The literary critic and historian Iwan-Michelangelo D’Aprile was born in Berlin in 1968. His research has included work on the cultural history of Berlin in the 19th century as well as the history of journalism. He is a professor at the University of Potsdam, where he teaches Cultures of the Enlightenment.
Theodor Fontane (1819-1898) was one of the most modern writers of his era. He penned ballads about American steamboats and Scottish train accidents in Scotland; as a journalist and novelist, he accumulated a wealth of ideas and material, some of which he used in his literary experiments with genres and formats. This process reminded him of the medicines he mixed in his apothecary’s laboratory, he said, “until the mixture was right”.
Here Iwan-Michelangelo D’Aprile, an expert on German language and literature, pries the author of Effi Briest and Der Stechlin away from his Prussian environs and embarks on a search for traces of Fontane across the increasingly accelerated, electrified and globalised world of his time. We meet Fontane at the opening of the first German train lines, travel with him as one of the first package tourists on the high seas and join him on the barricades of 1848 before accompanying him as an elector to the first freely elected parliament in German history. We journey with him to London where he is employed as a correspondent and witnesses a new kind of war reporting supported by photography and the telegraph. We look on as he writes about the downfall of Prussia and formulates his criticism of colonialism.
In old age, he becomes a driving force in the cultural scene of the nascent German empire’s capital city, inventing the Berlin social novel and becoming the idol and supporter of the young avantgarde. D’Aprile’s lively and sagacious depiction of Fontane’s life expands his biography into a panorama of the 19th century, creating an exciting and multi-layered work sure to stimulate renewed interest in Fontane’s oeuvre.