This is playful novel about how love and marriage don't go together in the middle classes of 1890s Second Empire Germany busily aspiring to higher status.
The second part of the title "Wo sich Herz zum Herzen findet" comes from Schiller's Lied von der Glocke but is deployed ironically.In this novel the heart doesn't find another heart but seeks the opportunity for social advancement and the action of the novel plays out in a duel over the battlefield of one Leopold Treibal.The second and thoroughly below average son of the Jenny Treibal of the title.For Corinna on the one hand marriage to Leopold promises the relative grandeur of dinner parties whose guests include a retired opera singer and two noble women with connections to the Imperial court.However for Jenny Treibal - who delightfully invades and conquerors Corinna's living room before dominating conversation with her at the beginning of the novel - herself up-jumped from lower social status through her marriage to Mr Treibal (they live, as do the Die Poggenpuhls, in a house ideally situated unless the wind blows from the direction of the nearby factory) losing Leopold to Corinna threatens to drag down the family a notch in its standing.Only rapid footwork and an alliance with her daughter-in-law (whose semi-aristocratic Scottish heritage is not something she allows others to ever forget) promise to save the situation.The counterpoint to the Schiller is "man muss mit dem zufrieden sein, was man gerade hat."(p177)
The subject of the novel could easily be oppressive but here unlike in the later Effi Briest the one is light but sharp, like a butterfly collector pinning society to the page.
There is a concern with breading and heritage among the characters that is Darwinian yet the upwardly mobile Treibels are shown be average at best.Poor Leopold, though an adult, remains under the command of his mother, who even goes so far as to leave instructions for waiters not to allow Leopold to drink more than one cup of coffee.At the same time the interest of Corinna's father in Schliemann's discoveries at Mycenae and particularly the masks believed to be of Agamemnon and co.suggest that (family) history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as comedy, and perhaps since the father at the height of the romantic difficulties will confess to almost wanting to become a Social-Democrat (and so rejecting the social hierarchy and the ambition to climb as close to the Emperor as possible without getting burnt) an allusion to Marx was not unconscious.
Something that I particularly enjoy about Fontane's style is how content he is to carve a slice of life and not to worry about plot.The characters are convincing and carry the story largely through dialogue and a relatively simple plot works because of the integrity of the characterisation.It feels very realistic and leaves me with the feeling that other novels are melodramatic and contrived.Here the writer has achieved the cunning trick of effacing themselves from the novel.The characters speak for themselves.A story emerges through their entirely everyday interactions.