The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann

The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann

The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann

The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann

Synopsis

Key dimensions of Thomas Mann's writing and life are explored in this collection of specially commissioned essays. In addition to introductory chapters on all the main works of fiction and the essays and diaries, there are four chapters examining Mann's oeuvre in relation to major themes. A final chapter looks at the pitfalls of translating Mann into English. The essays are well supported by supplementary material including a chronology of the period and detailed guides to further reading.

Excerpt

Thomas Mann continues to have the widest appeal of all German novelists. Although he identified profoundly with various conceptions of Germany and Germanness, he sought during most of his literary career to build bridges between German culture and a succession of wider worlds. His first masterpiece, Buddenbrooks, the unrivalled bestseller in twentieth-century German fiction, adopts techniques from French, Russian, and Scandinavian realism to chronicle the lives of a family in a North German backwater. The Magic Mountain, though set in the confines of a Swiss sanatorium, takes its setting as a stage where debates about the shape of European culture can be dramatised. The huge tetralogy Joseph and his Brothers explores the cultures of the ancient Near East, the origins of religion and culture, and the foundations of a Judaeo-Christian humanism that, as Mann wrote, was under threat from Hitler's Third Reich. And in Doctor Faustus Mann revived a German myth, with its theological underpinnings, to present the fictional biography of a quintessential German artist whose tragedy lay not least in cutting himself off from European culture.

Mann's mission to explain Germany to the wider world was made more urgent by his own exile from Germany. Having been an outspoken opponent of the reactionary Right and of the National Socialists from 1922 onwards, he moved, after Hitler's accession to power, to France, Switzerland, and eventually the United States. Deprived of his German citizenship, he became a citizen first of Czechoslovakia and later of the United States. In America, where the translations of his fiction already had a large readership, he enjoyed more prominence than almost any other émigré, and used it to become a spokesman for humanism and a cultural mediator.

During Mann's lifetime, his public persona inevitably coloured the reception of his novels. They were often understood with dutiful awe as intellectual fiction of a high order, top-heavy with German philosophy and history. Overattention to this aspect of Mann's fiction often distracted readers, especially those reliant on imperfect translations, from the light and polished irony . . .

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