"Respectable means rich, and decent means poor. I should die if I heard my family called decent." -- Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann (6 June 1875 – 12 August 1955) was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual. His analysis and critique of the European and German soul used modernized German and Biblical stories, as well as the ideas of Goethe, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer. His older brother was the radical writer Heinrich Mann, and three of his six children, Erika Mann, Klaus Mann and Golo Mann, also became important German writers. When Hitler came to power in 1933, the anti-fascist Mann fled to Switzerland. When World War II broke out in 1939, he emigrated to the United States, from where he returned to Switzerland in 1952. Thomas Mann is one of the most known exponents of the so called Exilliteratur.
"A great truth is a truth whose opposite is also a truth.""A harmful truth is better than a useful lie.""A man lives not only his personal life, as an individual, but also, consciously or unconsciously, the life of his epoch and his contemporaries.""A man's dying is more his survivor's affair than his own.""A solitary, unused to speaking of what he sees and feels, has mental experiences which are at once more intense and less articulate than those of a gregarious man.""A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.""All interest in disease and death is only another expression of interest in life.""An art whose medium is language will always show a high degree of critical creativeness, for speech is itself a critique of life: it names, it characterizes, it passes judgment, in that it creates.""Animals do not admire each other. A horse does not admire its companion.""But my deepest and most secret love belongs to the fair-haired and the blue-eyed, the bright children of life, the happy, the charming and the ordinary.""Culture and possessions, there is the bourgeoisie for you.""Democracy is timelessly human, and timelessness always implies a certain amount of potential youthfulness.""Disease makes men more physical, it leaves them nothing but body.""Every reasonable human being should be a moderate Socialist.""Everything is politics.""For I must tell you that we artists cannot tread the path of Beauty without Eros keeping company with us and appointing himself as our guide.""For the beautiful word begets the beautiful deed.""For the myth is the foundation of life; it is the timeless schema, the pious formula into which life flows when it reproduces its traits out of the unconscious.""For the sake of goodness and love, man shall let death have no sovereignty over his thoughts.""For to be poised against fatality, to meet adverse conditions gracefully, is more than simple endurance; it is an act of aggression, a positive triumph.""Has the world ever been changed by anything save the thought and its magic vehicle the Word?""He who loves the more is the inferior and must suffer.""Human reason needs only to will more strongly than fate, and she is fate.""I don't think anyone is thinking long-term now.""I love and reverence the Word, the bearer of the spirit, the tool and gleaming ploughshare of progress.""I never can understand how anyone can not smoke it deprives a man of the best part of life. With a good cigar in his mouth a man is perfectly safe, nothing can touch him, literally.""I shall need to sleep three weeks on end to get rested from the rest I've had.""If you are possessed by an idea, you find it expressed everywhere, you even smell it.""It could become much worse.""It is a strange fact that freedom and equality, the two basic ideas of democracy, are to some extent contradictory. Logically considered, freedom and equality are mutually exclusive, just as society and the individual are mutually exclusive.""It is love, not reason, that is stronger than death.""Literature... is the union of suffering with the instinct for form.""One always has the idea of a stupid man as perfectly healthy and ordinary, and of illness as making one refined and clever and unusual.""One has the idea of a stupid man as perfectly healthy and ordinary, and of illness as making one refined and clever and unusual.""One must die to life in order to be utterly a creator.""Only he who desires is amiable and not he who is satiated.""Opinions cannot survive if one has no chance to fight for them.""Order and simplification are the first steps toward the mastery of a subject.""People's behavior makes sense if you think about it in terms of their goals, needs, and motives.""Psycho-analyses, how disgusting.""Reduced to a miserable mass level, the level of a Hitler, German Romanticism broke out into hysterical barbarism.""Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous - to poetry. But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd.""Speech is civilization itself.""The Freudian theory is one of the most important foundation stones for an edifice to be built by future generations, the dwelling of a freer and wiser humanity.""The only religious way to think of death is as part and parcel of life.""The task of a writer consists of being able to make something out of an idea.""The writer's joy is the thought that can become emotion, the emotion that can wholly become a thought.""There is something suspicious about music, gentlemen. I insist that she is, by her nature, equivocal. I shall not be going too far in saying at once that she is politically suspect.""Time cools, time clarifies; no mood can be maintained quite unaltered through the course of hours.""Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunder-storm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.""War is only a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.""We don't love qualities, we love persons; sometimes by reason of their defects as well as of their qualities.""What a wonderful phenomenon it is, carefully considered, when the human eye, that jewel of organic structures, concentrates its moist brilliance on another human creature!""What is uttered is finished and done with.""What we call National-Socialism is the poisonous perversion of ideas which have a long history in German intellectual life."
Mann was born Paul Thomas Mann in Lübeck, Germany and was the second son of Thomas Johann Heinrich Mann (a senator and a grain merchant), and his wife Júlia da Silva Bruhns (a Brazilian with partially German ancestry who emigrated to Germany when seven years old). His mother was Roman Catholic, but Mann was baptised into his father's Lutheran faith. Mann's father died in 1891, and his trading firm was liquidated. The family subsequently moved to Munich. Mann attended the science division of a Lübeck gymnasium, then spent time at the Ludwig Maximillians University of Munich and Technical University of Munich where, in preparation for a journalism career, he studied history, economics, art history, and literature. He lived in Munich from 1891 until 1933, with the exception of a year in Palestrina, Italy, with his novelist elder brother Heinrich. Thomas worked with the South German Fire Insurance Company 1894–95. His career as a writer began when he wrote for Simplicissimus. Mann's first short story, "Little Herr Friedemann" (Der Kleine Herr Friedemann), was published in 1898.
In 1905, he married Katia Pringsheim, daughter of a prominent, secular Jewish family of intellectuals. They had six children:
In 1929, Mann had a cottage built in the fishing village of Nidden (Nida, Lithuania) on the Curonian Spit, where there was a German art colony, and where he spent the summers of 1930-32 working on Joseph and his Brothers. The cottage now is a cultural center dedicated to him, with a small memorial exhibition. In 1933, after Hitler assumed power, Mann emigrated to Küsnacht, near Zürich, Switzerland, but received Czechoslovak citizenship and a passport in 1936. He then emigrated to the United States in 1939, where he taught at Princeton University. In 1942, the Mann family moved to Pacific Palisades, in west Los Angeles California, where they lived until after the end of World War II. On 23 June 1944 Thomas Mann was naturalized as a citizen of the United States. In 1952, he returned to Europe, to live in Kilchberg, near Zürich, Switzerland.
He never again lived in Germany, though he regularly traveled there. His most important German visit was in 1949, at the 200th birthday of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, attending celebrations in Frankfurt am Main and Weimar, as a statement that German culture extends beyond the new political borders.
In 1955, he died of atherosclerosis in a hospital in Zürich and was buried in Kilchberg. Many institutions are named in his honour, most famously the Thomas Mann Gymnasium of Budapest.
Thomas Mann's works were first translated into English by H. T. Lowe-Porter.
During World War I Mann supported Kaiser Wilhelm II's conservatism and attacked liberalism. Yet in Von Deutscher Republik (1923), as a semi-official spokesman for parliamentary democracy, Mann called upon German intellectuals to support the new Weimar Republic. He also gave a lecture at the Beethovensaal in Berlin on 13 October 1922, which appeared in Die neue Rundschau in November 1922, in which he developed his eccentric defence of the Republic, based on extensive close readings of Novalis and Walt Whitman. Hereafter his political views gradually shifted toward liberal left and democratic principles.
In 1930 Mann gave a public address in Berlin titled "An Appeal to Reason", in which he strongly denounced National Socialism and encouraged resistance by the working class. This was followed by numerous essays and lectures in which he attacked the Nazis. At the same time, he expressed increasing sympathy for socialist ideas. In 1933 when the Nazis came to power, Mann and his wife were on holiday in Switzerland. Due to his strident denunciations of Nazi policies, his son Klaus advised him not to return. But Thomas Mann's books, in contrast to those of his brother Heinrich and his son Klaus, were not among those burnt publicly by Hitler's regime in May 1933, possibly since he had been the Nobel laureate in literature for 1929 (see below). Finally in 1936 the Nazi government officially revoked his German citizenship. A few months later he moved to California.
During the war, Mann made a series of anti-Nazi radio-speeches, Deutsche Hörer! . They were taped in the USA and then sent to Great Britain, where the BBC transmitted them, hoping to reach German listeners.
Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929, principally in recognition of his popular achievement with the epic Buddenbrooks (1901), The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg 1924), and his numerous short stories. (Precisely, due to the personal taste of an influential committee member, only Buddenbrooks was explicitly cited.)Based on Mann's own family, Buddenbrooks relates the decline of a merchant family in Lübeck over the course of three generations. The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg, 1924) follows an engineering student who, planning to visit his tubercular cousin at a Swiss sanatorium for only three weeks, finds his departure from the sanatorium delayed. During that time, he confronts medicine and the way it looks at the body and encounters a variety of characters who play out ideological conflicts and discontents of contemporary European civilization. Later, other novels included Lotte in Weimar (1939), in which Mann returned to the world of Goethe's novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774); Doktor Faustus (1947), the story of composer Adrian Leverkühn and the corruption of German culture in the years before and during World War II; and Confessions of Felix Krull (Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull, 1954), which was still unfinished at Mann's death.
Mann's diaries, unsealed in 1975, tell of his struggles with his homosexuality, which found reflection in his works, most prominently through the obsession of the elderly Aschenbach for the 14-year-old Polish boy Tadzio in the novella Death in Venice (Der Tod in Venedig, 1912). Anthony Heilbut's biography Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1997) was widely acclaimed for uncovering the centrality of Mann's sexuality to his oeuvre. Gilbert Adair's work The Real Tadzio (2001) describes how, in the summer of 1911, Mann had been staying at the Grand Hôtel des Bains on the Lido of Venice with his wife and brother when he became enraptured by the angelic figure of W?adys?aw Moes, an 11-year-old Polish boy. (also see "The Real Tadzio" on the Death in Venice page).
Handling the struggle between the Dionysiac and the Apollonian, Death in Venice has been made into a film and an opera. Blamed sarcastically by Mann’s old enemy, Alfred Kerr, to have ‘made pederasty acceptable to the cultivated middle classes’, it has been pivotal to introducing the discourse of same-sex desire to the common culture.Mann was friends with violinist and painter Paul Ehrenberg for whom he had feelings as a young man. Despite certain homosexual overtones in his writing, Mann fell in love with Katia Mann...whom he married...in 1905. His works also present other sexual themes, such as incest in The Blood of the Walsungs (Wälsungenblut) and The Holy Sinner (Der Erwählte).
Throughout his Dostoyevsky essay he finds parallels between the Russian and the sufferings of Frederich Nietzsche. Speaking of Nietzsche he says: "his personal feelings initiate him into those of the criminal... in general all creative originality, all artist nature in the broadest sense of the word, does the same. It was the French painter and sculptor, Degas who said that an artist must approach his work in the spirit of the criminal about to commit a crime." Nietzsche's influence on Mann runs deep in his work, especially in Nietzsche's views on decay and the proposed fundamental connection between sickness and creativity. Mann held that disease is not to be regarded as wholly negative. In his essay on Dostoyevsky we find: "but after all and above all it depends on who is diseased., who mad, who epileptic or paralytic: an average dull-witted man, in whose illness any intellectual or cultural aspect is non-existent; or a Nietzsche or Dostoyevsky. In their case something comes out in illness that is more important and conductive to life and growth than any medical guaranteed health or sanity... in other words: certain conquests made by the soul and the mind are impossible without disease, madness, crime of the spirit."
Balancing his humanism and appreciation of Western culture was his belief in the power of sickness and decay to destroy the ossifying effects of tradition and civilization. Hence the "heightening" of which Mann speaks in his introduction to The Magic Mountain and the opening of new spiritual possibilities that Hans Castorp experiences in the midst of his sickness. In Death in Venice he makes the identification between beauty and the resistance to natural decay, embodied by Aschenbach as the metaphor for the Nazi vision of purity (akin to Nietzsche's version of the ascetic ideal that denies life and its becoming). He also valued the insight of other cultures, notably adapting a traditional Indian fable in The Transposed Heads. His work is the record of a consciousness of a life of manifold possibilities, and of the tensions inherent in the (more or less enduringly fruitful) responses to those possibilities. In his own summation (upon receiving the Nobel Prize), "The value and significance of my work for posterity may safely be left to the future; for me they are nothing but the personal traces of a life led consciously, that is, conscientiously."
Martin Mauthner's German Writers in French Exile 1933-1940 (London, 2007) devotes several chapters to Thomas Mann and his family.
Mann's 1896 short story "Disillusionment" is the basis for the Leiber and Stoller song "Is That All There Is?", famously recorded in 1969 by Peggy Lee.
"Magic Mountain" by the band Blonde Redhead, is based on Mann's novel of the same title.
"Magic Mountain (after Thomas Mann)" is a painting made by Christiaan Tonnis in 1987. "The Magic Mountain" is a chapter in his 2006 book "Illness as a Symbol" as well.
The 2006 movie "A Good Year" directed by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe and Albert Finney, features a paperback version of Death in Venice. It is the book the character named Christie Roberts is reading while she visits her deceased father's vineyard.
In the Philip Roth novel The Human Stain, several references are made to Mann's Death in Venice.
A staged musical version of The Transposed Heads, adapted by Julie Taymor and Sidney Goldfarb, with music by Elliot Goldenthal, was produced at the American Music Theater Festival in Philadelphia and The Lincoln Center in New York in 1988.
Joseph Heller's 1994 novel, Closing Time, makes several references to Thomas Mann and Death in Venice.
The Andrew Crumey novel Mobius Dick (2004) makes extensive references to Mann, and imagines an alternative universe where an author named Behring has written novels resembling Mann's. These include a version of The Magic Mountain with Erwin Schrödinger in place of Castorp.