The theme and poetic function of space in Theodor Fontane's works
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This thesis proposes a new view of space in Theodor Fontane’s writing as both a mode of literary expression and an object of literary inquiry: space serves a poetic function and is a thematic concern. The research draws on theories of literary space which focus on spatial structures and topographies, as well as those which provide critical tools for analysing individual passages of description, especially focalisation, which elucidates the influence of the viewing figure in the text. Significantly, the subjective experience of a perceptive observer is central to Fontane’s conception of aesthetic processes, and as a result, an analysis of spatial representation often uncovers reflexive discourses on art, its function and value. On the basis of this insight, this study provides new readings of a range of texts, including less well-established and non-fictional works, as well as recognised masterpieces. In Fontane’s local travelogues, the Wanderungen, the poetic function of space is rare, while many passages reflect on the environment’s potential significance. The early novels explore spatial representation as a means of constructing textual symbolism. Spatial representation in Vor dem Sturm functions as a strategy of relativisation; in Schach von Wuthenow and Graf Petöfy topographies and pregnant descriptions serve as commentaries on characters’ levels of awareness. The mature novels Irrungen Wirrungen and Unwiederbringlich explore the sources and practical implications of reading objects in the world as signs. Space retains its formal role, but the represented figural experience of the novels’ worlds becomes a vehicle for reflexive analysis of the world’s perceived meanings. Similarly, in Der Stechlin different types of relationships with exterior reality are expressed spatially, and, as elsewhere, the capacity for aesthetic appreciation is represented positively. This entails and indeed produces critical distance towards modernity: isolated Stechlin is a locus of poetry, a testament to literature’s importance and vitality.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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