Effi Briest (1895)

Effi Briest (1895) is Theodor Fontane’s best known work. It is widely considered a masterpiece of German literary realism, and is often mentioned in the same breath as Gustave Flaubert’s Madam Bovary (1857) and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1878). The railway in Effi is a dominating symbol and shaper of the novel’s geography.

We have mapped Effi on two separate maps; an 1897 map provided by the University of Chicago, and an 1893 map provided by David Rumsey.


Thanks to the University of Chicago for the use of this map.


Visualizing the Railway Space in Fontane’s Effi Briest


Is visualization interpretation? It is a question not traditionally posed in humanities research—an area of study in which words on paper historically have been seen as the primary medium through which we express our interpretive, analytical, and critical ideas. It is a question, however, that in light of the myriad visualization tools available to the humanist researcher, ultimately needs to be dealt with in the field of German Studies. This paper is a contribution to the budding field of spatial humanities and, as such, it answers the question in the affirmative. Visualization assists readers of literary fiction with the construction of mental models of a given work for a potentially clearer interpretative understanding. We hypothesize that the geographical railway space in nineteenth-century German Realism was not merely a passive setting for the development of this emblematic technology, that is, it is not a simple record of the remarkable European railway expansion, but rather such space was the mechanism for the development of a literary-technical culture that was foundational to the poetic realism of the era. Indeed, the fictive representation of the railway marked a further “coming to terms” with the always problematic constellation of humans, our technologies, and the natural world that surrounds us.

Read the complete analysis at the Journal TRANSIT.