A Companion to the Works of Thomas Mann

By Crawford, Karin L | German Quarterly, October 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

A Companion to the Works of Thomas Mann


Crawford, Karin L, German Quarterly


Lehnert, Herbert, and Eva Wessel, eds. A Companion to the Works of Thomas Mann, Rochester: Camden House, 2004.345 pp. $90.00 cloth.

This companion contains essays by established Thomas Mann scholars based in Europe and in the United States, including Hans Vaget, Ehrhard Bahr, Helmut Koopmann, and others. The papers cover most of the major novels by Mann, as well as Mann's stories and novellas, and issues related to Mann's work.

Consistent with Thomas Mann's insistence that he always wrote of himself ("von mir, immer von mir"), Herbert Lehnert in his introduction argues for an autobiographical approach to Mann's texts. The majority of the essays follow Lehnert's wishes. The result is a volume that offers essential biographical and historical information. The reader new to Thomas Mann will find the biographical detail and the wealth of material from Mann's notebooks, diaries, and letters extremely helpful in getting a grasp on Mann's fiction and the inner world from which his writing emanated. Furthermore, the biographical approach allows scholars to give ample consideration to Mann's homoeroticism. However, none of the essays adopt what would be considered queer readings of Mann's works. In addition to biography and personal history, authors consider Mann's changing relationship to his triumvirate (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Wagner), Weimar Classicism, and his own works. Finally, the essays in general pay very close attention to Mann's use of language, giving the reader a sense of how Mann's irony and humor function in his fictional texts and essays, although none of the essays are specifically dedicated to Mann's style.

There are some shortcomings or limitations to the biographical approach that may frustrate some readers who have grown unaccustomed to, or who have abandoned, biographical approaches to texts in preference for a historical or cultural studies approach. Lehnert critiques cultural studies, writing that "contemporary literary theory tends to pull scholars away from interpretations of an author's intentions in its historical setting in favor of establishing unusual relations between a fictional text and its surrounding culture" (21). …

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