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Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann

The German novelist and essayist Thomas Mann (1875-1955) was perhaps the most influential and representative German author of his time.

Born in the free Hanseatic city of Lübeck on the Baltic Sea, the second son of a north German patrician merchant and senator in the city government, Thomas Mann often stressed his twofold heritage: his South American mother, from Rio de Janeiro, was the daughter of a German planter who had emigrated to Brazil and married a woman of Portuguese-Creole origin.

Mann's family can be compared to that of the brothers August Wilhelm and Friedrich von Schlegel, leading poet-critics in German romanticism: his elder brother Heinrich was an outstanding novelist and essayist. A younger brother, Viktor, a civil servant in Germany, made a name for himself as author of an important family chronicle, Wir waren fünf (1948). Two of Mann's six children, Erika and Klaus, were talented writers in their own right, and his son Golo was a noted historian.

Early Career

As a pupil of the "Katherineum" in Lübeck, Mann hated school. Devoted to music and above all to writing, at the age of 17 he edited a school periodical, Frühlingssturm (Spring Storm), in which his first prose and poetry appeared under the pseudonym Paul Thomas.

After the death of her husband and the liquidation of the family's grain business, Senator Mann's widow moved to Munich. Thomas, however, remained at school in Lübeck until he passed the qualifying exam for the 1-year military service certificate. When he finally joined his mother, two sisters, and younger brother in Munich in 1894, he worked briefly as a clerk in an insurance company. There he wrote his first story, Gefallen (Fallen), published in the avant-garde naturalistic monthly Die Gesellschaft. Soon the young author gave up his job and, under the pretense of becoming a journalist, attended lectures at the university without formally enrolling as a student. For a while he was a member of the editorial staff of the satiric magazine Simplicissimus, in which his next story, Der Wille zum Glück (The Will to Happiness), appeared.

In 1895 Mann joined his brother Heinrich in Italy, and together they spent most of the next 3 years in Rome and Palestrina. Isolated from Italian society, he read voluminously, mostly Scandinavian, French, and Russian literature. It was here that he began writing the novel which climaxed this first phase of his literary career, Buddenbrooks. While he was living in Rome, Mann's first book, Der kleine Herr Friedemann (1898), a collection of naturalistic short stories, was published by S. Fischer in Berlin. These sharply drawn, youthful narratives are variations of a single theme; they deal, for the most part, with the "marked" man, the isolated individual, the artist and his relationship to life. These stories foreshadow many characteristics of Mann's later works: dualism, or the divided mind; the opposition of spirit to life; and the resulting antithesis of artist and bourgeois. Also evident here is his frequent and effective use of the leitmotiv, which calls to mind his admired masters, Theodor Fontane and Richard Wagner. In these stories of his youth the leitmotiv is handled in a more obvious, mechanical way than in his later work, where it is applied with far greater subtlety.

Buddenbrooks and Death in Venice

Most representative of the work from Mann's first stage as a writer (1896-1906) was his first novel, Buddenbrooks. Originally envisioned as a brief novel of some 250 pages, to be written jointly with his brother Heinrich, it was executed by Thomas alone and assumed massive proportions. It appeared in 1901 and became a best seller both at home and abroad. Again, the technique of the linguistic leitmotiv is present, but this time it is lifted from the external, mechanical basis into the musical sphere.

Written in the tradition of the Scandinavian genealogical novel, Buddenbrooks gives a broad account of the rise and fall, through several generations, of a fictitious Hanseatic family, patterned after that of the author, and immediately calls to mind John Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga, with which it has much in common. The first two generations, who created the family wealth, are sturdy and aggressive burghers, and for their bourgeois code, their rigorous ethical standards, Mann shows profound respect. Only the last two generations are marked by decadence, both physical and mental, but they, at the same time, show increased intellectual gifts and greater artistic sensibility. The fourth generation is represented by little Hanno, a pathetic, sickly, neurotic boy whose only love is his music. With his death at the age of 16, the once distinguished family comes to an end.

After Buddenbrooks came Tristan (1902), a parody of Wagner's opera, set in an Alpine sanatorium. Mann's next work, his most lyrical artist's story, Tonio Kröger, (1903), exceeded even Buddenbrooks in popularity. It deals with a gifted writer, Tonio Kröger, from north Germany, again a marked man isolated from his environment, and his unrequited love for Hans Hansen and Ingeborg Holm, who represent the blond and the beautiful, the normal and bourgeois world.

In February 1905 Mann married Katharina (Katja) Pringsheim, the daughter of a famous Munich mathematician. The first fruit of his marriage was a fairy tale, or light comedy, in the form of a novel, Königliche Hoheit (1909; Royal Highness). Marking the beginning of his second stage as a writer, this book reveals an optimism thus far unknown in Thomas Mann's work. Decadence, Mann now believed, could be overcome, and a synthesis of life and art could be attained.

A visit to the Lido in May 1911 provided the raw material for Mann's most complex novella, Der Tod in Venedig (Death in Venice). A series of sinister circumstances and strange impressions almost immediately suggested to him the basis for this story, which truly reflects Mann's preoccupation with the irrationalism of Arthur Schopenhauer, Richard Wagner, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Its hero, Gustav von Aschenbach (resembling, in some ways, the composer Gustav Mahler), is a fictitious German writer in his early 50s whose self-discipline makes him what Mann calls a Leistungsethiker, a man who has sacrificed everything for the sake of achievement. Having suppressed his emotions for too long, he goes on a trip to Venice, ignoring all warnings not to visit the cholera-infected city. It is not cholera, however, but Italy itself which disintegrates his carefully calculated self-control. He is obsessed by a homoerotic love for 14-year-old Tadzio, who represents both death and Apollonian beauty, but he excuses his passion on the grounds of classical precedent and Nietzche's conception of Dionysian Greece. Death comes to him, finally, as he sits in a deck chair on the beach, looking out to the sea and longing for the boy.

The Magic Mountain

A 3-week stay in a Davos sanatorium during the summer of 1912 gave Mann the impetus for his next book, Der Zauberberg (1924; The Magic Mountain), the highlight of the second phase of his career (1912-1933). His first major novel since Buddenbrooks, this work attempts to overcome the dualism that had marked Mann's youthful stories and to reconcile the enmity of life and spirit that dominated those works. It deals with the intellectual development of an ordinary young man who spends 7 years in a tuberculosis sanatorium in the mountains of Switzerland, against a broad panorama of European society in the 7 years preceding World War I.

Hans Castorp, the simpleminded hero, stands between two men engaged in an ideological battle: an Italian humanist and liberal, Settembrini, a champion of reason and life who believes in progress, and Naphta, a Polish Jew turned Jesuit, representing the nonrational forces, who combines a fervent belief in Catholicism with Marxist doctrines. A third "educator," introduced toward the end of the book, is a Dutch planter from Indonesia, Mynheer Peeperkorn, who, anything but an intellectual, impresses Hans through the power of his personality, which is patterned after dramatist Gerhart Hauptmann.

Der Zauberberg is largely a romantic book, a book about the "sympathy with death," and in the author's own words, Hans Castorp's dream, his vision of the good life, could not have appeared in any of his previous works. While lost in the mountains (in the chapter "Snow"), Hans dreams that "for the sake of goodness and love, man shall let death have no sovereignty over his thoughts." Surely, this is an impossible dream, either in the alpine sanatorium with its eccentric patients or down in the flatland of bourgeois triviality from which Hans has come. In the end he accepts life and, when the war breaks out, returns to his homeland, leaving the sheltered atmosphere of the magic mountain for military service, only to meet his death on a battlefield in Flanders.

Political Views

Until World War I Mann's tastes and cultural tradition had been those of a nationalist and a German patriot, and he was convinced of the superiority of its authoritarian constitution over the democratic institutions of France and England. During the years 1914-1918 he interrupted his work on the novel Der Zauberberg to embark upon "war service with the weapon of thought." In a series of highly introspective essays, examining the very foundations of his own philosophy, he presented a vigorous defense of the German Reich (Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen, 1918; Reflections of an Unpolitical Man). But when this book appeared, Mann was already evolving from a romantic conservative to a believer in democracy who was to become a champion of the Weimar Republic. With his speech honoring Hauptmann on his sixtieth birthday, on Nov. 15, 1922, Von deutscher Republik, the process of his transformation was complete, and for the next 10 years, the decisive period of his second, or middle, phase, he was the spokesman of the Weimar Republic.

Mann's first works published after the 1918 armistice are largely autobiographical: Gesang vom Kindchen (The Song of a Child), written in hexameter and dealing with the birth and baptism of his youngest daughter, and Herr und Hund (Bashan and I), an account of his life in Munich with his dog, Bashan (both published in 1919). Two of his finest novellas were written in that decade: Unordnung und frühes Leid (1925; Disorder and Early Sorrow), an affectionately ironic, melancholic treatment of the relations between the generations in a middleclass German family in Munich in the 1920s and the moral and social confusion which resulted from the chaotic inflation of values in postwar Germany, and Mario und der Zauberer (1930; Mario and the Magician), a "tragedy of travel with moral and political implications," as Mann himself called it. Again largely autobiographical, Mario presents a terrifying picture of the rise of fascism in Italy and clearly warns against its dangers. Cipolla, the hypnotist who is shot to death by Mario, the goodnatured waiter whose human dignity he has outraged, stands symbolically for Mussolini, and his end foreshadows that of the dictator in 1945.

In 1929 Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. As early as 1930 he warned publicly against the dangers of Hitler and his followers in his courageous philippic against the Nazis, Appell an die Vernunft (An Appeal to Reason).

On Feb. 10, 1933, Mann delivered a lecture in Munich on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Richard Wagner (Leiden und Grösse Richard Wagners; The Sufferings and Greatness of Richard Wagner), and the next day he left Germany with his wife to repeat his lecture in Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris, a trip from which he was not to return for 16 years. Finding himself a voluntary exile from Nazi Germany, Mann spent the summer in southern France and settled in Küsnacht, near Zurich, where he remained until 1938. He attacked the Nazi regime in an open letter published by the Neue Züriche Zeitung on Feb. 3, 1936. Soon the Nazis deprived him of his German citizenship and banned his books, and the University of Bonn withdrew the honorary doctorate awarded him shortly after World War I.

Mann's reply became his best-known political tract, the famous Letter to the Dean of the Philosophical Faculty of Bonn, published early in 1937. As a further manifestation of his political engagement, he founded in 1937 a literary magazine devoted to the ideals of the "Third Humanism": Mass und Wert (Measure and Value), edited in cooperation with Konrad Falke and published in Zurich until 1940. In 1938 Mann and his family emigrated to the United States. For 2 1/2 years they lived in Princeton, N.J., where he served as a lecturer in the humanities at the university. In 1941 he moved to southern California, built a home in Pacific Palisades outside Los Angeles, and became one of a colony of German and Austrian exiles which included, in addition to his brother Heinrich, Lion Feuchtwanger, Bruno Frank, Lotte Lehmann, Erich Maria Remarque, Arnold Schoenberg, Bruno Walter, and Franz Werfel. In 1944 he became an American citizen.

During the war years Mann's life was filled with numerous activities: he was actively engaged in helping refugees from Europe through the Emergency Rescue Committee; he served as a consultant in Germanic literature for the Library of Congress; he lectured in many American cities and appealed to the German people over the British Broadcasting Corporation. Whatever time was left, he devoted to his literary work. At Princeton, he completed a "Goethe novel," Lotte in Weimar (1939; The Beloved Returns), relating the historic visit of Charlotte Kestner to Weimar in 1816, 44 years after the love affair which had become common knowledge through the European success of Goethe's Werther.

Later Works

During the first 2 California years Mann completed his gigantic Joseph cycle, on which he had been working, with interruptions, since 1926. At that time he had found in the story of Joseph a theme embracing, as he called it, "the typical, the eternally human, eternally recurring, timeless—in short, the mythical." Joseph und seine Brüder (1933-1943; Joseph and His Brothers), his version of the biblical story, was to become his greatest critical success in the United States, ending on an optimistic note with its fourth volume, Joseph der Ernährer (Joseph, the Provider).

In California between 1943 and 1946 Mann wrote what is usually considered his most difficult and complex book, Doktor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend (1947). In contrast to the optimistic tone of the Joseph tetralogy, this is a deeply pessimistic, somber book, a bitter accusation against his former country, which, like Doktor Faustus, has made a pact with the devil. But it is also a self-accusation, for Mann does not distinguish between a good and a bad Germany. He finds some negative characteristics manifest in every German of all times. In this fictional biography Mann writes about an artist, a musician—since music, in Mann's thinking, is closely linked with decay, decadence, disease, danger, and death and since it is the one art he considers most characteristically German. In describing the life of an artist (closely patterned after that of Nietzsche), Mann shows himself as a master of the technique of montage by succeeding in combining several time levels. Of the third phase of Mann's writing career (1933-1955), this book represents the highlight, the climax.

In 1952 Mann returned to Europe to spend his remaining years in Switzerland, taking up the life he had lived there from 1933 to 1938. Mann's last major work, Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull (Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man), was published in 1954 as Der Memoiren Erster Teil. Having begun the book in 1911, the author had published additional fragments in 1922 and 1937. The projected second part, however, was never written. Following the tradition of the picaresque, or rogue, novel, Mann presents a humorous portrait of the artist as mountebank, or criminal, a thought that had always caught his imagination. Felix Krull is among his most vivid and effective books and attracted huge audiences in many countries. With its publication Thomas Mann achieved an immediate popular and critical success. His last completed work was his brilliant essay on Friedrich von Schiller.

Mann's eightieth birthday, on June 6, 1955, brought him honors from all sides, both East and West. Respected throughout the world as Germany's greatest man of letters since Goethe, Mann died 2 months later, on August 12, in Kilchberg near Zurich.

Further Reading

The most comprehensive biography of Mann in English, well documented and illustrated, is Hans Bürgin and Hans-Otto Mayer, Thomas Mann: A Chronicle of His Life (trans. 1969). Of the large number of books about Mann, the best introductions in English for the nonspecialist are Henry C. Hatfield, Thomas Mann (1951; rev. ed. 1962), and Ignace Feuerlicht, Thomas Mann (1968).

The more advanced student will find a selection of the best critical opinion on Mann in Henry Hatfield, ed., Thomas Mann: A Collection of Critical Essays (1964). Also recommended is the excellent critical analysis of Erich Heller, The Ironic German: A Study of Thomas Mann (1958). Erich Kahler, The Orbit of Thomas Mann (1969), is a collection of five excellent essays by a close friend of Mann. A critical essay on Mann's major novels is J. P. Stern, Thomas Mann (1967). Gunilla Bergsten, Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus: The Sources and Structures of the Novel, translated by Krishna Winston (1969), deals with one of Mann's best-known works. Two studies that discuss Mann in the context of philosophy are Joseph Gerard Brennan, Three Philosophical Novelists: James Joyce, André Gide, Thomas Mann (1963), and Peter Heller, Dialectics and Nihilism: Essays on Lessing, Nietzsche, Mann and Kafka (1966).

For a treatment of the German literary background see Ronald Gray, The German Tradition in Literature, 1871-1945 (1965). A guide to the worldwide literature on Mann is in a two-volume bibliography of criticism by Klaus W. Jonas, Fifty Years of Thomas Mann Studies (1955), which covers the years 1901-1954, and its supplement, Klaus W. Jonas and Ilsedore B. Jonas, Thomas Mann Studies: A Bibliography of Criticism (1967), which continues the bibliographical record to 1966.

Additional Sources

Hamilton, Nigel, The brothers Mann: the lives of Heinrich and Thomas Mann, 1871-1950 and 1875-1955, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979, 1978. □

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Mann, Thomas

Thomas Mann (tō´mäs män), 1875–1955, German novelist and essayist, the outstanding German novelist of the 20th cent., b. Lübeck; brother of Heinrich Mann. A writer of great intellectual breadth, Mann developed literary themes that not only delved into the inner self but also related inner problems to changing European cultural values. To coordinate this dual focus Mann often wrote in a symbolic vein, although in general he was less experimental than many of his contemporaries.


Mann became famous with the publication of his first novel, Buddenbrooks (1901, tr. 1924), which depicts the rise and disintegration of a merchant family. Shorter works of fiction followed, among them Tonio Kröger (1903, tr. 1913–15); the verse drama Fiorenza (1905); and the classic Der Tod in Venedig (1912, tr. Death in Venice, 1925), a novella in which the hero, a great writer, falls prey to an uncontrolled passion, weakens, and eventually dies. These works show Mann's preoccupation with the interaction of cultural and psychological problems. The proximity of creative art to neurosis and the affinity of genius and disease are his largest themes, along with a strong interest in the nature of repressed, often homoerotic sexual desires.

Artistic values in a bourgeois society is a main theme in his rather comic second novel, Königliche Hoheit (1909, tr. Royal Highness, 1916). Among Mann's other important shorter works of fiction are Unordnung und frühes Leid (1925, tr. Early Sorrow, 1929), a story; and the short novel Mario und der Zauberer (1930, tr. Mario and the Magician, 1930), an allegorical attack on fascism.

Translations of his shorter fiction are collected in Stories of Three Decades (1936). Mann's third novel, Der Zauberberg (1924, tr. The Magic Mountain, 1927, 1995), occupied him for 12 years. Here the protagonist is a young man from a middle-class background who, after spending seven years in the midst of discussions of disease and death in a tuberculosis sanatorium, finds fulfillment in leaving to re-enter the larger world.

Mann then began his tetralogy Joseph und seine Brüder (1933–43, tr. Joseph and His Brothers, 1934–44), on which he worked intermittently for 16 years. This erudite and detailed recreation of the biblical story of Joseph is a brilliant study of the psychological and the mythological. In Doctor Faustus (1947, tr. 1948), Mann used the Faust motif to delve into the conflict between spirituality and sensuality. His last works include the novels Der Erwählte (1951, tr. The Holy Sinner, 1951) and Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull (1954, tr. Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man, 1955), a picaresque comedy adapted from an earlier fragment.


Mann's essays fall into two general categories—political and literary. His autobiographical essay Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen (1918, tr., Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man, 1983) marks his decision that the artist must participate in politics in order to preserve a creative society; Mann later became an outspoken critic of fascism. Translations of his major political speeches and essays are published in Order of the Day (1942). Mann's own selection of his literary essays appeared in English as Essays of Three Decades (1947). These elaborate the recurrent themes of his fiction through studies of thinkers who influenced him.

Mann left (1933) Hitler's Germany for Switzerland in self-imposed exile, was deprived (1936) of his citizenship by the Nazis, and after 1938 lived in the United States until he returned to Switzerland in 1953. Despite his roots in romanticism, Mann was a skeptical rationalist who opposed the anti-intellectualism of many 20th-century German theorists. Mann was awarded the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Children of Thomas Mann

Mann's daughter, Erika Mann, 1905–69, was an actress and author. Mann's son Klaus Mann, 1906–49, was a novelist, essayist, and playwright. He left Germany in 1933 and edited the anti-Nazi journal Sammlung in Amsterdam. A resident of the United States from 1935, he became a citizen in 1943 when he entered the U.S. army. His writings include Alexander: A Novel of Utopia (1929, tr. 1930); Pathetic Symphony (1936, tr. 1948), a novel about Tchaikovsky; the autobiographical Turning Point (1942); and André Gide and the Crisis in Modern Thought (1943). With his sister he wrote Escape to Life (1939) and The Other Germany (tr. 1940).


See Thomas Mann's letters (tr. 1971); H. Wysling, ed., Letters of Heinrich and Thomas Mann, 1900–1949 (1998); his autobiographical Sketch of My Life (1960); G. Mann, Thomas Mann (1965); E. Mann, The Last Year of Thomas Mann (tr. 1958, repr. 1970); biographies by R. Winston (1981), R. Hayman (1995), and D. Prater (1995); studies by J. P. Stern (1967), E. Heller (1958, repr. 1973), W. E. Berendsohn (1973), and A. Heilbut (1996).

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Mann, Thomas (1875-1955)

MANN, THOMAS (1875-1955)

German writer Thomas Mann was born in Lübeck, Germany, in 1875 and died in Kilchberg, near Zurich, Switzerland, in 1955. He settled in Munich with his family after the death of his father, remaining until 1936; he then went into exile in the United States. His life and work were dominated by two major questions: Germany and German identity; the status of the artist and art in society.

Concerning the question of German identity, Mann began by holding conservative, monarchist, and militarist beliefs until the rise of Nazism. He opposed a Germanic ideal that accepted values held by the rest of Europe. In this he distanced himself from the position of his brother Heinrich Mann, a republican, cosmopolitan, and critic of the Empire. During this time, Mann's literary output began with a lengthy autobiographical novel, Buddenbrooks (1901), in which he describes the decline of four generations of a rich Hanseatic family. The fate of this fictional family can be compared with his own experience of the loss of his father while he was still very young. After dabbling briefly with Nazi ideology, Mann underwent a fundamental change of opinion in the thirties. It was in his novel The Magic Mountain (1924) that he developed his new attitudes toward all the most important areas of thought and action, including psychoanalysis.

Mann contrasted the mediocrity of an average, bourgeois existence with the unconscious drives of the sensitive intellectual enamored of knowledge and beauty. He continued to articulate, throughout the course of his work, series of paired opposites: art and morality, art and civilization, culture and society, the genius of disease and the stupidity of health. He contrasted the North, cold and puritan, where his family had come from, with the South, Bavaria, where he lived. This was the carnal South of Tonio Kröger (1903), the mephitic Venice of Gustav Aschenbach (1910), the voluptuous Egypt of Joseph (1933-1934), the magic mountain of Hans Castorpall of them fantasies of the experience of forbidden desire, places of love and death, of disease, of castration.

He contrasted liberating psychoanalysis with an alienating hypnosis. In Mario and the Magician (1929), Mann created a portrait of a disturbing illusionist who evokes Hitler. And in 1938, after the Anschluss, Mann contrasted Freud with Hitler: "How that man must hate analysis! I secretly suspect that the furor with which he marched against a certain capital was at bottom directed against the old analyst living there, his real enemy, the philosopher who unmasked neurosis, the great disillusionist, the man who knows so much about belief and genius."

Mann praised Freud directly on several occasions. From his "My Relationship with Psychoanalysis" of 1926, where he exposes his ambivalence toward Freudian theories, to the two texts written for the seventy-fifth and eightieth birthdays of Sigmund Freud, where he is compared, using an allegory from a Dürer painting, to the knight between death and the devil, Mann saw Freud as the "pioneer of a humanism of the future."

Didier David

See also: Psychoanalytische Bewegung, Die ; German romanticism and psychoanalysis.


Finck, Jean. (1982). Thomas Mann et la psychanalyse. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

Mann, Thomas. (1941). Freud's position in the history of modern culture. Psychoanalytic Review 28 (1), 92-116.

. (1996)Être écrivain allemandà notre époque. Paris: Gallimard.

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Mann, Thomas

Mann, Thomas (1875–1955) German novelist and essayist. Perhaps the outstanding figure of 20th-century German literature, Mann linked individual psychological problems to the great decline in European culture. His first novel, Buddenbrooks (1901), is an epic family saga. Shorter works include the novella Death in Venice (1912), and the autobiographical essay Reflections of a Non-political man (1918). The Magic Mountain (1924) is widely acclaimed as his masterpiece. In 1933, Mann left Germany, first for Switzerland, then the United States. Other works include the tetralogy Joseph and His Brothers (1933–43), and Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man (1955). Mann received the 1929 Nobel Prize in literature.

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