Christmas 1812: Half of Europe is occupied by French troops whose emperor is currently pull back from Russia. Prussia is also one of the subjugated countries and, after the annihilation of the Grand Armée, is only waiting for a sign from its king to throw the unloved occupiers out of the country.
Against this background, Th. Fontane’s first novel unfolds, in which he paints a grandiose picture of Prussian society in the last years of Napoleonic rule.
At the centre of the story is the von Vitzewitz family. The old Junker Berndt von Vitzewitz tries to set up a army of citizens even without the permission of the king and his ministers, while his son Lewin chases romantic dreams and suffers from his love for his Polish cousin Kathinka von Ladalinski.
That is, in a few words, the whole story of this almost thousand-page novel.
But more important than the plot, which Fontane rolls out in his usual manner, is the portrait of Prussian society he draws. His primary focus is on the old aristocracy and its world, but the book is also teeming with secondary figures from all strata of the population, whom he describes with the same attention to detail.
The result is a rounded, almost complete picture of this period.
But Fontane is not only a master at drawing people. Even from his book “Walks through the Mark Brandenburg” he was known as an atmospheric portrayer of his homeland and this can also be seen in this book. With love for detail he gives us the historical background of many places, describes villages and castles and lets the landscape of the Mark originate before our eyes.
A long, quiet novel that offers little dramatic action. But it is an eloquent and haunting portrayal of the nobility and peasants of the Brandenburg Mark shortly before the wars of liberation.