Authors: Thomas Mann

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

Novelist

June 6, 1875

Free City of Lübeck, German Empire (now Lübeck, Germany)

August 12, 1955

Zurich, Switzerland

Biography

Thomas Mann, regarded by many critics as one of the outstanding novelists of the twentieth century, was born Paul Thomas Mann in Lübeck, Germany, to Johann Heinrich Mann, a grain merchant and senator of Lübeck, and Julia da Silva-Bruhns Mann, the daughter of a German planter in Brazil and his Portuguese Creole wife. Thomas Mann had two brothers and two sisters; both sisters committed suicide, Carla in 1910 and Julia in 1927. The eldest child of the family, Heinrich Mann, became a distinguished novelist himself. As a child, before his school days, Thomas enjoyed a prosperous and relaxing family life; he loved the seaside holidays at Travemünde and knew the comfortable security of German bourgeois life.

Mann's father wanted him to become a grain merchant like himself. The boy was sent to a military school, where he was thoroughly unhappy. When Mann was fifteen, his father died suddenly from blood poisoning. The business failed, and Mann’s mother took his brothers and sisters to Munich, where he rejoined them after completing his studies. In Munich he was a fire-insurance clerk. He sold his first story, “Gefallen” (Fallen), the story of a fallen woman, in 1894.

Thomas Mann

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By Historical and Public Figures Collection (New York Public Library Archives) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Mann

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Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When he tired of business life—after a year—Mann attended lectures at the University of Munich, auditing courses without officially matriculating. When his brother Heinrich suggested that Mann join him in Rome, he welcomed the suggestion. The brothers lived in Palestrina, where Mann began his first novel, Buddenbrooks: Verfall einer Familie (1901; Buddenbrooks, 1924), the book that would make him famous and contribute to his winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929. The novel portrays a merchant family, and the society of which it is a part, with all its pretenses and weaknesses. Nevertheless, the young writer, faithful to his own experience, was not entirely scornful of that society and regarded the members of it as fundamentally worthwhile.

While Mann was still in Rome, his first volume of short stories, Der kleine Herr Friedemann (The little Mr. Friedemann, 1898), was published. He returned to Munich and joined the staff of the journal Simplicissimus but resigned before completing Buddenbrooks, on which he continued to work. The book was completed after two and a half years of work and was published at the end of 1900 (with the date 1901). Although the novel did not receive immediate critical attention or popular success, it soon gained momentum and by a year after its publication its young author was famous. The short work Tonio Kröger (1903; English translation, 1914) helped secure his reputation. In 1905 Mann married Katja Pringsheim, the daughter of a mathematics professor. The couple had six children; of them, Erika Mann achieved success as a war correspondent and actor, and the eldest son, Klaus, distinguished himself as a writer.

Mann’s second full-length novel, Königliche Hoheit (1909; Royal Highness, 1916), the result of an attempt to write a comic novel, was not as well received as Buddenbrooks, but Mann’s status as a novelist was not diminished. From his experiences in Venice with his wife in 1911 he gained the emotional impressions that he used with haunting effect in his famous novella Der Tod in Venedig (1912; Death in Venice, 1925). This work is characteristic of the decadent, morbid, poetic, and ironic stories and novels that Mann would produce, intermittently, until the new constructive phase marked by the Joseph novels. In a lesser writer the combination of the decadent and the creative would have been not only impossible but also, if attained, perhaps objectionable. However, Mann’s control gives the material a distinctive dark charm that makes it fascinating. It is generally agreed that this tension in Mann’s works is a result of his suppressed sexuality. Although he sustained a marriage, he was celibate much of his life and expressed his tightly contained homosexuality and political beliefs through his fiction.

Mann’s outstanding work of this early period derives from visits he made to his wife while she was a tuberculosis patient in Switzerland. The novel Der Zauberberg (1924; The Magic Mountain, 1927) is both the story of a young man attempting to resist the morbid atmosphere of a tuberculosis sanitarium and, on another level, an evaluation of the morbid character of Western civilization prior to World War I. Despite its length and complexity, The Magic Mountain is regarded by most critics as Mann’s best novel.

Although Mann was not directly involved in World War I and tended to accept the view that the artist must keep free of political matters, as time went on he became more and more involved in the political life of his times, not as a politician but as a critic and as an apologist for the free, creative life. In 1933 his daughters in Germany warned him by telegram that he should remain in Switzerland, where he was vacationing with his wife; they wired that the “housecleaning” would be too much for him. The Nazis burned his books and in 1936 deprived him of his German citizenship. In 1938 Mann moved to Princeton, New Jersey, and continued his work, much of it a criticism of contemporary Europe’s new dark age. In 1941 he moved to Pacific Palisades, California, and in 1944 he became a United States citizen. The cultural ties and charms of Europe continued to work on him, however, and he returned to Europe to settle in Switzerland. Before he died he had the satisfaction of finding that he had won new popularity in Germany, and he visited and lectured in both East and West Germany. He died of phlebitis in Zurich on August 12, 1955.

Although Mann is one of the most widely read authors of the twentieth century, his intellectually deep and stylistically formidable novels, short prose, and essays present difficulties to many readers. Nevertheless, the author gained wide popularity in both Europe and the United States, and he received numerous literary honors in addition to the Nobel Prize.

Author Works Long Fiction: Buddenbrooks: Verfall einer Familie, 1901 (2 volumes; Buddenbrooks, 1924) Tonio Kröger, 1903 (novella; English translation in The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Masterpieces of German Literature, vol. 19, 1914) Tristan, 1903 (novella; English translation in Death in Venice, 1925) Königliche Hoheit, 1909 (Royal Highness, 1916) Der Tod in Venedig, 1912 (novella; Death in Venice, 1925) Herr und Hund, 1919 (novella; Bashan and I, 1923; also known as A Man and His Dog, 1930) Der Zauberberg, 1924 (The Magic Mountain, 1927) Unordnung und frühes Leid, 1926 (novella; Disorder and Early Sorrow, 1929) Mario und der Zauberer, 1930 (novella; Mario and the Magician, 1930) Joseph und seine Brüder, 1933–43 (Joseph and His Brothers, 1934–44, 1948; includes Die Geschichten Jaakobs, 1933 [Joseph and His Brothers, 1934; also known as The Tales of Jacob, 1934]; Der junge Joseph, 1934 [The Young Joseph, 1935]; Joseph in Ägypten, 1936 [Joseph in Egypt, 1938]; Joseph, der Ernährer, 1943 [Joseph the Provider, 1944]) Lotte in Weimar, 1939 (The Beloved Returns, 1940) Die vertauschten Köpfe: Eine indische Legend, 1940 (novella; The Transposed Heads: A Legend of India, 1941) Das Gesetz, 1944 (novella; Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods before Me, 1943; also known as The Tables of the Law, 1945) Doktor Faustus: Das Leben des deutschen Tonsetzers Adrian Leverkühn, erzählt von einem Freunde, 1947 (Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend, 1948) Der Erwählte, 1951 (The Holy Sinner, 1951) Die Betrogene, 1953 (novella; The Black Swan, 1954) Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull: Der Memoiren erster Teil, 1954 (Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man: The Early Years, 1955) Short Fiction: Der kleine Herr Friedemann: Novellen, 1898, 1909 Tristan: Sechs Novellen, 1903 Das Wunderkind: Novellen, 1914 Children and Fools, 1928 (Herman George Scheffauer, translator) Stories of Three Decades, 1936 (Helen T. Lowe-Porter, translator) Ausgewählte Erzählungen, 1939 Death in Venice, and Seven Other Stories, 1954 (Helen T. Lowe-Porter, translator) Stories of a Lifetime, 1961 (2 volumes; Helen T. Lowe-Porter, translator Drama: Fiorenza, pb. 1906 Poetry: “Gesang vom Kindchen,” 1919 Nonfiction: Friedrich und die grosse Koalition, 1915 (“Frederick and the Great Coalition,” 1929) Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen, 1918 (Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man, 1983) Rede und Antwort: Gesammelte Abhandlungen und kleine Aufsätze, 1922 Bemühungen: Neue Folge der Gesammelte Abhandlungen und kleinen Aufsätze, 1925 Three Essays, 1929 (Helen T. Lowe-Porter, translator) Die Forderung des Tages: Reden und Aufsätze aus den Jahren 1925–1929, 1930 Lebensabriss, 1930 (A Sketch of My Life, 1960) Past Masters and Other Papers, 1933 (Helen T. Lowe-Porter, translator) Leiden und Grösse der Meister: Neue Aufsätze, 1935 Freud, Goethe, Wagner, 1937 (Helen T. Lowe-Porter and Rita Matthias-Reil, translators) Achtung, Europa! Aufsätze zur Zeit, 1938 Dieser Friede, 1938 (This Peace, 1938) Vom künftigen Sieg der Demokratie, 1938 (The Coming of Victory of Democracy, 1938) Dieser Krieg, 1940 (This War, 1940) Deutsche Hörer! 25 Radiosendungen nach Deutschland, 1942, enlarged 1945 (Listen, Germany! Twenty-Five Radio Messages to the German People over BBC, 1943) Order of the Day: Political Essays and Speeches of Two Decades, 1942 (Helen T. Lowe-Porter, Agnes E. Meyer, and Eric Sutton, translators) Adel des Geistes: Sechzehn Versuche zum Problem der Humanität, 1945, enlarged 1956 Essays of Three Decades, 1947 (Helen T. Lowe-Porter, translator) Neue Studien, 1948 Die Entstehung des “Doktor Faustus”: Roman eines Romans, 1949 (The Story of a Novel: The Genesis of “Doctor Faustus,” 1961) Altes und Neues: Kleine Prosa aus fünf Jahrzehnten, 1953, 1956 Versuch über Schiller, 1955 Nachlese: Prosa 1951–1955, 1956 Last Essays, 1958 (Richard Winston, Clara Winston, Tania Stern, James Stern, and Helen T. Lowe-Porter, translators) Reden und Aufsätze, 1960 (2 volumes) Briefe, 1961–65 (3 volumes; Erika Mann, editor; partial translation, Letters of Thomas Mann, 1889–1955, 1970) Addresses Delivered at the Library of Congress, 1942–1949, 1963 Wagner und unsere Zeit: Aufsätze, Betrachtungen, Briefe, 1963 (Pro and Contra Wagner, 1985) Das essayistische Werk, 1968 (Hans Bürgin, editor) Über deutsche Literatur: Ausgewählte Essays, Reden und Briefe, 1968 (Gerhard Steiner, editor) Essays, 1977–78 (3 volumes; with Hunter Hannum and Michael Mann) Tagebücher, 1977–95 (10 volumes; Peter de Mendelssohn and Inge Jens, editors; partial translation, Diaries, 1918–1939, 1982) Goethes Laufbahn als Schriftsteller: Zwölf Essays und Reden zu Goethe, 1982 Frage und Antwort: Interviews mit Thomas Mann, 1909–1955, 1983 (Volkmar Hansen and Gert Heine, editors) Essays, 1993–97 (6 volumes; Hermann Kurzke and Stefan Stachorski, editors) Miscellaneous: Gesammelte Werke, 1956–60, 1974 (13 volumes; includes critical writings in volumes 9–11) Gesammelte Werke in Einzelbänden , 1980–86 (20 volumes; Peter de Mendelssohn, editor; includes critical writings) Bibliography Berlin, Jeffrey B., editor. Approaches to Teaching Mann’s Death in Venice and Other Short Fiction. Modern Language Association of America, 1992. In part 1 (materials), focuses on general introductions, reference works, and critical studies; part 2 (approaches) contains in-depth essays on Mann’s handling of many themes and his approach to comedy, tradition, modernism, Sigmund Freud, and other thinkers and writers. Includes an extensive bibliography. Cullander, Cecil C. H. “Why Thomas Mann Wrote.” The Virginia Quarterly Review, vol. 75, no. 1, 1999, pp. 31–48. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=1517634&site=ehost-live. Accessed 9 May 2017. Examines Mann’s statements about his creativity, his fiction, and his journals and diaries; argues that his diaries helped him come to terms with his homosexuality and know himself. Feuerlicht, Ignace. Thomas Mann. Twayne Publishers, 1968. A critical introduction to Mann that analyzes the plots, characters, ideas, and styles of his stories and novels against the background of his life. Notes that most of his early stories focus on a marked man, one who is weak, sick, or odd, an outsider who cannot endure everyday life. Hayman, Ronald. Thomas Mann: A Biography. Scribner, 1995. A literary biography that paints a flawed yet fascinating portrait of Mann, delving into his emotional life and sexuality and how they informed his writing. Heilbut, Anthony. Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature. Alfred A. Knopf, 1996. The most commanding biography of Mann in English, with a carefully detailed narrative of his life and work. Provides detailed useful notes and an extensive bibliography. Heiney, Donald W. Barron’s Simplified Approach to Thomas Mann. Barron’s Educational Series, 1966. A basic introduction to Mann’s life and art. The chapter on the short stories and tales includes brief discussions of each of the important stories in Stories of Three Decades. Heller, Erich. The Ironic German, a Study of Thomas Mann. Secker & Warburg, 1958. A study of Mann and his intellectual ancestry. Contains a chapter on Mario and the Magician and Death in Venice. Hollingdale, R. J. Thomas Mann: A Critical Study. Hart-Davis, 1971. Discusses the basic philosophical assumptions in Mann’s works, especially the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Focuses on such themes as crime, sickness, decadence, irony, and myth. Kurzke, Hermann. Thomas Mann: Life as a Work of Art; A Biography. Translated by Leslie Willson, Princeton UP, 2002. A celebrated work in Germany that provides a balanced approach to Mann’s life and work. Addresses his sexuality and relationship to Judaism. The translation, however, is not good. Index. Lesér, Esther H. Thomas Mann’s Short Fiction: An Intellectual Biography. Edited by Mitzi Brunsdale, Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1989. A biography intended, according to the author, “as a reference work in which each story may be read individually with its comprehensive study materials, and as an organic study of Thomas Mann’s intellectual development.” Chapters are arranged thematically, each integrating analyses of representative works. Mann, Thomas. Death in Venice: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical and Historical Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Five Contemporary Critical Perspectives. Edited by Naomi Ritter, Bedford Books, 1998. A reprinting of David Luke’s widely acclaimed translation of Mann’s novella, along with five critical essays that serve to familiarize students with the story. Nemerov, Howard. Poetry and Fiction: Essays. Rutgers UP, 1963. Includes the essay “Themes and Methods in the Early Stories of Thomas Mann,” which discusses the types of characters in Mann’s stories, such as disappointed lovers of life, those whose love has turned to hatred, and those whose love masquerades as indifference and superiority. Contends that “The Infant Prodigy” is the first appearance in Mann’s work of some sinister qualities belonging to the underside of the artist’s nature. Reed, T. J. Thomas Mann: The Uses of Tradition. 2nd ed., Oxford UP, 1996. A meticulously researched and well-documented study on Mann’s thought and fiction. Includes bibliographical references and index. Robertson, Ritchie, editor. The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann. Cambridge UP, 2002. A thorough reference source on Mann. Bibliography and index. Thomas, R. Hinton. Thomas Mann: The Mediation of Art. Clarendon Press, 1956. Discusses selected works from the point of view of Mann’s concern with art as a moral task of self-discipline. The short stories are discussed as Mann’s apprenticeship to the central theme of the yearning for art as a escape from practical life into infinity. Travers, Martin. Thomas Mann. St. Martin’s Press, 1992. An excellent, short introductory study, with chapters on Mann’s life, the autobiographical elements of his first novels and early stories, and separate chapters on the novels. A concluding chapter assesses Mann as a modern novelist. With notes and very useful annotated bibliography. Von Gronicka, André. Thomas Mann: Profile and Perspectives, with Two Unpublished Letters and a Chronological List of Important Events. Random House, 1970. A biographical analysis of Mann and his works, intended by the author “to offer some new insights to the specialists while helping the general reader to orient himself in Thomas Mann’s vast and complex world.” Also includes two previously unpublished letters and a chronological list of significant events in Mann’s life. White, Andrew. Thomas Mann. Oliver & Boyd, 1965. Takes a thematic approach to the life and works of Mann. Concludes with a review of six decades of criticism. Winston, Richard. Thomas Mann: The Making of an Artist, 1875–1911. Alfred A. Knopf, 1981. Contains chronologically arranged biographical information, interspersed with chapters of thematic analysis and explication. Covers Mann’s early years. Aimed at readers of literary biography.

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