A variational formulation of quasi-static brittle fracture in elastic solids at small strains is proposed and an associated finite element implementation is presented. On the theoretical side, a consistent thermodynamic framework for brittle crack propagation is outlined. It is shown that both the elastic equilibrium response as well as the local crack evolution follow in a natural format by exploitation of a global Clausius-Planck inequality. Here, the canonical direction of the crack propagation associated with the classical Griffith criterion is the direction of the material configurational force which maximizes the local dissipation at the crack tip. On the numerical side, we first consider a standard finite element discretization in the two-dimensional space which yields a discrete formulation of the global dissipation in terms of configurational nodal forces. Next, consistent with the node-based setting, the discretization of the evolving crack discontinuity for two-dimensional problems is performed by the doubling of critical nodes and interface segments of the mesh. A crucial step for the success of this procedure is its embedding into a r-adaptive crack-segment re-orientation algorithm governed by configurational force-based directional indicators. Here, successive crack propagation is performed by a staggered loading release algorithm of energy minimization at frozen crack state followed by nodal releases at frozen deformation. We compare results obtained by the proposed formulation with other crack propagation criteria. The computational method proposed is extremely robust and shows an excellent performance for representative numerical simulations.