Images of Truth: Remembrances and Criticism

By Glenway Wescott | Go to book overview

Chapter Seven
Thomas Mann: Will Power and Fiction

Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.

-- WILLIAM BLAKE

Thomas Mann, in his famous old age, paying tribute to Schiller, whom he had cared for more than any other writer when he was young, spoke deferentially of "the mountains of learned appreciation and analysis" piled up by scholarship in the century and a half since Schiller died. "In my diffidence," he said, "I am emboldened by only one thing": the kinship of creative experience, and fraternal intimacy of every creative artist with all his fellow artists, "irrespective of stature, epoch, or character."

When I came upon this passage in Last Essays, it seemed an encouragement to write about him. I needed to be encouraged because he is more foreign to me than any other great man of letters whom I have undertaken to eulogize or criticize. The difference between us, in epoch, is only one generation; however, it has been a great watershed in history, and may prove more decisive, more revolutionary, than anything that his thinking or mine has encompassed. I too have, or have had, the character of a novelist. I am not vain of my stature, or sensitive about it. I will try to make my modest point of view very definite and consequential; you can discount it all you like.

Definitely, to begin with, The Magic Mountain is the only novel of Mann that I am enthusiastic about. I admire Dr. Faustus, but

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