Academic journal article The Comparatist

The Asian Threat in Europe: Topical Connections between the Serial Novels Anna Karenina and Effi Briest

Academic journal article The Comparatist

The Asian Threat in Europe: Topical Connections between the Serial Novels Anna Karenina and Effi Briest

Article excerpt

Scholars have drawn parallels between Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (1875-77) and Theodor Fontane's Effi Briest (1894-95) that cover such aspects as the circumstances under which two unhappy marriages formed (Stern), the manner in which the civil service drives the plots of both novels (Zimmermann), and the significance of children in novels of adultery (Overton). Such comparisons have provided insights into thematic similarities, but they have tended to focus on the two works published as single volumes rather than on their original form as serial novels in the journals Russkij Vestnik" (The Russian Herald) and the Deutsche Rundschau. Consequently, it has been difficult to discern another striking commonality: Anna Karenina was published during the build-up to the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78) and Effi Briest during the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). Moreover, both were linked to debates taking place in the various articles published alongside them on contemporary cultural and political issues. While neither novel directly referenced the articles in their respective journals, both meshed topically with reports that suggested that Asia posed a threat to European civilization.

The immediate link between Tolstoy's work and various articles in the journal are the many references to Turks at a time when war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire seemed imminent. When the people of the Balkans revolted against the Turks in 1875 and thousands of Bulgarians were killed, Russians were horrified. Panslavists in Russia called for the unification of all Slavs, and countless Russians volunteered to join the fight against the Turks. In 1876, Tolstoy went to Moscow to inform himself on the war that seemed likely to erupt (Eikhenbaum 123), and in the final section of Anna Karenina he questioned the sincerity of the movement under way in his country to unite all Slavs against the Turks. Tolstoy's critique ran counter to ideas in many of the articles in the Russkij Vestnik", which not only outlined the frictions in the region but also expressed views similar to those of the Panslavists, sometimes even pointing out that the problem was that the Turks were not Europeans but Asians. Not surprisingly, the editor Mikhail Katkov refused to publish the final part of Anna Karenina.

Fontane's work also gains its connection to discourses in the journal in which it appeared through references to a topical issue of the day. Effi Briest not only mentions China, the site of war at the time and focus of numerous articles in the Deutsche Rundschau, but also depicts a Chinese man in Prussia who passed away shortly after an affair with a European woman and then returned to haunt the heroine's life. Germans did not have the direct connection to the war between China and Japan that Russians had to their war against the Turks, but numerous articles in the 1894-95 issues of the Deutsche Rundschau exhibit the sentiment that the Japanese were Europeanized Asians fighting to bring European civilization to a more Asiatic China. Some also suggested, however, that a powerful Asia united under Japan could pose a threat to the economic and cultural sway Europe then enjoyed throughout the world. As a ghost, the Chinese figure adds an element of horror to Fontane's novel, given the context of the articles on the Sino-Japanese War. He also poses a menace as a Chinese man who successfully wooed one European woman and frequently visits Effi's bedroom. This Chinese man symbolically suggests the presence of a potentially powerful Asia in Europe, and, like the Turk in Tolstoy's novel, represents a challenge to the European order emanating from non-Christian Asia.

In an insightful study of nineteenth-century novels of adultery, Tatiana Kuzmic has demonstrated that Anna Karenina and Effi Briest participated in the budding ethnic nationalism of their era. Anna Karenina depicts the enthusiasm in Russian society preceding what is generally thought to have been a holy war between Orthodox Christians and Ottoman Muslims. …

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