The Arrow and the Lyre: A Study of the Role of Love in the Works of Thomas Mann

The Arrow and the Lyre: A Study of the Role of Love in the Works of Thomas Mann

The Arrow and the Lyre: A Study of the Role of Love in the Works of Thomas Mann

The Arrow and the Lyre: A Study of the Role of Love in the Works of Thomas Mann

Excerpt

When I first thought about this topic I encountered many expressions of surprise among my better-read friends, and a number of them asked me: "Is there really much love in Thomas Mann's works, and is it really important?" The posing of this question is the direct result of three decades of criticism which has represented Mann mainly as a serious and sober novelist, and frequently also as a prosy and prolix author who "clutters up" his works with superfluous bits of erudition. His Magic Mountain bids fair to join the list of immortal works of world literature which people bring back from their summer vacations -- unread. Mann is, of course, serious and sober and very North German in most of his works, and the charge of occasional verbosity and divagation can well be substantiated. Nevertheless, Mann has, in my opinion, tried to be fundamentally a humorist throughout his life and career, not in the conventional sense of the word in which Fritz Reuter, P. G. Wodehouse or Ring Lardner qualify, but as a man who at an astonishingly early age saw through his fellow humans, analyzed and defined their basic conflicts and decided to be a mediator, a prophet of the realm of the middle. The humor in Mann's works derives from his manner of looking at the human comedy, and our amusement is in direct proportion to our ability to discern a comic element in life, even in tragedy.

Certainly there is nothing humorous about the majority of the actual love stories which Mann tells: too many of them begin and end in tragedy. But there is something essentially and delightfully humorous about the warm light of interest and sympathy which Mann sheds on the denizens of the shady side of life's street, about the friendly irony with which he treats their brethren from across the street, and about the hope which he holds out for an eventual narrowing of the street which might bring the two groups closer together.

Love has a place in almost every one of his works, and the . . .

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