Thomas Mann

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Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann in 1937; He had been awarded the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature, principally for his 1901 novel Buddenbrooks.
Born 6 June 1875(1875-06-06)
Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck, German Empire
Died 12 August 1955 (aged 80)
Zürich, Switzerland
Resting place Kilchberg, Switzerland
  • University of Munich
  • Technical University of Munich
  • Novelist
  • short story writer
  • essayist
Spouse Katharina "Katia" Hedwig Pringsheim
Children Erika, Klaus, Golo, Monika, Elisabeth, Michael
Relatives Thomas Johann Heinrich Mann (father)
Júlia da Silva Bruhns (mother)
Heinrich Mann (brother)

Paul Thomas Mann (6 June 1875 – 12 August 1955) was a German repressed homosexual, novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual. His analysis and critique of the European and German soul used modernized German and Biblical stories, as well as the ideas of Goethe, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer. His older brother was the radical leftist writer Heinrich Mann, and three of his six children, Erika Mann, Klaus Mann and Golo Mann, also became German language writers.

When the National Socialists were elected to power in 1933, the anti-nationalist and degenerate Mann with his family fled to Switzerland. When World War II broke out in 1939, he emigrated to the United States. He returned to Switzerland in 1952. Thomas Mann is one of the best-known exponents of the so-called Exilliteratur. Many Germans consider him a traitor.


Thomas and Katia Mann in Bad Tölz.jpg
Thomas and Katia Mann.jpg

Mann was born in Lübeck and was the second son of Thomas Johann Heinrich Mann (a senator and a grain merchant), and his wife Júlia da Silva Bruhns (a Brazilian of partial German ancestry who emigrated to Germany when seven years old). His mother was Roman Catholic, but Mann was baptised into his father's Lutheran faith. Mann's father died in 1891 (cystitis), and his trading firm was liquidated.

The family subsequently moved to Munich. Mann attended the science division of a Lübeck Gymnasium (school), then spent time at the Ludwig Maximillians University of Munich and Technical University of Munich[1] where, in preparation for a journalism career, he studied history, economics, art history and literature.

He lived in Munich from 1891 until 1933, with the exception of a year in Palestrina, Italy, with his novelist elder brother Heinrich. Thomas worked with the South German Fire Insurance Company 1894–95. His career as a writer began when he wrote for Simplicissimus. Mann's first short story, "Little Mr Friedemann" (Der Kleine Herr Friedemann), was published in 1898.

In 1905, he married Katharina "Katia" Hedwig Pringsheim (1883–1980), daughter of the Jewish mathematician Prof. Dr. Alfred Pringsheim (1850–1941) and his Protestant wife, actress Gertrude Hedwig Anna (1855–1942). Katia's father described himself as non-denominational and had all his children baptized as Protestants. Katia later joined the Lutheran faith of her husband Thomas Mann. The couple had six children.[2]


Name Birth Death
Erika 9 November 1905 27 August 1969, militatnly anti-German
Klaus 18 November 1906 21 May 1949, homosexual, suicide
Angelus Gottfried "Golo" Thomas 29 March 1909 7 April 1994
Monika 7 June 1910 17 March 1992
Elisabeth 24 April 1918 8 February 2002
Michael 21 April 1919 1 January 1977

In 1929, Mann had a cottage built in the fishing village of Nidden (Nida, Lithuania) on the Curonian Spit, where there was a German art colony, and where he spent the summers of 1930–32 working on Joseph and His Brothers. The cottage now is a cultural center dedicated to him, with a small memorial exhibition. In 1933, after Hitler assumed power, Mann emigrated to Küsnacht, near Zurich, Switzerland, but received Czechoslovak citizenship and a passport in 1936. He then emigrated to the United States in 1939, where he taught at Princeton University.

In 1942, the Mann family moved to Pacific Palisades, in west Los Angeles, California, where they lived until after the end of World War II. On 23 June 1944 Thomas Mann was naturalized as a citizen of the United States. In 1952, he returned to Europe, to live in Kilchberg, near Zurich, Switzerland. He never again lived in Germany, though he regularly traveled there. His most important German visit was in 1949, at the 200th birthday of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, attending celebrations in Frankfurt am Main and Weimar, as a statement that German culture extends beyond the new political borders.

Political views

During World War I Mann supported Kaiser Wilhelm II's conservatism and attacked liberalism. Yet in Von Deutscher Republik (1923), as a semi-official spokesman for parliamentary democracy, Mann called upon German intellectuals to support the new Weimar Republic. He also gave a lecture at the Beethovensaal in Berlin on 13 October 1922, which appeared in Die neue Rundschau in November 1922, in which he developed his eccentric defence of the Republic, based on extensive close readings of Novalis and Walt Whitman.[3] Hereafter his political views gradually shifted toward liberal left and democratic principles.

In 1930 Mann gave a public address in Berlin titled "An Appeal to Reason", in which he strongly denounced National Socialism and encouraged resistance by the working class. This was followed by numerous essays and lectures in which he attacked the National Socialists. At the same time, he expressed increasing sympathy for socialist ideas.

In 1933, when the National Socialists came to power, Mann and his wife were on holiday in Switzerland. Due to his strident denunciations of National Socialist policies, his homosexual, anti-German son Klaus advised him not to return. But Thomas Mann's books, in contrast to those of his brother Heinrich and his son Klaus, were not among those burnt publicly by Hitler's regime in May 1933, possibly since he had been the Nobel laureate in literature for 1929. The National Socialist government never officially revoked his German citizenship. In 1936 he moved to California.


Many still regard Thomas Mann a traitor. During WWII, he made a series of anti-German radio-speeches, Deutsche Hörer! ("German listeners!"). They were initially taped in the USA and then sent to Great Britain, where the BBC transmitted them, to reach German listeners.

From March, 1941 until May, 1945 the BBC broadcast once-monthly for „German listeners“ essays from five to eight minutes long of Thomas Mann on the radio. They were recorded in the Recording Department of the BBC in Los Angeles and transmitted by telephone to London. These speeches contained horror fairy tales, requested the Germans to commit high treason, and attempted to justify the terror-bombing of Germany by his Allied friends. After, for example, the British Royal Air Force had bombed his hometown, the ancient and historic Hanseatic port of Lübeck, on the night of 29th March, 1942, and again some days later – 'Bomber Harris' had in the meantime bombed other towns, among others on the 30th May, 1942 the ancient Roman city of Cologne with nearly 1500 tonnes of bombs − Mann spoke comfortably from his Californian exile and explained to his to dead-scared compatriots:

I think of Coventry and have no arguments against the apprenticeship that everything must be paid. Has Germany believed, it becomes for the misdeeds and the barbarity it committed, never to have to pay?

The fact that the British bombed Germany first, and that German retaliatory air raids had military objectives (Coventry was a major manufacturing base for war materials), while the allies happily bombed and incinerated civilians − Mann's compatriots – apparently did not interest him. Rather, he told stories about supposed German war crimes, systematic pursuit of Jews, human experiments, as well as "gasifications" from which he knew from "sure sources".


Thomas Mann's works were first translated into English by H. T. Lowe-Porter beginning in 1924. Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929, principally in recognition of his popular achievement with the epic Buddenbrooks (1901), The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg 1924), and his numerous short stories. (Due to the personal taste of an influential committee member, only Buddenbrooks was cited explicitly.)[4] Based on Mann's own family, Buddenbrooks relates the decline of a merchant family in Lübeck over the course of three generations. The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg, 1924) follows an engineering student who, planning to visit his tubercular cousin at a Swiss sanatorium for only three weeks, finds his departure from the sanatorium delayed. During that time, he confronts medicine and the way it looks at the body and encounters a variety of characters who play out ideological conflicts and discontents of contemporary European civilization. Later, other novels included Lotte in Weimar (1939), in which Mann returned to the world of Goethe's novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774); Doktor Faustus (1947), the story of composer Adrian Leverkühn and the corruption of German culture in the years before and during World War II; and Confessions of Felix Krull (Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull, 1954), which was still unfinished at Mann's death.

Mann's diaries, unsealed in 1975, tell of his struggles with his homosexuality,[5] which found reflection in his works, most prominently through the obsession of the elderly Aschenbach for the 14-year-old Polish boy Tadzio in the novella Death in Venice (Der Tod in Venedig, 1912). Anthony Heilbut's biography Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1997) was widely acclaimed for uncovering the centrality of Mann's sexuality to his oeuvre. Gilbert Adair's work The Real Tadzio (2001) describes how, in the summer of 1911, Mann had been staying at the Grand Hôtel des Bains on the Lido of Venice with his wife and brother when he became enraptured by the angelic figure of Władysław (Władzio) Moes, an 11-year-old Polish boy (see also "The Real Tadzio" on the Death in Venice page).

Handling the struggle between the Dionysiac and the Apollonian, Death in Venice has been made into a film and an opera. Blamed sarcastically by Mann’s old enemy, Alfred Kerr, to have ‘made pederasty acceptable to the cultivated middle classes’, it has been pivotal in introducing the discourse of same-sex desire into general culture.[6] Mann was a friend of the violinist and painter Paul Ehrenberg, for whom he had feelings as a young man. Despite certain homosexual overtones in his writing, Mann fell in love with Katia Mann, whom he married in 1905. His works also present other sexual themes, such as incest in The Blood of the Walsungs (Wälsungenblut) and The Holy Sinner (Der Erwählte).

Throughout his Dostoyevsky essay, he finds parallels between the Russian and the sufferings of Friedrich Nietzsche. Speaking of Nietzsche, he says: "his personal feelings initiate him into those of the criminal ... in general all creative originality, all artist nature in the broadest sense of the word, does the same. It was the French painter and sculptor Degas who said that an artist must approach his work in the spirit of the criminal about to commit a crime."[7] Nietzsche's influence on Mann runs deep in his work, especially in Nietzsche's views on decay and the proposed fundamental connection between sickness and creativity. Mann held that disease is not to be regarded as wholly negative. In his essay on Dostoyevsky we find: "but after all and above all it depends on who is diseased, who mad, who epileptic or paralytic: an average dull-witted man, in whose illness any intellectual or cultural aspect is non-existent; or a Nietzsche or Dostoyevsky. In their case something comes out in illness that is more important and conductive to life and growth than any medical guaranteed health or sanity... in other words: certain conquests made by the soul and the mind are impossible without disease, madness, crime of the spirit."[8]

Balancing his so called humanism and appreciation of Western culture, was his belief in the power of sickness and decay to destroy the ossifying effects of tradition and civilisation. Hence the "heightening" of which Mann speaks in his introduction to The Magic Mountain and the opening of new spiritual possibilities that Hans Castorp experiences in the midst of his sickness.He also valued the insight of other cultures, notably adapting a traditional Indian fable in The Transposed Heads. His work is the record of a consciousness of a life of manifold possibilities, and of the tensions inherent in the (more or less enduringly fruitful) responses to those possibilities. In his own summation (on receiving the Nobel Prize), "The value and significance of my work for posterity may safely be left to the future; for me they are nothing but the personal traces of a life led consciously, that is, conscientiously."


During World War I, he is said to have supported conservatism and the war effort. But by 1922 and afterwards, he supported increasingly left-wing views, eventually supporting the Marxist Social Democratic Party of Germany. In 1930, Mann gave a public address in Berlin in which he strongly denounced National Socialism and encouraged resistance amongst the working classes. This was followed by numerous essays and lectures in which he attacked the NSDAP.

Following the election of the National Socialists to government in January 1933, Mann and his family left Germany, eventually moving to the United States, where, during World War II, he made a series of traitorous anti-German radio speeches. They were recorded on discs in the United States and then sent to Great Britain, where the BBC transmitted them, hoping to reach German listeners.

Mann also advocated the idea of German "collective guilt", stating in a BBC broadcast on 30 December 1945 that regarding "the revenge on Germany for the inhuman deeds of the Nazis, I cannot help but view with wretchedness all that is being done to Germans by the Russians, Poles or Czechs as nothing other than a mechanical and inevitable reaction to the crimes that the people have committed as a nation, in which unfortunately individual justice, or the guilt or innocence of the individual, can play no part."

In association with "McCarthyism", he was viewed as a suspected communist, which he denied, describing himself as a non-communist rather than an anti-communist. In 1952, he moved to Switzerland.

Personal degeneracy

Mann was an alleged bisexual although he himself said he was homosexual. One example was in 1911, when he became enraptured by a mere 10-year-old boy, later fictionalized in his novella Death in Venice (1912), there described as a 14-year-old boy. Mann's diary records his [perverse] attraction to his own 13-year-old son. Wikipedia states that "Death in Venice has been pivotal in introducing the discourse of same-sex desire into general culture."


In 1955, he died of atherosclerosis in a hospital in Zurich and was buried in Kilchberg. Many institutions are named in his honour, for instance the Thomas Mann Gymnasium of at that time bolshevized Budapest.

Cultural references

Martin Mauthner's German Writers in French Exile 1933–1940 (London, 2007) devotes several chapters to Thomas Mann and his family.

Mann's 1896 short story "Disillusionment" is the basis for the Leiber and Stoller song "Is That All There Is?", famously recorded in 1969 by Peggy Lee.

"Magic Mountain" by the band Blonde Redhead, is based on Mann's novel of the same title.

"Magic Mountain (after Thomas Mann)" is a painting made by Christiaan Tonnis in 1987. "The Magic Mountain" is a chapter in his 2006 book "Illness as a Symbol" as well.

The 2006 movie "A Good Year" directed by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe and Albert Finney, features a paperback version of Death in Venice. It is the book the character named Christie Roberts is reading while she visits her deceased father's vineyard.

In the Philip Roth novel The Human Stain (2000), several references are made to Mann's Death in Venice.

Hayavadana (1972), a play by Girish Karnad was based on a theme drawn from The Transposed Heads and employed the folk theatre form of Yakshagana. A German version of the play, was directed by Vijaya Mehta as part of the repertoire of the Deutsches National Theatre, Weimar.[9] A staged musical version of The Transposed Heads, adapted by Julie Taymor and Sidney Goldfarb, with music by Elliot Goldenthal, was produced at the American Music Theater Festival in Philadelphia and The Lincoln Center in New York in 1988.

Joseph Heller's 1994 novel, Closing Time, makes several references to Thomas Mann and Death in Venice.

The Andrew Crumey novel Mobius Dick (2004) makes extensive references to Mann, and imagines an alternative universe where an author named Behring has written novels resembling Mann's. These include a version of The Magic Mountain with Erwin Schrödinger in place of Castorp.

In Fringe Episode 14 Season 2 The Bishop Revival Dr. Walter Bishop states that his father a scientist in National Socialist Germany who was a spy for the OSS. And that when he came to America he smuggled notes about a gene targeting poison in Thomas Mann's first edition notes.

In the novel Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, the main character is criticized for reading The Magic Mountain while visiting a friend in a sanatorium.

The Alan Bennett play The Habit of Art concerns Benjamin Britten visiting W.H. Auden to discuss the possibility of Auden writing the libretto for Britten's opera version of Death in Venice.

Hans-Peter Haack: Erstausgaben Thomas Manns. Ein bibliographischer Atlas. [First prints of Thomas Mann]. [D] Leipzig 2010, 233 S., ISBN 978-3-00-031653-1

Harry Mulisch considered Mann as one of his most important inspirations. His novel The discovery of heaven was called The Magic Mountain after 70 years.

In the 1941 film "The 49th Parallel", the character Philip Armstrong Scott unknowingly praises Mann's work with an escaped World War II German u-boat commander, who later responds by burning Scott's copy of "The Magic Mountain".

In a 1994 essay, Umberto Eco suggests that the media discuss "Whether reading Thomas Mann gives one erections" as an alternative to "Whether Joyce is boring".[10]


  • 1896 Disillusionment (Enttäuschung)
  • 1897 Little Herr Friedemann ("Der kleine Herr Friedemann"), collection of short stories
  • 1897 "The Clown" ("Der Bajazzo"), short story
  • 1897 The Dilettante
  • 1897 Tobias Mindernickel
  • 1897 Little Lizzy
  • 1899 The Wardrobe (Der Kleiderschrank)
  • 1900 The Road to the Churchyard (Der Weg zum Friedhof)
  • 1901 Buddenbrooks (Buddenbrooks – Verfall einer Familie), novel
  • 1902 Gladius Dei
  • 1902 The Hungry
  • 1903 Tristan, novella
  • 1903 Tonio Kröger, novella
  • 1903 The Child Prodigy ("Das Wunderkind")
  • 1904 Fiorenza, play
  • 1904 A Gleam
  • 1904 At the Prophet's
  • 1905 A Weary Hour
  • 1905 The Blood of the Walsungs ("Wälsungenblut"), novella (withdrawn)
  • 1907 Railway Accident
  • 1908 Anekdote
  • 1909 Royal Highness (Königliche Hoheit), novel
  • 1911 The Fight between Jappe and the Do Escobar
  • 1911 Felix Krull (Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull), short story, published in 1922
  • 1912 Death in Venice (Der Tod in Venedig), novella
  • 1915 Frederick and the Great Coalition (Friedrich und die große Koalition)
  • 1918 Reflections of an Unpolitical Man (Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen), essay
  • 1918 A Man and His Dog (Herr und Hund; Gesang vom Kindchen: Zwei Idyllen), novella
  • 1921 The Blood of the Walsungs ("Wӓlsungenblut"), (2nd edition)
  • 1922 The German Republic (Von deutscher Republik)
  • 1924 The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg), novel
  • 1925 Disorder and Early Sorrow ("Unordnung und frühes Leid")
  • 1929 Mario and the Magician (Mario und der Zauberer), novella
  • 1930 A Sketch of My Life (Lebensabriß)
  • 1933–43 Joseph and His Brothers (Joseph und seine Brüder), tetralogy
    • 1933 The Tales of Jacob (Die Geschichten Jaakobs)
    • 1934 The Young Joseph (Der junge Joseph)
    • 1936 Joseph in Egypt (Joseph in Ägypten)
    • 1943 Joseph the Provider (Joseph, der Ernährer)
  • 1938 This Peace (Dieser Friede)
  • 1938 Schopenhauer
  • 1937 The Problem of Freedom (Das Problem der Freiheit)
  • 1938 The Coming Victory of Democracy
  • 1939 Lotte in Weimar: The Beloved Returns, novel
  • 1940 The Transposed Heads (Die vertauschten Köpfe – Eine indische Legende), novella
  • 1943 Listen, Germany! (Deutsche Hörer!)
  • 1944 The Tables of the Law, a commissioned novella (Das Gesetz, Erzählung, Auftragswerk)
  • 1947 Doctor Faustus (Doktor Faustus), novel
  • 1947 Essays of Three Decades, translated from the German by H. T. Lowe-Porter. [1st American ed.], New York, A. A. Knopf, 1947. Reprinted as Vintage book, K55, New York, Vintage Books, 1957.
  • 1951 The Holy Sinner (Der Erwählte), novel
  • 1954 The Black Swan (Die Betrogene: Erzählung)
  • 1954 Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man: The Early Years (Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull. Der Memoiren erster Teil), novel expanding upon the 1911 short story, unfinished

External links


  1. Thomas Mann Autobiography. Nobel Foundation. Retrieved on 25 January 2008.
  2. Mann's wife became a Lutheran as per Hermann Kurzke's Thomas Mann: Life as a Work of Art: A Biography (2005)
  3. See a recent translation of this lecture by Lawrence Rainey in Modernism/Modernity, 14.1 (January 2007), pp. 99–145.
  4. Nobel Prize website, accessed 11 November 2007
  5. Mann, Thomas (1983). Diaries 1918–1939. A. Deutsch, 471. ISBN 0233975136. , quoted in e.g. Kurzke, Hermann (2002). Thomas Mann. Life as a Work of Art. A Biography. Princeton University Press, 752. ISBN 0691070695.  For a discussion of the relationship between his homosexuality and his writing, also see Heilbut, Anthony (1997). Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature. Humanity Press/prometheus Bk, 647. ISBN 0333674472. 
  6. The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann, Edited by Ritchie Robertson, p.5 [1]
  7. Mann, Thomas (1950). The Thomas Mann reader. New York: Knopf, 440. Retrieved on 15 May 2009. 
  8. Mann, Thomas (1950). The Thomas Mann reader. New York: Knopf, 443. Retrieved on 15 May 2009. 
  9. AWARDS: The multi-faceted playwright Frontline (magazine), Vol. 16, No. 03, Jan. 30 - Feb. 12, 1999.
  10. Eco, Umberto (30). La bustina di Minerva. Espresso. Retrieved on 29 August 2011.