Places: Doctor Faustus

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Doktor Faustus: Das Leben des deutschen Tonsetzers Adrian Leverkühn, erzählt von einem Freunde, 1947 (English translation, 1948)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Philosophical

Time of work: 1885-1945

Places DiscussedBuchel

Buchel Doctor Faustus (BEW-shihl) Family farm on which Adrian was born in the heart of Germany, not far from Weissenfels. It is an idyllic German farm with abundant land and forest to sustain three generations of the Leverkühn family. In typical German fashion, the timberwork residence, barns, and stalls are built together to form a courtyard. In the middle is a giant old linden, a Germanic symbol of the cosmic tree at the center of the world connecting heaven and earth.

For ten years, Adrian and his friend Serenus play with the farm animals, feast on wild berries and blossoms, swim in a pond, and hike to the top of a hill. It is an edenic picture of German country life. Yet there is something eerie about the charm of Buchel. Adrian’s father has a streak of a morbid magician. The buxom dairymaid teaches the boys gruesome folk songs. Adrian has an odd disturbing laugh. As Serenus suggests, beauty conceals poison.

Buchel is Adrian’s cradle and grave. In the care of his loving mother, he spends the final ten years of his life at his home debilitated and lost to the world.

Kaisersaschern

Kaisersaschern (KI-zurz-AHSH-urn). German town to which Adrian moves to attend school, about thirty miles from Buchel. Kaisersaschern, whose name means the “emperor’s ashes”–namely those of Otto III–is a composite of several German towns but is most similar to Lübeck, Mann’s birthplace and home in northern Germany. It is a modern commercial and industrial town of 27,000 inhabitants at a major railway junction and along the river Saale, the lifeblood of the area. At the core of Kaisersaschern is the medieval: a cathedral, a castle, faithfully preserved residences, and storehouses. Behind this picturesque facade lurks the medieval spirit of irrationality, superstition, magic, insanity, torture–in a word, the demoniac. Serenus traces the political catastrophe of Nazism to the hysteria of the dying Middle Ages especially evidenced in the practices of zealot Christians. In Kaisersaschern as in all of Germany, the past is only veneered with the present. The devil tells Adrian, “Where I am, there is Kaisersaschern.” In other words, the town represents a general psychic malaise in Germany, one that infects Adrian’s mind for the rest of his life.

After schooling in Kaisersaschern, Adrian studies theology with a concentration on the devil at the university in the nearby medieval city, Halle along the Saale. In Leipzig, Adrian studies music and has his fateful encounter with Esmeralda, the prostitute from whom he voluntarily gets a venereal infection.

Schweigestill

Schweigestill (schwi-geh-STIHL). Fictional baroque cloister converted into a boardinghouse close to the fictional town of Pfeiffering, modeled on Polling, a village among the hills of Bavaria. While living in Munich, Adrian discovers the place on one of his expeditions into the countryside. After his encounter with the devil in Palestrina, Italy, he retreats to Schweigestill in part because it resembles Buchel with a pond, a bench on a hill, a house with courtyard, and an old giant tree. The landlords are like his parents and their dog like his own.

As well as an escape into his childhood, Schweigestill also provides Adrian with a sinister retreat. For the next eighteen years, he composes his most important works in an abbot’s study similar in ambiance to the one in which the medieval Faust conjured the devil and performed his magic.

Schweigestill means to keep silent and still, to be discreet and even to conceal. It represents Adrian’s seclusion and his diabolical secret. Ostensibly for a performance of a new composition, The Lamentation of Dr. Faustus, Adrian invites thirty prominent friends and acquaintances to Schweigestill, who gather in a large formal hall with a massive table, deep window nooks, and a plaster Winged Victory of Samothrace. Instead, Adrian announces his pact with the devil. During his confession, he breaks down upon the brown square piano and never recovers his sanity or health. The devil has exacted his price.

BibliographyBergsten, Gunilla. Thomas Mann’s “Doctor Faustus”: The Sources and Structure of the Novel. Translated by Krishna Winston. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1969. Still the best detailed treatment of the novel’s background and construction. Includes a useful appendix of Mann’s source materials and a thorough, though now dated, bibliography.Heller, Erich. “Parody, Tragic and Comic.” In Thomas Mann: The Ironic German. 1958. Reprint. South Bend, Ind.: Regnery/Gateway, 1979. A careful and approachable reading of Doctor Faustus as tragic parody of art and artists, history, religion, and humankind’s ability to create meaning.Kahler, Erich. “The Devil Secularized: Thomas Mann’s Faust.” In Thomas Mann: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Henry Hatfield. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964. Written for Commentary in 1949, Kahler’s essay sees Doctor Faustus as a radical novel and Mann’s “terminal book,” in which he documented all he had to say about art and life. Excellent introduction to the issues involved in the novel.Lehnert, Herbert, and Peter C. Pfeiffer, eds. Thomas Mann’s “Doctor Faustus”: A Novel at the Margin of Modernism. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1991. Originally presented at a symposium on the novel, the essays in this volume concentrate on several central aspects of the novel: women, Jews, questions of modernism in history, music, philosophy, narcissism, love, and death. A general introductory essay situates the novel historically.Mann, Thomas. The Story of a Novel: The Genesis of “Doctor Faustus.” Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961. A fascinating and enlightening account of how Mann came to write the novel. A delightful counterpart to more traditional scholarly criticism. Provides biographical connections and interesting information on the problems of writing in exile.
Categories: Places