First published in 1887, Irrungen, Wirrungen tells the story of two lovers who are doomed to never spend their lives together despite wanting to.
Although the theme was hardly a new one, even to contemporary readers, the way the story unfolds is beautiful- Fontane has a knack of leading the reader by the hand, showing and not telling the depths of the main characters’ feelings for one another.
Lene, the main female character says from the start that her relationship with Baron Botho cannot last. Instead of the couple fighting against tradition and society’s expectations, the pair of them whole-heartedly embrace said expectations. Later in the novel, a friend of Botho says that he is going to defy convention and marry the penniless love of his life. Botho replies that if he goes ahead with a marriage, it will bring misery to both of them in the long run as it goes against the status quo.
Don’t think for a moment that the love between Lene and Botho is a fleeting one.
Even after Botho’s marriage to ‘the right sort’ of woman, he notices Lene’s absence from his life. Even at the end, it is not certain whether or not he has let Lene go and embraced married life whole-heartedly.
Lene, despite seemingly being prepared for heartbreak from the start, is so distraught when she glimpses Botho and his happy, vivacious new bride from afar that she insists that she and her mother move house. It is only after this (and two years separation from Botho) that she starts to feel that she can love again.
An understated story that starts slowly and swells to a sad crescendo. Fans of Susan Ferrier’s, Ishiguro’s or Disraeli’s novels will like this one.
Read for Rose City Reader‘s European Reading Challenge, 2016.