Why Thomas Mann Wrote

By Cullander, Cecil C. H. | The Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Why Thomas Mann Wrote


Cullander, Cecil C. H., The Virginia Quarterly Review


WHY THOMAS MANN WROTE

By CECIL C. H. CULLANDER, M.D.

Thomas Mann, born in 1875, was the most famous German author of the 20th century. In 1929 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. He is best known in the United States for the novella, Death in Venice and the novel, The Magic Mountain. The definitive biography of Mann written by Peter de Mendelssohn ended prematurely when he died in 1982. Two further chapters dealing with Mann in 1918 and 1933, were published posthumously. Richard Winston's biography which reached only to 1911, also ended with the author's death. Jurgen Kohlbe's dealt only with Thomas Mann in Munich, 1894-1933. Following the opening of Mann's diaries in 1975 further, complete biographies have appeared.

Mann began keeping a diary when he was 14 years old; he made his final entry at age 80 on July 19, 1955, two weeks before his death. Upon the assumption of Nazi power in 1933 Mann, on a speaking tour out of Germany, exiled himself knowing that he would likely be put into prison or a concentration camp. His diaries remained in his Munich house. During the second World War he worried about their possible discovery by the Nazis and instructed his son Golo to retrieve them-wrapped in canvas, tied, sealed with wax, and hidden under floor boards in the house. His instructions to Golo included, "Do not read them." Mann ordered that his diaries not be opened until twenty years after his death. Since 1975, the diaries have been published in German with extensive notes by Peter de Mendelssohn and Inge Jens. There are ten volumes; the first volume is of the period 1918-1921, the subsequent volumes concern his life from 1933 until his death. Unfortunately the diaries from 1921 to 1932, which were burned by Mann, covered a tremendously important period of Mann's political development as well as events of German and world history. The final volume comprising the years 1953 to 1955 has only just appeared. On Feb. 17, 1896, he wrote to his friend Otto Grautoff that he had burned his diaries since, "It became embarrassing and uncomfortable to have such a mass of secret-very secret-writings lying around." A second burning which he casually recorded in his diary occurred between tea and dinner on May 21, 1945, at his home in California. He spared the diaries of 1918-1921 in order to use them in his creation of Dr. Faustus his last novel, an attempt to understand how Germany developed into the Nazi State.

Just before and following his death in August 1955, public interest in Thomas Mann's writings had diminished. The Thomas Mann Scholars, a group primarily of German and Swiss academics with some Scandinavian and American specialists continued their indepth studies of Mann's works. Interest in Thomas Mann as a person quickened upon publication of the diaries in 1975. The Scholars were embarrassed and aghast by the revelation of Mann's extreme narcissism, his homosexual preoccupations, and the nasty comments he made about friends and people who were of help to him and his family. Many people who could read German began reading the diaries. As a result, in the past year, three biographies in English and one in German have been published. This essay is not a review of those biographies, but it is partly in response to their implication that Mann's sexuality was the solitary inspiration for his creations. There are 13 volumes of Mann's collected works, five of which contain his novels and short stories; the remainder are essays on a wide range of subjects, memorial speeches, and appeals to his countrymen during World War II. Of the 30,000 letters remaining after his death, 2,000 of them were selected by his eldest daughter Erika Mann and published in three volumes. Many, which she considered "too intimate," were omitted. These remain, perhaps some day to be available for further study. In addition to these there are further volumes of letters to his friends Otto Grautoff and Ida Boy-Ed, and his brother, Heinrich Mann. …

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