Buddenbrooks. Trans. John E. Woods. NY: Vintage, 1994.
Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man: The Early Years. Trans. Denver Lindley. NY: Vintage, 1992.
Death in Venice and Other Stories. Trans. David Luke. NY: Bantam, 1988. [Additional stories in
Death in Venice and Seven Other Stories. Trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter. NY: Vintage, 1989.]
Doctor Faustus. Trans. John E. Woods. NY: Vintage, 1999.
Essays. Trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter. NY: Vintage, 1958.
Lotte in Weimar: The Beloved Returns.
The Magic Mountain. Trans. John E. Woods. NY: Vintage, 1996.
See also . . .
Burgin, Hans, and Hans-Otto Mayer. Thomas Mann: A Chronicle of His Life. University, AL: U of Alabama P, 1965.
1. Little Herr Friedemann (1897) and The Joker (1897)
Little Herr Friedemann A-
A whole life's story: Fell from swaddling table to floor as baby, thanks to neglect of drunken nurse, turning him hunchback; renunciation jarred by Wagner and Frau Commandant; breaks down before Frau who flings him aside; he lets himself fall in the water, which silences the crickets just for a moment.
"Later there came a time when he would often hear them discuss certain matters in the school yard; wide-eyed and attentive, he would listen in silence as they talked of their passions for this little girl or that. Such experiences, he decided, . . . belonged like gymnastics and ball games to the category of things for which he was not suited." (cp. Hanno in B)
The Joker A
Sometimes translated "The Clown." Life story framed by intro and conc in the present.
Autobiographical: mother like Mann's, playing with puppets like Mann.
He doesn't need to work, is disengaged from society, reaches a point where he can't change this, reasons that he has to consider himself happy so as not to despise himself, sees father and daughter and her fiancee at bazaar and cuts in on the conversation and feels from that moment he is doomed because he has lost self-respect:
"Be what you please, live as you please--but put a bold face on it, act with self-assurance and show no qualms, and no one will be moralist enough to point the finger of scorn at you. But once have the misfortune to forfeit your single-mindedness and lose your self-complacency, once betray your self-contempt--and the world will unhesitatingly endorse it."
Buddenbrooks (1901) A
1. Parts 1-2
2. Parts 3-6
3. Parts 7-11
Link to a Summary of the novel.
Napoleon: Old and Hoffstede has seen him, been awed; young doesn't get it. This comes up after story of Mrs. Old Buddenbrook going to drown herself (but being stopped) when French soldiers are into her silver (20-23).
Sesame says her older sister Nelly never had a doubt in her life: "Such words betrayed equal portions of contempt and envy" (83).
The whole story of Grunlich and young Johann's daughter Tony (desperate pleading for her, her meeting Morten Schwartzkopf at Travemunde and having to leave him, Grunlich neglecting her after marries her, his bankruptcy, Johann taking Tony and her child home) is fascinating!
Scene of young Johann calming 1848 revolutionaries.
Notebook in which family events are recorded shows up at key points.
Young Johann dies; his son, the now-practical Thomas, takes over firm--and younger brother Christian joins him but doesn't work much, is highly self-analytical in a creative, weird way, and always joking, making people laugh (258-59); his widow becomes as religious as he had been--Tony's reaction? after singing a bad hymn ("O Lord, please cast a bone of grace / Before this dog so lowly"), she "was so overcome with contrition that she tossed her hymnal aside and left the room" (272) and when bald preacher says worrying so much about curling her hair shows a lack of Christian humility, she tells him to worry about his own curls (275).
Tony marries and divorces again--Alois Permaneder, from Bavaria, translated as if from the American South.
Thomas, explaining to his sister Tony his disappointment after he has moved into his new house: "And when something good we've longed for finally does come along, it lumbers in a little too late somehow, loaded down with petty, annoying, upsetting details, covered with all the grime of reality that we never really imagined, and that is so irritating. . ." (421).
Thomas's four-year-old son Johann: many traits of childhood, incl. "when the impatience of those whom we want so much to love has not yet begun to torment us for evidence, some early token, that we will diligently fulfill our duties" (428).
The German tradition of the Christmas tree room--see my Rilke translations--and Hanno's enthusiasm for opera/theatre after seeing Fidelio and gift of harmonium, puppet theater, and book of Greek mythology at Christmas (519-23).
Old Sesame Weichbrodt's Christmas gifts are her own things she can do without (531-32).
Tony's daughter Erika's husband Hugo Weinschenk sentenced to prison (538). Bad luck with marriages as if handed down from mother to daughter.
Old Madame Buddenbrook has Christian world-view but then when death nears, she wants to live: "She prayed a great deal; but she spent even more of her conscious hours watching over her condition, feeling her pulse, measuring her fever, fighting off her cough" (546).
Long quarrel between brothers Thomas and Christian after latter will go through with marriage now that his mother, who disapproved, has died (554-69).
Hanno looking at casket: "That was not Grandmama. . . . This was a strange wax doll, and there was something gruesome about the way they had dressed it up for this ceremonial occasion" (571).
House ends up being sold to longtime rival Hagenstrom; Thomas explaining to Tony why she shouldn't try to prevent it in order to hurt H (581-82).
Tony will walk by the house and start weeping in the street: "These were the innocent and refreshing tears of her childhood, which had served her faithfully in all the storms and shipwrecks of life" (590). (Great ending to part 9!)
Thomas's life taken up with the trivial; he worries rather than doing, and so has more to worry about (595).
What Hanno sees in his father Thomas's dealings with others: "instead of being an honest and simple interest in the affairs of others, all this appeared to be an end in itself--a self-conscious, artificial effort that substituted a dreadfully difficult and grueling virtuosity for poise and character" (608).
Summer vacation at Travemunde. Hanno in his room: "All he could hear was the even, sedate sound of a laborer raking the gravel down below in the garden, and the buzzing of a fly trapped between the blind and the window and keeping up a steady assault against the windowpane. As it darted about, you could watch its shadow tracing zigzag lines on the striped canvas. Silence--and the lonely sounds of a rake and a monotonous buzz. And the gently animated quiet, well-tended, elegant seclusion of this resort, which he loved more than anything else. No, thank God, here were no shiny worsted suits, worn by earthly incarnations of grammar and ratios. . ." (611).
About summer vacation ending, and not believing the math of the number of days left, and the man in the shiny worsted suit winning in the end (615). And yet Hanno has memories to console him (616-17).
Thomas knows he can trust his son Hanno when he, Thomas, is vulnerable (629).
Thomas thinking about afterlife, finding book (it happens to be Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Idea) that seems to be answering his questions, never goes back to it because of his focus on appearances and not wanting to seem eccentric (631ff).
Of Hanno starting to laugh at curious-sounding name shortly after his father Thomas dies after going to dentist who pulls off a tooth's crown (665).
Selling the estate for less than it's worth (673ff).
Ends with description of a day at school (which seems oddly arbitrary but also somehow fitting, because for someone like Hanno who then dies of typhoid in his teens, a day at school is his life, repeatedly). There are also long descriptions of his improvisation at the piano after school and of the symptoms of typhoid before the closing little debate (Tony doubts) about whether we'll see family again in a next life. The ending lacks the form and grandeur of the earlier novel. Just form matching content? A tired, facile argument. Still, overall, a truly great novel that creates a world that you regret having to leave.
4. The Road to the Churchyard (1900), Gladius Dei (1902), Tristan (1903), Tonio Kroger (1903), and The Blood of the Walsungs (1905)
The Road to the Churchyard A
I prefer the translation (esp. of the ending) in The World's Greatest Short Stories. Life's thoughtless reaction to the suffering Piepsam is Mann's critique of Nietzsche's notion of Life as the supreme value (even though Mann was in many ways influenced by Nietzsche).
Gladius Dei B
Excellent notes here.
If Road is Life vs. suffering, this is Art-that-merely-replicates-Life vs. suffering. Hieronymus is like (and quotes) Savonarola, Munich is like Florence. See David Luke's comment in the intro that the story embodies the irony that Munich is from the Latin for "monk."
--Wagner (e.g. Spinell mentions it's getting darker earlier this day, which leads into the playing of Tristan und Isolde on the piano and the Night-Love vs. Day-Separation theme from Act 2; the sleigh excursion that leaves Spinell and Gabriele alone is like the hunting expedition in Act 2)
--Schopenhauer (Beauty vs. brute Life--symbolized here by the name Kloterjahn, from a low German dialect word for "testicles," and by Gabriele's infant son)
--Buddenbrooks ("artistic transfiguration" seen as practical, successful family declines; the infant laughing when his mother is dying, just as Hanno laughed after his father's death in B)
Spinnell: "We hate everything that is useful . . . . And nevertheless our bad conscience so gnaws at us that it leaves not one spot on us unscathed. . . . And so one has recourse to certain little palliatives, without which it would all be quite unendurable. For example, some of us feel the need for a well-conducted outward existence, for a certain hygienic austerity in our habits. To get up early, cruelly early; to take a cold bath and a walk out into the snow. . . . My early rising is really hypocrisy" (104).
Of mysteriousness of sylph-like dream woman who "goes off and marries some fairground Hercules, some butcher's apprentice. And there she comes, leaning on his arm, perhaps even with her head on his shoulder, and looking about her with a subtle smile as if to say: 'Well, here's a phenomenon to make you all rack your brains!'" (106).
A line used in composition, taken out of context, made to apply to writers in general when in fact it is merely an as if statement applied to Spinnell when he is writing his outrageous letter to Gabriele's husband: "no one could have watched him without reaching the conclusion that a writer is a man to whom writing comes harder than to anyone else" (122).
From Spinnell's letter--that Gabriele's son will be "a normally functioning philistine type, unscrupulous and self-assured, strong and stupid" (125).
Ending, with Gabriele's son's laughter (Life) meeting Spinnell (Beauty): "and something in his gait suggested that it cost him an effort to walk slowly--the effort of a man intent upon concealing the fact that he is inwardly running away" (132).
Tonio Kroger A-
Excellent notes here.
Infatuation w/ Hans at beginning gets tedious, and the coincidence of seeing his two infatuations, Hans and Ingeborg, together in Denmark hard to believe. But wonderful passages about art, esp. about the artist's relationship to the "normal," healthy people, and the closing assertion (page 191-92) that the feelings (of envy, contempt, and much innocent admiration) toward those people make a cold writer with talent into someone truly great.
Of dance instructor's "proud bearing": "Yes, it was necessary to be stupid in order to be able to walk like that; and then one was loved, for then people found one charming" (146).
When Ingeborg does not come to him after dance-class embarrassment, the simple statement: "Such things did not happen on earth" (148).
"those minor hacks . . . little suspecting that good work is brought forth only under the pressure of a bad life" (152).
For creative writing students: "Because, of course, what one says must never be one's main concern. . . . If you attach too much importance to what you have to say, if it means too much to you emotionally, then you may be certain that your work will be a complete fiasco. You will become solemn, you will become sentimental, you will produce something clumsy, ponderous, pompous, ungainly, unironical, insipid, dreary and commonplace; it will be of no interest to anyone, and you yourself will end up disillusioned and miserable" (155). Cp. Auden on how young writers should not be intent on subject matter but on playing with words.
The Blood of the Walsungs B+
Twin brother and sister Siegmund and Sieglinde, talking to each other in a witty and affected manner and sapping energy (esp. Siegmund) devoting time to outward appearance, named after incestuous twins in Wagner's Walkure, see the opera again (after asking Sieglinde's fiancee's permission) and back home they duplicate the incest as kind of revenge on fiancee for intruding on their relationships in which they had been each other's only friend. Siegmund (Mann notes he shows the marks of his race: Jewish, and thus the possible interpretation of the story as critique of supposed Jewish decadence led the lines to be omitted from German editions until the mid-50s) says of Beckerath, "he ought to be grateful to us. His existence will be a little less trivial, from now on."
5. Felix Krull (1911), Death in Venice (1912), A Man and His Dog (1918), and the essay "Goethe and Tolstoy" (1922)
Felix Krull B+
Mann said was in tradition of Goethe's Dichtung und Wahrheit--confession of aristocratic artist. Refers to wanting to expand it beyond FK's childhood.
Felix (felicitous) praises own pedigree, own self (including fingernails), own special gifts (clearly placing him above his schoolfellows). Pretended to be the Kaiser, a prince, to be sick (because he hated school). Stole chocolate from store. Refers to posing nude for painter-godfather Maggotson. Of seeing famous actor backstage naked, just as a firefly is ugly when not phosphorescent. Refers delicately to very early sexual thoughts, and fulfillment with housemaid Genoveva, although he emphasizes that he is "convinced that he has but a crude notion of enjoyment whose activities are directed only and immediately to the definite goal. Of envying sister Olympia because she'll get the variety of a new last name. Of ruin falling on father (thanks in part to rumors leading people not to buy his wine). Everything sold; device that plays "Wine, Women, and Song" every time a door is opened "still jingled unmindful of the desolation." Father shoots himself.
Death in Venice A
Excellent notes here.
Mann said he read Goethe's Elective Affinities five times while working on his story.
Reference to Ganymede (236), Hyacinthus (239), and Narcissus (241).
Aschenbach's Apollonian self-discipline; paraphrase of a passage in his work that is key to it: "nearly all the great things that exist owe their existence to a defiant despite" (202).
"The observations and encounters of a devotee of solitude and silence are at once less distinct and more penetrating than those of the sociable man" (215).
Normally, "Aschenbach did not enjoy enjoy himself" (231).
The man who wrote the book on abjection is now wallowing in it: analysis vs. experience. Cp. the contrast between the "delightful vision" (Socrates and Phaedrus) (235) and the "terrible dream" (the Stranger-God, clearly Dionysus) (255) followed by Socrates and Phaedrus again (260), this time going on to the destructive consequences of the path to the spiritual passing through the senses.
Tadzio walking on a sandbar (elevated, almost as if walking on water; separated from the shore) as Aschenbach dies.
"Goethe and Tolstoy" A
Of Weimar man Julius Stotzer links the two: born same year as Tolstoy who saw Goethe as a boy and had Tolstoy come to Weimar school where he taught.
G and T as nature/classic vs. Schiller and Dostoevsky as spirit/romantic, which Mann connects to disease (96ff).
Romanticism insights (96-97).
Other G and T similarities: influence of Rousseau, disappointing to visitors expecting flashy greatness, autobiography (see Goethe using name Hatem where his own name is the one that would rhyme in that spot) and pedagogy linked by "parental tenderness" toward the self, mother earth as key source, sympathy with organic life (G: interest in science; T: interest in the body and death), sensitivity (G: weather/distant earthquake; T: smells), incorporating conflict and confusion,
Of Tolstoy's game "Numidian horsemen," leaping from chair and running around room waving hand in air (125-26).
Of educational theory: Tolstoy thinking children would behave if freed: "let them all out of their benches." Similar to his political anarchy. Goethe more traditional: individuality within structure.
The artistic principle is not RESOLUTION but RESERVE: speaks of reserve in music and in the intellectual sphere, where it is irony (177-78). Compare Keats's "Negative Capability" and "beauty reclining . . . ."
The Magic Mountain (1924)
6. Parts 1-4
7. Part 5
8. Part 6
9. Part 7
10. "Disorder and Early Sorrow" (1925), "Mario and the Magician" (1929), the rest of the Essays (1930s), and Lotte in Weimar: The Beloved Returns (1939)
11-13. Doctor Faustus (1947)
14. Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence-Man: The Early Years (1954)