Affection is a mysterious thing


Bicentenary of Theodor Fontane’s birth

Dagmar Manzel and Sylvester Groth read from the exchange of letters between Emilie and Theodor Fontane

arranged by Gerhard Ahrens

‘Because affection is a mysterious thing that is not necessarily accompanied by approval of the actions of the other.’
(Theodor Fontane)


Dagmar Manzel and Sylvester Groth read from the correspondence between the Fontanes, which stretched across half a century (1852 to 1898), starting with the notes they sent each other when they were newlyweds and ending with Fontane’s last letter to his wife, written on the day he died. They wrote these letters to each other during long periods of separation due to his professional commitments and later work as an author, although these were sometimes also necessitated by the family’s financial difficulties. They kept on writing to each other through relationship crises and regardless of any arguments they may have had. Like their intimate conversations when they were close to each other, this uninterrupted, at times excessive exchange of letters was inherent to the nature of this marriage.

Theodor Fontane’s living situation was not easy: for many years, he was unable to provide for his family with his writing, and they suffered financial hardships. Emilie was often left on her own with their four children, sometimes even without a proper roof over their heads. For many years, Emilie Fontane brought up the children virtually single-handedly; she was not only a mother but also her husband’s secretary, copy editor and, of course, his wife – today, we would probably call her a very successful work-life balance manager, although of course, she struggled with her conflicting desires for self-determination and conformity, a conflict that was not unusual in those days. The famous saying ‘behind every successful man is a strong woman’ certainly applies to Emilie’s role in the classic sense. Fontane would not have been able to produce his works without his wife, and she contributed far more than just writing his manuscripts in fair copy. Their exchange of letters also pays eloquent testimony to this.

Affection is a mysterious thing


  • Saturday, 14.09.2019
  • 18:00
  • Great Hall


€ 16 / concessions € 12

Advance bookings

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+49 (0)33476 600-750

  • 7_Inforadio (rbb)