Academic journal article German Quarterly

A Companion to Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain

Academic journal article German Quarterly

A Companion to Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain

Article excerpt

Dowden, Stephen D., ed.A Companion to Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1999. xix + 250 pp. $65.00.

In "Pilgrimage" (1987), the only essay not written expressly for this volume, Susan Sontag recounts her first encounter with The Magic Mountain at the impressionable age of fourteen:

for the first few nights [I] had trouble breathing as I read. For this was not just another book I would love but a transforming book, a source of discoveries and recognitions. [...] After finishing the last page, I was so reluctant to be separated from the book that I started back at the beginning and, to hold myself to the pace the book merited, reread it aloud, a chapter each night. (227)

In short, in Sontag Thomas Mann had found his ideal reader, a reader who had heeded the "arrogant request" he had made in his lecture "The Making of The Magic Mountain" that the book be read not once but twice. The same cannot be said of everyone who contributed to the volume under review. Karla Schultz's conclusion to her fine contribution, "a writer shouldn't be blamed for his readers" (171), crossed my mind repeatedly as I was reading some of these essays. Is Mann to be blamed, for example, when one of the contributors asserts that Hans Castorp-in his Walpurgisnight conversation with Clavdia Chauchat-speaks "mainly about language and pigs" (126), or when another contends that Castorp's "attempts to be English are a prefiguration of the naval aspects of the Anglo-German competition which was to ignite World War I" (187)?

According to the editor's preface the ten essays written expressly for this volume "should suggest new paths in the understanding" (xix) of both Thomas Mann and of literary modernism. For the most part they are centered on issues that have preoccupied critics and readers of The Magic Mountain since its publication in 1924: what does Hans Castorp achieve during his seven-year sojourn on the enchanted mountain, what is the significance of his amorous encounter with Clavdia Chauchat, how are we to read the ending of the novel? Given the controversies surrounding these questions in earlier Mann criticism, it is hardly surprising that the contributors to this volume arrive at very different, often contradictory answers. Whereas Joseph P Lawrence, for example, interprets Castorp's achievement in a very positive lightaccording to him, Castorp is the "true genius" (11) whose "growth is a growth into silence" (4)-Stephen Dowden argues that Castorp is "a mass man ineluctably attracted to mass death in the First World War" (36). Olker Gokberk, commenting on the ending of the novel, writes, "the sum of depictions and commentaries [in "The Thunderbolt"] betrays a profound ambivalence toward the war" (62), but Eugene Goodheart claims that both the "idyll [in "Snow"] and war are scenes of joy" (50). …

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