Mann, Thomas

(1875-1955)
   writer; the premier literary figure of the Weimar era. Born in Lübeck to a prosperous businessman and city senator, he began writing small prose works as a youngster. Although he was a mediocre student—he repeated two classes in Gymnasium—his was nonetheless a disci-plined intellect that, with superb literary skill, merged profound ideas and humor into loosely autobiographical writings. Abandoning Gymnasium in 1893, he moved to Munich, where, upon forming a tie with his brother Heinrich (see Mann, Heinrich), he began writing. Buddenbrooks, a novel portraying the dis-integration of a prosperous family, appeared in 1901. Through his 1905 marriage to Katia Pringsheim, he gained financial independence and entered Munich's affluent society.
   Stimulated by Schopenhauer, Wagner, and Nietzsche, Mann was intrigued by decadence, decay, and death (all central to Buddenbrooks, Death in Venice, The Magic Mountain, and Doctor Faustus). But while he formulated a German vi-sion of culture, his aesthetic speculation remained unpolitical. World War I infused his writing with politics. Imbued with a conservative patriotism common in prewar Germany, he was converted to extreme nationalism; the change shat-tered his relationship with his Francophile brother. His wartime Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen (Reflections of a nonpolitical man), while confused and repetitious, highlights the theme of Kultur versus civilization that reappears in a more sophisticated form in Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain).
   Mann's resolve to support the new Republic was first kindled by Oswald Spengler's* Decline ofthe West, a book that repelled him and then blossomed after the 1922 assassination* of Walther Rathenau.* Der Zauberberg, his 1924 novel symbolizing the varied appeal of sickness and decadence, marked his break with the suppositions held through the war. (Upon awarding the Nobel Prize in 1929, the committee conspicuously ignored Der Zauberberg in favor of Buddenbrooks.) After the September 1930 elections he began lecturing on the necessity of the middle-class parties to ally themselves with the SPD; this was, he implored, the one means of defeating Hitler.*
   Mann's outspoken rejection of the NSDAP cost him long-held friendships and generated physical danger. While he was lecturing abroad in February 1933, he was warned not to return to Germany. From southern France and then Swit-zerland he joined the protest against the Third Reich. In 1937 he helped found Mass und Wert, a journal that published some of the best political opinion in the late 1930s. He was stripped in 1936 of his citizenship and emigrated to the United States in 1939. While he maintained his literary activity—the tetralogy that comprises Joseph und seine Bruder (Joseph and his brothers) appeared between 1933 and 1942—he lectured tirelessly on the need to resist Nazi Ger-many. His last major work, Doktor Faustus, which appeared in 1947, evoked all the anger, agony, and frustrated love that Germany had aroused in him since 1933.
   REFERENCES:Hatfield, From "The Magic Mountain"; Hayman, Thomas Mann; Kahler, Orbit of Thomas Mann; Katia Mann, Unwritten Memories; Prater, Thomas Mann; J. Peter Stern, Thomas Mann.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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