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Mann, Thomas

remains castorp world novel

(German, 1875–1955)

Born in Lübeck, Mann achieved renown with Buddenbrooks (1901), his first novel. Its lengthy treatment of the decline of a merchant family, which draws on his own privileged background, is not, however, a good introduction. Begin with Death in Venice (1912), a masterpiece of the novella form, in which an exhausted writer is spiritually rejuvenated through his obsession with a Polish boy. After the boy's departure he remains in Venice to die of cholera. The Magic Mountain (1924) is set in a Swiss sanatorium, where its main character, the young engineer Hans Castorp, arrives a visitor but remains for seven years. A major novel of ideas, the energetic conversation among the patients sets forth the political and cultural state of Europe on the eve of the First World War. In the sanatorium's exclusive society of individuals whom illness relieves of responsibility, Castorp slowly matures as he absorbs a range of intense intellectual and emotional experiences. He finally returns to the world of action, to be glimpsed in wartime Flanders at the close. In Doctor Faustus (1947) Mann subtly allegorizes Germany's descent into the evil of Nazism in his creation of the menacingly charismatic composer, Adrian Leverkuhn. Leverkuhn believes he has struck a deal with the Devil for the brilliant but dehumanized musical system he has discovered. Thought mad when he informs his friends of his approaching damnation, he is reduced to imbecility by a stroke upon completing his greatest work.

Leo Tolstoy, Hermann Hesse, Albert Camus. See FILM ADAPTATIONS, GERMANY  DH

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