In Chapter 3 of Theodor Fontane's novel Effi Briest, which I've started reading online, there seems to be some kind of foreshadowing when Effi's future husband Baron von Innstetten is talking with (or being talked at by) her father:

He turned his gaze again and again, as though spellbound, to the wild grape-vine twining about the window, of which Briest had just spoken, and as his thoughts were thus engaged, it seemed to him as though he saw again the girls' sandy heads among the vines and heard the saucy call, "Come, Effi."

He did not believe in omens and the like; on the contrary, he was far from entertaining superstitious ideas. Nevertheless he could not rid his mind of the two words, and while Briest's peroration rambled on and on he had the constant feeling that the little incident was something more than mere chance.

What is "saucy" about the two words "Come, Effi", spoken between girl friends playing together? What is "the little incident" which Innstetten feels is somehow portentious?

I wonder if this lost something in translation, and there's some German wordplay which doesn't come out as clearly in English. (I realise "come" can have a sexual meaning, but it's hardly what one would think of in this context. Is that really what entered Innstetten's mind?) So, for completeness, here is the original German text, which I also found online:

Dieser nickte mechanisch zustimmend, war aber eigentlich wenig bei der Sache, sah vielmehr wie gebannt immer aufs neue nach dem drüben am Fenster rankenden wilden Wein hinüber, von dem Briest eben gesprochen, und während er dem nachhing, war es ihm, als säh' er wieder die rotblonden Mädchenköpfe zwischen den Weinranken und höre dabei den übermütigen Zuruf: »Effi, komm.«

Er glaubte nicht an Zeichen und ähnliches, im Gegenteil, wies alles Abergläubische weit zurück. Aber er konnte trotzdem von den zwei Worten nicht los, und während Briest immer weiterperorierte, war es ihm beständig, als wäre der kleine Hergang doch mehr als ein bloßer Zufall gewesen.

  • It could be the tone she used rather than the mere words that are "saucy."
    – Mary
    Feb 27, 2021 at 3:16

1 Answer 1


The "little incident" is nothing more than what is described at the end of Chapter II:

almost at the very moment when he was approaching her with a friendly bow there appeared at one of the wide open vine-covered windows the sandy heads of the Jahnke twins, and Hertha, the more hoidenish, called into the room: "Come, Effi." Then she ducked from sight and the two sprang from the back of the bench, upon which they had been standing, down into the garden and nothing more was heard from them except their giggling and laughing.

The exact same words, "Come, Effi", are repeated in Chapter XXXIV, when Effi's father says to his wife:

Believe me, Luise, 'society' can shut one eye when it sees fit. Here is where I stand in the matter: If the people of Rathenow come, all right, if they don't come, all right too. I am simply going to telegraph: 'Effi, come.' Are you agreed?

Note that in the German text, the word order is "Effi, komm" in both instances. The translator appears to have overlooked this consistency.

Of course, Instetten cannot know whether the "little incident" is a portent or not. The comment can be seen as an example of Fontane's technique of foreshadowing. Another example can be found at the end of Chapter I, where Effi says (emphasis mine),

"Hertha, now your guilt is sunk out of sight," said Effi, "in which connection it occurs to me, by the way, that in former times poor unfortunate women are said to have been thrown overboard thus from a boat, of course for unfaithfulness."

The two instances of "Effi, come" are inserted at two crucial turning points in Effi's life. The first instances comes at Effi's engagement, so the "little incident" in Chapter II represents the force or forces that pull away from Instetten, her future husband. It also represents the playfulness and the childlike behaviour that Effi needs to leave behind. (Effi is only seventeen when she gets married to Instetten, who had been turned down by her mother eighteen years earlier.)

The second instance of "Effi, come" enables her to return to her parents' home, after Innstetten has repudiated her because of her affair with Crampas. A number of aspects from her childhood are repeated in the last few chapters: Effi wears a blue and white striped linen dress again, just like in Chapter I, sits on a swing and enjoys the fresh air outdoors. The words "Effi, come" represent a pivotal point after which she returns to the world of her childhood, which cannot be recovered, however.

The adjective "saucy" in Chapter III refers back to what the translator rendered as "hoydenish" at the end of Chapter II. (The German adjective at the end of Chapter II is "ausgelassen", which may also be translated as "high-spirited".) "Saucy" is here a translation of "übermütig", an adjective that Fontane uses several times in the novel (e.g. in chapters XI, XIII and XIV), typically as an antonym for shy, timid or embarrassed (German: "verlegen").

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