Reading I've Liked: A Personal Selection Drawn from Two Decades of Reading and Reviewing

Reading I've Liked: A Personal Selection Drawn from Two Decades of Reading and Reviewing

Reading I've Liked: A Personal Selection Drawn from Two Decades of Reading and Reviewing

Reading I've Liked: A Personal Selection Drawn from Two Decades of Reading and Reviewing

Excerpt

Where live Thomas Mann and those of his temper, however scattered or broken they be, there lives Germany .

The career of Thomas Mann offers the rare spectacle of a youthful prodigy who has never stopped developing. It is a career which opens in the flush of genius and continues to progress with almost symphonic logic, harmony, and beauty. At twenty-five he had written Buddenbrooks , a novel of the first order. In his late forties he had gone far beyond Buddenbrooks to the heights of The Magic Mountain , a long selection from which I include in this book. Now, in his full maturity, he is completing his profoundest work, his great Biblical tetralogy of Joseph and his brothers .

It is appalling to reflect that in his mid-twenties he had completed not merely , Buddenbrooks but two long short stories of genius-- "Tonio Kröger" and "Tristan." One already feels here something far more imposing than the lushly lauded prodigies of a youthful Keats or Shelley. But Mann, calmly, surely, with the unremitting serenity of a Goethe, was to go on to "Death in Venice," written in his thirty- sixth year. I say "written," but in fact "Death in Venice" seems rather to be played on a cello. The tone, in its mingling of melancholy, gravity, and controlled power, is equivalent to that of Casals. "Death in Venice" is a sort of culmination, for in it Mann gathered up all the themes upon which he had touched during the first fifteen years of his writing career--the anomalous position of the artist in bourgeois society, the sinister attraction of decadence and disease, the fusion of Northern and pagan modes of feeling, the troubling and even evil effects of beauty upon those well past their youth.

Thomas Mann, though he has never, since written anything as purely beautiful as "Death in Venice," was to go beyond it in other ways. In 1925 came "Disorder and Early Sorrow," in which the terrible pulse of the German inflation beats through a narrative that is on the surface a tender, muted story about a child's ephemeral grief. The . . .

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