Chess by Wuthenow

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Schach von Wuthenow - story from the time of the Gensdarmes regiment is a story by Theodor Fontane , which, written between 1878 and 1882, was first published in 1882 in the Vossische Zeitung . The first edition in book form was published by Wilhelm Friedrich in Leipzig in 1883 .


The story takes place in 1806 shortly before the outbreak of the Fourth Coalition War , when the imminent defeat of Prussia against Napoleon was still unpredictable for many. The protagonist, a noble officer named Schach von Wuthenow (his first name is never mentioned), is a captain in the feudal Gensdarmes regiment . He thus belongs to the higher society, he has relations with Prince Louis Ferdinand , and he is considered an exceptionally handsome, attractive man. He shies away from marriage and family, but not from amorous adventures. So he woos the witty widow Josephine von Carayon, in whose salon he visits regularly. In a moment of romantic emotional confusion, he seduces her daughter Victoire von Carayon, who was a celebrated beauty as a young girl, but whose face is now disfigured by the peeling .

For a long time, Mrs. von Carayon insisted in vain for a marriage that would restore her daughter's reputation, and for this reason she even went to the Prussian king with a kick . The monarch reminds chess of its duty. As an officer loyal to the king, Schach obeys the highest order and consents to the wedding. However, he shoots himself shortly after the marriage because he believes that he cannot bear the ridicule of his fellow regimentalists.

Historical background

The affair between chess and Victoire is based on an actual event that did not take place until 1815: Otto Friedrich Ludwig von Schack , major of a Prussian elite regiment and well-known womanizer, decided to settle his financial problems with the wealthy and educated but unsightly Victoire von Crayen, daughter of the famous Berlin salonnière Henriette von Crayen . Schack shot himself before the wedding because he feared he would become the mockery of his comrades.

The politico-military background is that of 1806, and Fontane lets many real people from current events appear, including the critical military writer Adam Heinrich Dietrich Freiherr von Bülow , his publisher Johann Daniel Sander , officers of the Gensdarmes regiment such as Ludwig Karl Alexander von Alvensleben and members of the court, in addition to the king himself, Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia (1772–1806) . Views in Berlin were divided. One party, in recognition of the French Revolution 's will to assert itself, and Napoleon's military genius, tended to adopt a policy of neutrality or even an alliance with France . Fontane lets Bülow as one of her protagonists speak in detail. The other party advocated the war against France. Fontane puts their arguments mainly in Schach von Wuthenow's mouth. According to this, Napoleon is a “Corsican usurper of the throne and crown”, but the Prussian army will fix it in the event of war (“I, however, adhere to the Frederician proposition that the world does not rest more securely on the shoulders of Atlas than Prussia on his shoulders Army"). As Fontane and his readers know, a few months later Prussia , his army and the Gensdarmes regiment perished - which fictional chess would no longer experience due to his suicide.

Fontane's special achievement is not to portray chess as a superficial handsome boy or an officer frozen in a distorted concept of honor, but as a mentally active and deep person who, as a psychological type, characterizes the beginning of the 19th century in Prussia. Chess is both: Prussian officer and country gentleman as well as knight and admirer of real beauty - a contradiction that he does not know how to combine in life, which is why he chooses the formal fulfillment of his duties, but cannot bear the ridicule of those around him. Schach's political and military errors are also presented not as a specific weakness, but as an inevitable limitation of the contemporary.

Fontane alienated the main character by choosing the name Schach von Wuthenow , since the real model, Otto Friedrich Ludwig von Schack, belonged to the north German noble family von Schack , but there was also a Silesian noble family that was not related to them, the Schack von Wittenau (also Schach von Wittenau ) was called.


  • Theodor Fontane: Chess from Wuthenow. Friedrich, Leipzig 1883. ( digitized version and full text in the German text archive )
  • Theodor Fontane: Chess from Wuthenow. Story from the time of the Gensdarmes regiment. Arranged by Katrin Seebacher. Berlin 1997 (Great Brandenburg Edition, The Narrative Work, Vol. 6). ISBN 3-351-03118-1
  • Theodor Fontane: Chess from Wuthenow. Edited by Pierre-Paul Sagave . Frankfurt / M. ; Berlin: Ullstein, 1966


In 1882 a group from the Berlin Märkisches Geschichtsverein tried to visit the invented Wuthenow Castle in the town of the same name based on the story.

Film adaptations

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Excerpt from Fontane's letters on the Schinkelkirche Wuthenow website
  2. The story of the captain of chess Wuthenow in the Internet Movie Database (English)