Multicultural heritage, extensive travel, and exile shape Thomas Mann's life and work. Born in the free city of Lübeck to Thomas Johann Heinrich Mann, a German patrician merchant, and his wife, Julia da Silva Bruhns, native of Brazil and daughter of a German and a Portuguese-Creole, Mann stayed on in Lübeck long enough to complete his secondary education before his move to Munich in 1894. Supported by a modest inheritance, he devoted his time to writing. His early novellas are collected in Der kleine Herr Friedemann (1898). In the late 1890s he resided with his brother Heinrich (1871-1950), a writer and essayist, in Italy (Venice, Naples, Rome, and Palestrina) while writing his first novel, Buddenbrooks: Verfall einer Familie (1901), autobiographical in nature and pessimistic in tone. Subsequently he turned again to short pieces, exemplified by Tonio Kröger (1903), elaborating on the theme of the artist as a “lost” burgher, one who needs to reconcile himself to his fate.
His happy marriage (1905) to Katja Pringsheim, daughter of a prominent Munich family, inspired Königliche Hoheit (1910), a fairy-tale-like love story between an impoverished, sensitive German prince and a rich, independent-minded, intelligent American heiress of mixed parentage. Italian history figures in his only drama, Fiorenza (1906), which examines the intellectual and political conflict between Lorenzo de' Medici and Savonarola. Der Tod in Venedig (1912) tells of the degrading surrender of Gustav von Aschenbach, a middle-aged, self-disciplined, successful writer, to the beauty of the fourteen-year-old Tadzio, son of a Polish family vacationing in Venice. Influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, this novella's classical form clashes with the baroque descriptions of homoerotic passion, obsession, and decadence.
The advent of World War I marked a turn away from “aesthetic self-absorption” (Reed, 222) and a shift in Mann's political thinking to a painstak-