12

From Theodor Fontane's Effi Briest, which I'm reading online, during the wedding of Effi and Innstetten in Chapter V:

The dancing had continued till three o'clock, with the effect that Briest, who had been gradually talking himself into the highest pitch of champagne excitement, had made various remarks about the torch dance, still in vogue at many courts, and the remarkable custom of the garter dance. Since these remarks showed no signs of coming to an end, and kept getting worse and worse, they finally reached the point where they simply had to be choked off. "Pull yourself together, Briest," his wife had whispered to him in a rather earnest tone; "you are not here for the purpose of making indecent remarks, but of doing the honors of the house. We are having at present a wedding and not a hunting party." Whereupon von Briest answered; "I see no difference between the two; besides, I am happy."

What are "the torch dance" and "the garter dance", in the context of 19th-century Germany? Do these phrases refer to some kind of "indecent" dances, as suggested by his wife's comment? Also, what is the significance of "hunting party"? Does it suggest a men-only gathering where "indecent remarks" might be more rife?

1
  • This is not from the wedding day but the Polterabend, the evening before the wedding.
    – Tsundoku
    Apr 12 at 20:41
17

"Torch dance" is the translation of Fackeltanz. The Fackeltanz is similair to the polonaise but the dancers hold torches or candles in their hands and move according to fixed patterns. There is nothing indecent about this dance. In fact, it was still danced at the wedding of emperor Wilhelms II's daughter Viktoria Luise with Ernst August zu Braunschweig und Lüneburg in 1913 (see Die letzte große Adelsparty vor dem großen Krieg by Claudia Becker, 4.05.2013).

"The remarkable custom of the garter dance" is the translation of "die merkwürdige Sitte des Strumpfband-Austanzens". "Strumpfband" means "garter". The literal meanings of "austanzen" that were in use in the 19th century were (according to Heinsius's Vollständiges Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache, 1828):

  1. (...) bis zu Ende tanzen: einen Walter; 2) (...) aufhören zu tanzen.

Translation: 1) dance [a dance] to the end (e.g. a waltz); 2) stop dancing. (These literal meanings are not listed in DWDS.)

Dieter Wöhrle's edition of Effi Briest (Suhrkamp BasisBibliothek. Suhrkamp, 2004) explains in an endnote that the "garter dance" was the final dance of a wedding, which involves a kind of game of forfeits (Pfänderspiel) during which the bride's garter is cut into pieces and given to the guests as a memento.

Wöhrle does not suggest that this might be considered "indecent". The issue is probably that Effi's father has had too much champagne and does not stop talking, so his wife stops him before he makes an ambiguous remark. Note that the German text says "Zweideutigkeiten", which literally means "ambiguities" or "double entendres", rather than exclusively "indecent remarks", which don't have an innocuous primary meaning.

1
  • 7
    If this was anything like American customs, the groom removed the bride's garter. And while this isn't per se that indecent, you can certainly imagine somebody making very indecent remarks about this tradition.
    – Peter Shor
    Apr 13 at 0:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.