Theodor Fontane carries off a similar trick twice in the same novel.
Living wholly in the world can kill the soul. Living completely in the soul can eviscerate the social animal. We need both to survive and prosper; though each one of us must find their own unique balance. The Germans have a word for it: Bildung. In this novel we see what happens when this training has been incomplete.
(Review: Effi Briest)
1. Compare with a different moral universe: working class life in Nottingham in the 1950s. For Arthur Seaton there are "those that looked after their wives, and those that were slow”. (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, by Alan Sillitoe).
According to this formula Innstetten is "slow" and should therefore expect another man to sleep with his wife. Once the husband finds out, the rules of this game state that the affair should end; the wife is beaten up, and the marriage resumes its previous course. The relationships are far more physical than what we see here. Indeed, the emotional connection between a husband and wife - between a Winnie and a Bill - is more important than the fact of the adultery; the outbreak of violence the mechanism by which the latter is both accepted and overcome.Note the contrast with Innstetten and Effi. With them ideas are far more important than their marriage, which itself is turned into some abstract thing. Their reality is very different from that of woman like Brenda, who, although she worries constantly about being found out, couldn’t care less about lying (or other people's opinions). Language is simply a tool for her. Not so for Effi and Innstetten. For them language is a living organism, which defines their identity. It is the reason it causes them so many problems.