Portrait: The German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist and essayist Thomas Mann

Wednesday, 25 April 2018 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: Portrait

Thomas Mann at Hotel Adlon in Berlin, 1929 © Bundesarchiv/cc-by-sa-3.0-de

Thomas Mann at Hotel Adlon in Berlin, 1929 © Bundesarchiv/cc-by-sa-3.0-de

Paul Thomas Mann was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate. His highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas are 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. Mann’s work influenced many future authors, including Heinrich Böll, Joseph Heller, Yukio Mishima, and Orhan Pamuk.

Mann was a member of the Hanseatic Mann family from Lübeck and portrayed his family and class in his first novel, Buddenbrooks. His older brother was the radical writer Heinrich Mann and three of his six children, Erika Mann, Klaus Mann and Golo Mann, also became important German writers. When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Mann fled to Switzerland. When World War II broke out in 1939, he moved to Pacific Palisades (Thomas Mann House), a coastal neighborhood of Los Angeles, returning to Switzerland in 1952. Thomas Mann is one of the best-known exponents of the so-called Exilliteratur, literature written in German by those who opposed or fled the Hitler regime.

Thomas Mann with Albert Einstein in Princeton, 1938 Thomas Mann in Weimar, 1949 © Bundesarchiv/cc-by-sa-3.0-de Thomas Mann at Hotel Adlon in Berlin, 1929 © Bundesarchiv/cc-by-sa-3.0-de Thomas Mann, 1932 © Bundesarchiv/cc-by-sa-3.0-de
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Thomas Mann at Hotel Adlon in Berlin, 1929 © Bundesarchiv/cc-by-sa-3.0-de
The outbreak of World War II on 1 September 1939, prompted Mann to offer anti-Nazi speeches (in German) to the German people via the BBC. In October 1940 he began monthly broadcasts, recorded in the U.S. and flown to London, where the BBC broadcast them to Germany on the longwave band. In these eight-minute addresses, Mann condemned Hitler and his “paladins” as crude philistines completely out of touch with European culture. In one noted speech he said, “The war is horrible, but it has the advantage of keeping Hitler from making speeches about culture.” Mann was one of the few publicly active opponents of Nazism among German expatriates in the U.S. While some Germans claimed after the war that in his speeches he had endorsed the notion of collective guilt, others felt he had been highly critical also of the politically unstable Weimar Republic that preceded the Third Reich.

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, after he had been nominated by Anders Österling, member of the Swedish Academy, 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 at any great length. 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 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. The tetralogy Joseph and His Brothers is an epic novel written over a period of sixteen years, and is one of the largest and most significant works in Mann’s oeuvre. 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 unfinished at Mann’s death. Throughout his Fyodor 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 Edgar Degas who said that an artist must approach his work in the spirit of the criminal about to commit a crime.” 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.”

Read more on NobelPrize.org – Thomas Mann, FamousAuthors.org – Thomas Mann, Thomas Mann House and Wikipedia Thomas Mann (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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