"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Monday, March 16, 2009

On Thomas Mann

I have recently requested the ordering for more of the novels of Thomas Mann. Mann was instrumental in my literary education. I could say that he was the bases in which I measured modern literature and still to this day never tire of his prose.
Like most everyone in this country I started with Death in Venice and although this novella is a masterpiece, and in many a college English course, required reading, I strongly recommend going to his other works which bring to the forefront the greatness of modern German intelligencia which was abruptly suppressed and eliminated with the election of Hitler to the chancellorship in 1933.
The day after Adolph Hitler's assumption of this office in November of 1933 Mann, his wife and family along with his brother Heinrich, also a great writer, left Germany to avoid persecution which was one of the first acts of the Nazi party agenda, the suppression and arrest of artists and writers that were considered degenerate. Most certainly Mann's novels in Germany found their way to the pyres that burned all over the nation in that dark period. Mann remained in Switzerland and received Czechoslovakian citizenship but was forced to escape to Portugal over the Pyrenees, avoiding Spain, an ally of Germany, when the Nazi's marched in on France in 1940. From there he sailed to The USA where he taught briefly at Princeton and then moved with his family to Los Angeles where he lived in Pacific Palisades until the end of the war. He returned to Europe after the war and died in Switzerland in 1955. He never returned to his native Germany.
His early novels such as Buddenbrooks are a great look at late 19th century Europe. Buddenbrooks is about a well to do bourgeois Jewish family in Hamburg and follows a generation form the mid century into the early 20th century. It is a well conceived look at the hopes and ideology of the young and on to the cynicism and disappointments, failures and heartbreak as this generation moves on to middle age. Mann was a young man when he wrote this novel. It has the distinct background of the ideas of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer's philosophy of existence, a neo-realism in which the German's are so famous for.
Mann was also greatly influenced by Goethe and in his later novel Dr Faustus, 1947, most likely written here in Los Angeles, it becomes a parody to the Goethe poem. It is about a musician who sells his soul to the dark forces . The story takes place during WW2 in Germany and the satanic references to the Nazi Regime are interesting. It is a book full of mysticism and darkness for those who like that kind of story.
Other books include The Confessions of Felix Krull originally a short story and later written into a novel, The Holy Sinner, all I can say about that is read it! Its about incest, as is his short story The Blood of The Wulsungs, a Wagnerian short story of incest also.
I also recommend Joseph and His Brothers, a tetralogy novel about the biblical Joseph, 1933-42. Magic Mountain, 1924, and a book of his short stories.
Surely Thomas Mann was one of the great writers of the 20th century, so I strongly urge any serious reader of great literature to look beyond Death in Venice.

1 comment:

Caroline said...

Thanks for sharing this, Pappy! I have only read Death in Venice myself, and this definitely makes me want to read further... we'll have to discuss which one I should read next when I see you in the store.