Thomas Mann the Magician

This week I had visitors from Cardiff, one of whom runs a bookshop in Penarth, as a consequence of which on Thursday evening I attended a Zoom event featuring acclaimed author Colm Tóibín whose book The Magician is on sale now. It’s a fictionalised account of the live of Thomas Mann. The event was so interesting that today I went to the local bookshop in Maynooth and bought a copy.

The life of Thomas Mann was colourful to say the least. Born in the German city of Lübeck in 1875, Mann’s father was a wealthy merchant and his mother was from Brazil. His elder brother Heinrich Mann was also a novelist essayist and playwright of considerable reputation. Despite his homosexuality, Thomas Mann married Katia Pringsheim in 1905, his wife seemingly not minding about his sexual orientation. He led a comfortable life until he began to see the signs of the coming descent of Europe into the First World War. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929 and went into exile from Nazism in 1933, becoming an American citizen in 1944. He spent the last year’s of his life in Zurich, where he died in 1955.

I haven’t read The Magician yet – I’ll post a review when I have – but the event inspired me to dig out my copy of Mann’s greatest novel, The Magic Mountain. The stamp inside reveals that I bought it in 1987, while I was doing my DPhil at Sussex.

In 1912 – the year Death in Venice was published – Thomas Mann and his wife spent some time in a sanatorium where he got the idea for his greatest novel, The Magic Mountain, though it took him over a decade to finish it. It was finally published in 1924 and in my view it merits a place among the greatest works of 20th Century literature.

I had read Death in Venice before The Magic Mountain and there are definite thematic similarities, illness and death being metaphors for the state of Europe at the time. In The Magic Mountain Hans Castorp goes to a Swiss sanatorium for a three-week stay and ends up spending seven years there on a kind of spiritual journey, his isolation from the rest of the world and the ever-present shadow of death heightening his emotional awareness. When he eventually leaves for “real life” outside the dream-like sanatorium, he heads straight for the Great War with the inevitable consequence.

But trying to summarize The Magic Mountain in terms of a plot is pointless. It’s a novel of atmosphere and internal questioning. I found it hard going but immensely rewarding. I always intended to follow up with Buddenbrooks and the Confessions of Felix Krull, but for some reason I never got around to them. I suppose there’s still time, though.

3 Responses to “Thomas Mann the Magician”

  1. If you want a lighter Thomas Mann read try “Bashan and I” about his relationship with his dog.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    Would that be a flooded Saint Mark’s Square in Venice on the front of Toibin’s novel?

  3. […] Another topical example is the name Colm (as in Colm Tóibín), which is pronounced “Collum” (or, depending on dialect, something more like “Cullum”). […]

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