The German novelist, essayist, and social critic Heinrich Mann (1871-1950) achieved his greatest success with his critiques of German society.
Heinrich Mann was born in Lübeck, northern Germany, on March 27, 1871. After completing his education in his hometown, Mann went to Dresden and a year later began working for a publishing house in Berlin while attending lectures at its university. At first a disciple of the French realists, especially Émile Zola and Guy de Maupassant, he wrote impressions, sketches, novelettes, and some poetry. His first novel, In einer Familie (1894), was published at his mother's expense. It was as a reviewer that he made a name for himself from 1891 to 1896. Between 1895 and 1898 he spent most of his time in Italy, much of it with his brother Thomas, later a world-famous author.
Heinrich Mann's first creative phase, 1900-1914, began with a realistic, even naturalistic novel entitled Im Schlaraffenland (1900; In the Land of Cockaigne, 1929). This was followed by two more novels, Die Göttinnen (1903; vol. 1 trans. as Diana, 1929), a glorification of estheticism, and Die Jagd nach Liebe (1903; Pursuit of Love), another novel of decadence.
In 1905 the book on which Mann's early fame rested was published, the novel Professor Unrat, oder: Das Ende eines Tyrannen (The Blue Angel, 1931), followed 2 years later by his novel Zwischen den Rassen. Usually recognized as one of his masterpieces, the novel Die kleine Stadt (1909; The Little Town, 1930) tells the story of a visit of a company of actors to a small Italian town.
In his next creative phase, 1914-1933, Mann played a prominent role as a social critic of his country. His first important wartime document was his famous essay on Zola, which appeared in 1915. This caused a complete breakdown of relations between the two brothers, and Thomas composed a reply in which he referred to Heinrich only as the Zivilisationsliterat, the man who represents French spirit and wants to Romanize Germany. This alienation between Heinrich and Thomas lasted until January 1922.
During the war years Mann started his powerful critique of German society, a trilogy entitled Das Kaiserreich, which was to become his greatest success. It was published in November 1918. Its continuation, Die Armen (The Poor), a novel about the proletariat and a bitter indictment of the ruling classes, appeared in 1917. The last volume, Der Kopf (The Chief), a critique of bureaucracy, diplomacy, and industry, came out in 1925.
In 1927 Mann moved to Berlin and reached the climax of his career. In the spring of 1930 he won public recognition after the successful premiere of the film The Blue Angel. He was also elected president of the Literary Section of the Prussian Academy of the Arts and worked vigorously for the creation of one European culture within a united Europe. Two years later, however, the Nazis, whom he had attacked and publicly warned against, came to power, and on Feb. 21, 1933, he emigrated to France. His historical studies now bore fruit, and his magnum opusappeared: Die Jugend des Königs Henri IV (1935; Young Henry of Navarre, 1937) and Die Vollendung des Königs Henri IV (1938; Henry, King of France, 1939).
Mann's final creative period, 1940-1950, was spent in exile in the United States. He wrote four more books in this decade. Lidice (1943) deals with the annihilation of an entire Czech town; another novel in dialogue form, Die traurige Geschichte Friedrichs des Grossen (published post-humously in 1956), remained a fragment. Partly autobiographical are his last two books, Empfang bei der Welt (1943) and Ein Zeitalter wird besichtigt (1945; Review of an Age). He died on March 12, 1950.
The best introduction for American readers is the monograph of Rolf N. Linn, Heinrich Mann (1967). Also helpful as a first orientation is a brief but highly informative article by W. E. Yulli in Alex Natan, ed., German Men of Letters (4 vols., 1961-1966).