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First page of the manuscript of " Irrecoverable ", copy by Emilie Fontane with revisions by the poet
( Humboldt University Berlin )

A novel by Theodor Fontane is irretrievable .


Fontane wrote his novel in the years 1887–1890. As early as January – June 1891, a preprint appeared in volumes 66/67 of the monthly literary magazine “ Deutsche Rundschau ”. The first book edition was published by Verlag Wilhelm Hertz (Besser'sche Buchhandlung) in Berlin in November 1891, but the imprint mentions the year 1892.


The novel is set in the years 1859 to 1861 in the Duchy of Schleswig , which was then ruled as an independent unit from Denmark - a few years before the German-Danish War , as well as in Copenhagen and at Frederiksborg Castle .

Count Helmuth Holk and his wife Christine live with their two children in a lonely castle on the Flensburg Fjord . Christine is portrayed as a pious woman with high moral standards, while Holk is portrayed as a rather unreflective and cheerful man who admires his wife, influenced by Moravianism , but suffers from her strictness of principles. Holk farms on his property, but also holds an office as chamberlain at the Danish court. When he was posted to a Danish princess at the Copenhagen court for a few months, this variety suits him very well. In contrast to previous stays in the Danish capital, this time his mission is a danger to his marriage: While the temporary separation used to lead to a re-awakening of love between Christine and Holk, this time he is confronted with female figures in Copenhagen from the start, call their own the virtues that he misses in his wife. At first the seductive captain's wife Brigitte Hansen , the daughter of his landlady, attracts his attention, but soon he also meets the princess's companion, Ebba von Rosenberg . This is less attractive, but more witty. A stay of the small court society at Frederiksborg Castle ultimately turned out to be fatal for Holk. After a dangerous ice skating over the Arresee, they spend the night together, which, however, has a dramatic end: a devastating fire breaks out in the castle, but Holk is able to save Ebba. The couple's escape to the castle roof quickly becomes the talk of the day. Without asking Ebba, who is sick for a few days and is not allowed to receive visitors, Holk decides to marry her and drives to his castle to inform Christine of his decision. The encounter with his wife shakes him at first, but her persistent self-righteousness is decisive and the couple split up. When he returned to Copenhagen, however, Ebba gave him a basket. At the mercy of ridicule and deeply hurt, Holk embarks on a journey. However, both his brother-in-law and the old local chaplain and a former tutor of the count's children are working to ensure that the couple are reconciled again. In fact, a second wedding is finally celebrated, but the couple can no longer return to unselfconscious behavior. A few months after the apparent reconciliation, Christine, unable to get over the past, commits suicide by drowning herself in the sea.


Fontane transposed a real case, which was described to him by a relative of the main victim, into Schleswig-Danish. It was about the Pomeranian district administrator Karl von Maltzahn and his wife Caroline von Bilfinger. Some of the locations, people and events at the time, including the fire that destroyed a large part of the palace furnishings, are real, while others, for example the princess, are fictional. He took the title of the novel Irretrievable from the farewell letter of the archetype of Christine.


  • Theodor Fontane: Irrecoverable. Novel . Berlin: Wilhelm Hertz (Besser'sche Buchhandlung) 1892
  • First print of the magazine in Deutsche Rundschau No. 66/67, January – June 1891
  • Theodor Fontane: Irrecoverable. Novel. Edited by Christine Hehle. Berlin 2003 (Great Brandenburg Edition, The Narrative Work, Vol. 13). ISBN 3-351-03125-4

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Individual evidence

  1. ^ Bibliography Fontane at