The Brothers Mann

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

The Brothers Mann


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


Letters of Heinrich And Thomas Mann, 1900-1949. Edited and with an Introduction by Hans Wysling. Foreword by Anthony Heilbut. Translated by Don Reneau. With additional translations by Richard and Clara Winston. University of California. $50.00.

"The Germans should be lucky to have such two boys." (Goethe, in response to those who put him up against Schiller.)

These letters, now in English translation, provide a treasure trove to the Thomas Mann scholar as well as the general reader interested in the development of Germany's greatest authors of the 19th-20th century. The translation which surpasses anything H.T. Lowe-Porter might have done is at times mistaken and confusing but overall adequate. These letters from 1900 to 1949 (the year of Heinrich's death) carry the reader through a period of profound change in Germany, Europe, and the world; from 29 years after the tumultuous time of the unification of Germany to, through and beyond the Great War, the failed Weimar Republic, the development and destruction of the Nazi Reich, and World War II followed by the attempts at reconstruction. One hundred eighty four of the 272 letters in this most extensive collection to date are by Thomas Mann, 85 by Heinrich Mann and three by Katia Mann. The capturing of these letters reads like a treasure hunt; a hunt which has extended over the years since the respective deaths of the brothers. As recently as 1973, 1974, and 1985 discoveries were made in private collections or unexpectedly turning up in posthumous papers such as those of Lion Feuchtwanger. In addition there are significant documents which are referred to in the letters-Heinrich's review of Thomas', Der Tod in Venedig, Thomas' review of Heinrich's, Die Grosze Sach, and birthday speeches by Thomas and Heinrich honoring each other. These documents contribute to the flavor of the brothers' relationship. Likewise there are extensive notes which clarify and enrich the understanding of comments and references made in the letters. Finally there is an index and a bibliography which is larger and more current than that in the German edition. The introduction by Hans Wysling the former director of the Thomas Mann Archive in Zurich, written six years before the opening of Mann's diaries in 1975, provides the best and most complete account of the brothers' relationship beyond any of the current biographies. Their intimate connection as expressed in their almost parallel writings is amply demonstrated. "Thomas Mann's works in particular teem from early on with open and secret borrowings, with memories, allusions, and veiled revelations. Cockaigne (H. Mann's, Berlin: The Land of Cockaigne;) a novel of `the fashionable set' for example stimulated him in a hundred different ways." Wysling presents connections such as Heinrich's character Mrs. Tuirkeiner "resurrected" as MMe Houpfle in Thomas' Felix Krull. Likewise, Heinrich's "fortune's child" Andreas Zumsee finds a successor in the character Felix Krull. Both brothers used history, biography, characters, and scenes from the novels of others to create a sort of "collage" in their works. Heinrich borrowed from Thomas' satirical school chapter in Buddenbrooks to construct Professor Unrat (later the movie The Blue Angel, with Marlene Dietrich). …

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