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L'Adultera is the first in the series of Theodor Fontane's social novels and thus introduces his late work.

The story was written between December 1879 and April 1880. The preprint took place in the same year in "Nord und Süd" Vol. 13 and 14, Issue 39 and 40, the first book edition appeared in March 1882 at Salo Schottländer in Breslau .


It tells the story of the beautiful young Melanie van der Straaten, née de Caparoux, a Geneva woman who married Ezechiel van der Straaten, a businessman from Berlin who was a quarter of a century older, when she was around seventeen . The marriage resulted in two daughters. The older, Lydia, is seen as the image of the mother, dark, slim and beautiful, but in contrast to her mother is always serious and thoughtful. Heth, the spoiled baby, on the other hand, looks similar to the father, but has inherited the mother's laughter and agility. Friederike von Sawatzki, known as Riekchen, an overgrown old lady who is Melanie's special confidante, and the piano teacher Anastasia Schmidt also almost belong to the family. Spring after spring, both are asked to move out with Melanie and their daughters to the Tiergartenvilla , where they live the summer and rarely come to the van der Straaten.

The situation could be idyllic, but Melanie suffers from two characteristics of her husband: On the one hand, as a typical Berliner, he cannot hold back with remarks that Melanie finds embarrassing and inappropriate, especially in company. On the other hand, although there is initially no reason to do so, he often torments her with his jealousy or the prediction that one day she will be unfaithful to him because it runs in his family.

This motif is introduced at the beginning of the narrative. Ezekiel had a copy of a Jacopo Tintoretto picture made with the title “L'Adultera” (“The Adulteress”), which is now being delivered. Melanie shows pity for the depicted sinner and states that she cried, but definitely not because she really saw her guilt, but only because her surroundings told her again and again how bad she was. However, the choice of motif alienates her. Ezekiel then explains that he had the picture copied as a reminder in order to get used to the thought of his future fate. Surely this fate could not be avoided, not even if he had his wife walled up. Melanie is anything but happy about this prediction and assumption and finds the idea that visitors could make their thoughts about the motif of the picture particularly unpleasant. But she finally dismisses it as a whim of her husband.

In the early summer of the same year, the household should be expanded to include one guest. Ezekiel van der Straaten has agreed to take on the son of a Frankfurt business friend who has been abroad for a long time and now wants to set up a bank branch in Berlin. Melanie, when confronted with this plan, reacts skeptically, but is so impressed by the photograph of the young Ebenezer Rubehn, who is adorned with the order, that shortly afterwards she drops the word “family friend” in conversation.

Rubehn presented himself to her one morning in the Tiergartenvilla and immediately showed himself to be the complete opposite of the uncouth van der Straaten. He proves himself - Anastasia is playing on the grand piano - as a music lover and a Wagner fanatic like Melanie herself. While he finds the full approval of the adults and is asked to visit again soon, Melanie's daughter Lydia opposes him. Melanie van der Straaten and Ebenezer Rubehn quickly come closer to each other.

In this situation Melanie sees only one possibility: Escape from the van der Straatens house and a new life with Rubehn. With the help of the old servant Christel, who tries everything possible to prevent her mistress from taking this step, she packs the bare essentials to leave the house under cover of night. But no sooner has she convinced Christel that her case is different from the precedent of a marriage in crisis and rescued, which the servant told about, than she also faces her husband and has to explain her arguments to him too. Ezekiel, trying to keep his composure, even promises to keep Ebenezer's child like his own and to cover up his wife's adultery if she only stays. Melanie, however, sees the only possibility to continue to exist in an open and honest cut. She refuses to take one last look at her sleeping daughters and leaves her previous home.

Santa Maria della Salute

With Ebenezer Rubehn she first travels to the south, soon plagued by depression, which only subsides a little after the divorce from van der Straaten and the marriage with Rubehn is completed. In Venice she finally gives birth to her third daughter, Aninettchen, to the ringing of the bells of the church of Santa Maria della Salute , which has already been mentioned in Berlin.

When she arrived back in Berlin, she realized that she was not completely rejected by society. Police advisor Reiff, for example, an old friend from their first marriage, paid his respects. The hunchbacked Riekchen, together with her sister Jakobine, even arranges a reunion with the older daughters. But this turns into a fiasco . Melanie, unsure of her own children, doesn't immediately find the right words, only greets Heth as her sweet darling and has to watch Lydia grab her little sister and maneuver her out of the room with a bitter "We have no more mother".

Ebenezer, to whom she describes the scene in the evening, is clearly distracted and not inclined to concern himself with Lydia's reaction any longer. It turns out that he has business worries and a little later the Rubehn bank actually has to declare bankruptcy . But Melanie, contrary to her husband's expectations, sees this as an opportunity for a new beginning. The last parallels between her present and her previous life are also given up; They move out of the spacious attic apartment , Ebenezer looks for a job, Melanie herself begins to give music and tutoring lessons and the touched company, which until now has held on to the abandoned Ezekiel van der Straaten, turns its favor after this demonstration of renunciation on the outside Benefits the young loving couple.

Relatives to Effi Briest

In terms of motif, L'Adultera is closely related to Fontane's later and better-known adultery novel Effi Briest . Here, too, there is the young wife who got married before she could even begin to develop her own personality, here too there is the much older husband who makes life difficult for his young wife, and here too there is the unsuccessful reunion scene the abandoned daughter.

But the relationship ends here. Apart from the fact that Fontane's late work, Effi Briest , is much richer and more finely composed in terms of design, more detailed in its psychological design and more refined in its reference technique, there are also differences in content. Effi, who admittedly cannot see a new life partner in her lover, the married major von Crampas, like Melanie in Ebenezer Rubehn, does not emancipate herself, she does not choose the open conflict with her husband and society, but instead steps off the path is discovered by chance, when it could almost be described as "barred", and leads to its ruin.

Although, from a legal point of view, she is to blame for her own fate, she has the full sympathy of the reader, while her husband Innstetten, who tried to “educate” her through ghostly stories and keep her from missteps, described a reader in Fontane's time as “disgust “Was designated. Even if this is too one-sided view of the betrayed husband, one must nevertheless conclude that Ezekiel van der Straaten wins the favor of the readership more easily than Innstetten. He has the bonhomie and humanity of a Treibel , assesses the world realistically like him and as a result meets his fate with at least an apparent equanimity, which the more romantically inclined Melanie must regard as superficial, but which basically corresponds to a reasonable mental attitude. In addition, he has an understanding of art, which he casually downplays. You could actually live with him, as with old Briest, especially since he has not, like Innstetten, transplanted his wife into a dreary provincial town in West Pomerania and has given her up to boredom, but offers her everything she can expect. Conversely, Melanie's “predicament” - as the marriage is generally referred to in “Effi Briest” - appears against this background as not as compelling and plausible as that of the air-hungry Effi in Kessin, who is in need of variety. Even if one recognizes Melanie's honest and uncompromising attitude, on the other hand the kitsch- touching happy ending of L'Adultera is much less convincing than Effi's sad ending in the heliotrope bed .

On the other hand, Melanie van der Straaten is probably the only female figure from Theodor Fontane who, contrary to the customs of her time, takes her fate into her own hands and throws herself with all the conventions that restrict her.

The Ravenés

Fontane had a real case in mind when he wrote L'Adultera : Louis Fréderic Jacques Ravené was abandoned by his wife Therese Elisabeth Emilie Ravené, born von Kusserow (1845–1912) because of a younger man (Gustav Simon 1843–1931) been. One month after Ravené's death on May 28, 1879, Fontane read in the Vossische Zeitung (for which he wrote himself at the time) about the auction of the plant collection from the estate. In addition, he knew the family circumstances superficially through his wife, since a friend Emilie Fontane was bringing up Ravené's son, and he adopted some real key data. He later resisted the allegation that he had written a novel with L'Adultera . In a letter to Joseph Viktor Widmann on April 27, 1894 he wrote: I never went into Ravené's house, I only saw the beautiful young woman once in a theater box, the man only once in a London company and the lover (an assessor Simon) never seen at all […] It was only astonishing that everything was exactly right with regard to the secondary characters, in a downright ridiculous way . But that can be explained by the fact that a lot in our social life is so typical [...]

The paintings

Hans Rottenhammer : Cristo e l'adultera.

The scene Jesus and the adulteress from the Gospel according to John (8,1-11 EU ) was painted by many artists. Several versions of this motif were ascribed to the Italian painter Jacopo Tintoretto . One of these pictures, which is still in the Venice Accademia , was used by Fontane as a motif in the novel. Before using this picture, Fontane had referred to a later execution by Tintoretto in the Dresden Old Masters Picture Gallery .

In the meantime, the Italian art historian Paola Rossi found out that the painting from Venice is a work by the Augsburg artist Hans Rottenhammer , which until the end of the 19th century was erroneously attributed to Tintoretto.


  • Theodor Fontane: L'Adultera. Novella . Edited by Gabriele Radecke . Berlin 1998 (Great Brandenburg Edition, The Narrative Work, Vol. 4). ISBN 3-351-03116-5
  • Theodor Fontane: L'Adultera. Novella . Afterword and remarks by Frederick Betz. Reclam, Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 3-15-007921-7 , reprint 2019.


In 1982 Thomas Langhoff directed the television adaptation Melanie van der Straaten with Kurt Böwe and Christian Steyer in the male lead roles.

See also

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Frederick Betz: Afterword . In: Theodor Fontane: L'Adultera. Novella . Reclam, Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 3-15-007921-7 , pp. 166-181, here p. 167
  2. Pericope Adulteræ on Wikimedia Commons
  3. Bernd W. Seiler: The tiresome facts. On the limits of probability in German literature since the 18th century . Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 978-3-608-91246-3 , pp. 276-279  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Toter Link / www.uni-bielefeld.de  
  4. Gabriele Radecke: From writing to storytelling. A text-genetic study of Theodor Fantane's "L'Adultera" . Konigshausen & Neumann, 2002, ISBN 978-3-8260-2052-0 , p. 108 ( Google.Books ).
  5. Rodolfo Pallucchini, Paola Rossi: Tintoretto. Le opere sacre e profane , volume 2.Milan 1982, p. 732