Theodor Fontane (tā´ōdôr fôntä´nə), 1819–98, German writer. Although he is primarily important as a novelist, he did not begin to write fiction until he was almost 60 years old. Thereafter, during his last two decades, he produced almost a novel a year. Earlier he had written two volumes of poetry, Gedichte (1851) and Balladen (1861), as well as accounts of his travels and his experiences as a war correspondent and prisoner during the Franco-Prussian War. He was also a drama critic for many years. The first master of the realistic novel in Germany, he wrote 17 perceptive novels that revealed the state of contemporary Berlin society, delineating the characters of its inhabitants largely through dialogue and monologue. He was particularly adept at studies of troubled women. His novels include L'Adultera (1882, tr. The Woman Taken in Adultery, 1979), Irrungen, Wirrungen (1888, tr. Trials and Tribulations, 1917), Frau Jenny Treibel (1893, tr. 1968, 1976), and his masterpiece, Effi Briest (1895, tr. 1976). He also wrote short novels and the autobiographical Meine Kinderjahre (1894, tr. of extracts, My Childhood Days, 1913–15).
See studies by H. Garland (1980), A. Bance (1982), H. Chambers (1997), G. A. Craig (2000), and M. Doebeling, ed. (2000).