Franz can confidently say:

“In general [...] a count has a countess; who wanted to deny that? But if it can't be a countess, the actress comes after the countess because, I may tell you, she is closest to the countess. Because what is important in the so-called upper class? But always only on the fact that you can wear a train and take off and put on a glove with a bit of chic. And see, that's what we're learning for the bottom line. So much in life is just a comedy game anyway, and anyone who knows this game with all its great and small arts from their profession has one step ahead of the others and easily transfers it from the stage into life. "

(Incidentally, Wanda Grützmacher in Stine also enjoys this preference, albeit to a lesser extent .) Nevertheless, Franziska has to experience - either for religious or for reasons of class - how Count Petöfy naturally assumes that her corpse once had no place in it the tomb of the noble family will find.

The differences in class in Mrs. Jenny Treibel appear to be critically ridiculed . This bourgeoisie of petty bourgeois origin successfully prevented her son Leopold from marrying the daughter of the grammar school professor Schmidt, who is actually far superior to her in all areas except finances and is also the daughter of her old childhood friend.

The fate of the noble, but poor, ladies seems rather tragic, who for reasons of dowry cannot find a suitable partner with Fontane and therefore have to remain unmarried. This happens to the three Poggenpuhls or the Fräulein von Schmargendorf in Der Stechlin .

The difference between the denominations, on the other hand, is not emphasized again by Fontane. In his realistic novels, which are based in Berlin and northern Germany, only minor characters, such as Roswitha in Effi Briest, are catholic . An exception is Cécile, who comes from Poland, but who has converted and only seeks consolation in her ancestral church in her death. Franziska shares a fate with Cécile, which, however, hits the former harder. The young Polish lady allegedly came to a royal house as a reader and entertainer, just as Petöfy's desire to marry stems from the desire for a companion and storyteller. But while Count Petöfy marries his "chat bag" as a man of honor - and the marriage probably never consummates -, Cécile becomes the princely lover and is passed on to a second by her first employer in the same function. Her honor is thus tainted and a return to the bosom of society is no longer possible despite her subsequent marriage to Pierre von St. Arnaud. For Franziska, on the other hand, her marriage to Count Petöfy did not result in any social disadvantages, and whether her liaison with Egon was counted for the worse or was even known to the public is not clear in Fontane's story.

With Mathilde Mohring finally Franziska is similar in that it after the end of their marriage, and they that some "seed capital" gives, finds itself and begins an independent, more or less emancipated life. Of course, it must be stated that Mathilde is resuming her original career plan and becoming a teacher, but remains in very limited and rather poor circumstances. Franziska is materially better off, but her future prospects still seem rather bleak. Withdrawal from the “worldly” life in favor of occupation with the Church is a lot that does not seem to correspond to the nature of the young woman, as she was first described. Here, too, the jumps in the composition are noticeable again.

Real archetypes

In the same year in which Fontane began to sketch the novel, the actress Johanna Buska married Count Nikolaus Casimir Török von Szendrő . The young woman, whom Fontane was known for his work as a theater critic, was in her early thirties, the Count nearly seventy. He died of natural causes four years later and Fontane commented: "Török is Petöfy and Buska is Franziska - but she will probably be less witty and will certainly marry some Egon." (Letter of June 11, 1884 to his wife Emilie). In fact, the former actress remarried a little later, this time Angelo Neumann , the director of the German Theater in Prague . There are also some other differences between the real and the fictional characters. Johanna Buska did not marry the old count of her own free will, but on the orders of Emperor Franz Joseph, who thereby ended a liaison with Crown Prince Rudolf and probably also tried to put the child born in the marriage with Török on the count. Fontane, however, was probably not familiar with this background; What was obviously interesting for him was the initial situation of a marriage between a young actress and an old nobleman, and the controversial settlement of the novel in Austria and Hungary clearly goes back to these real models.

Father Feßler, who frequented the house of Judith von Gundolskirchen and played an important role in Franziska's conversion, had his real archetype in the court preacher Dr. Karl Adam diaper . This frequented the house of the married couple Karl Hermann and Marie von Wangenheim, where both denominations were also represented.

Leitmotifs and symbolism

Several times - and very early on - the novel alludes to Nikolaus Lenau's poetry. In addition to the Scheherazade motif, which in turn is linked to the figure of St. Elizabeth , verses of Lenau form the background of the novel; in particular the rain motif, which is associated with “the girl's loneliness”, appears again and again in the story.

Symbolically, one of the bells that are rung when Franziska is about to be introduced into her new home breaks and only rings again when the young woman, now widowed, returns to the castle to take on her inheritance. And Count Petöfy knows the ring, which in turn represents a sign of solidarity and ultimately betrays Egon's love affair, from the day he advertised Franziska. In this scene, which takes place in the young actress' apartment, it is expressly emphasized that the ambience lacks everything "Russian patchouli [...]" that the cliché actually belongs to a young actress. Rather, Franziska's home indicates the sober character of the resident. On the other hand, the old Count's thoughts and interests always move in the stage sphere, and even when he makes the decision to commit suicide, he realizes that he does not want to be a “troublemaker” - the title of a play by Roderich Benedix .

See also


  • Conrad Wandrey: Theodor Fontane . Beck, Munich 1919.
  • Walter Müller-Seidel : Theodor Fontane. Social novel art in Germany . 2nd revised edition. Metzler, Stuttgart 1980, ISBN 3-476-00454-6 .
  • Helmuth Nürnberger : On the material history of Theodor Fontane's novel "Graf Petöfy" . In: Fontane-Blätter 4, 1981, H. 8, ISSN  0015-6175 , pp. 728-732.
  • Lieselotte Voss: Literary Prefiguration of Depicted Reality in Fontane. On the quotation structure of his novel . Fink, Munich 1985, ISBN 3-7705-2228-1 .
  • Christian Grawe: Count Petöfy . In: Christian Grawe, Helmuth Nürnberger (ed.): Fontane manual . Kröner, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-520-83201-1 , pp. 546-554.


  • Theodor Fontane, Count Petöfy. Ed. Lieselotte Voss. Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-15-008606-X .
  • Theodor Fontane, Count Petöfy. Novel. Edited by Petra Kabus . Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-351-03119-X ( Great Brandenburg edition. The narrative work. Volume 7).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Regina Dieterle (eds.), Theodor Fontane and Martha Fontane. A family letter network , Berlin / New York (de Gruyter) 2002, ISBN 3-11-015881-7 , p. 658