Thomas Mann

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Mann, Thomas

(tō`mäs män), 1875–1955, German novelist and essayist, the outstanding German novelist of the 20th cent., b. Lübeck; brother of Heinrich MannMann, Heinrich
, 1871–1950, German novelist; older brother of Thomas Mann. He was a prolific author; themes of social criticism dominate his works. The Poor (1917, tr. 1917) and The Chief (1925, tr. 1925) deal with regeneration through democracy.
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. A writer of great intellectual breadth, Mann developed literary themes that not only delved into the inner self but also related inner problems to changing European cultural values. To coordinate this dual focus Mann often wrote in a symbolic vein, although in general he was less experimental than many of his contemporaries.


Mann became famous with the publication of his first novel, Buddenbrooks (1901, tr. 1924, 1993), which depicts the rise and disintegration of a merchant family. Shorter works of fiction followed, among them Tonio Kröger (1903, tr. 1913–15); the verse drama Fiorenza (1905); and the classic Der Tod in Venedig (1912, tr. Death in Venice, 1925), a novella in which the hero, a great writer, falls prey to an uncontrolled passion, weakens, and eventually dies. These works show Mann's preoccupation with the interaction of cultural and psychological problems. The proximity of creative art to neurosis and the affinity of genius and disease are his largest themes, along with a strong interest in the nature of repressed, often homoerotic sexual desires.

Artistic values in a bourgeois society is a main theme in his rather comic second novel, Königliche Hoheit (1909, tr. Royal Highness, 1916). Among Mann's other important shorter works of fiction are Unordnung und frühes Leid (1925, tr. Early Sorrow, 1929), a story; and the short novel Mario und der Zauberer (1930, tr. Mario and the Magician, 1930), an allegorical attack on fascism.

Translations of his shorter fiction are collected in Stories of Three Decades (1936). Mann's third novel, Der Zauberberg (1924, tr. The Magic Mountain, 1927, 1995), occupied him for 12 years. Here the protagonist is a young man from a middle-class background who, after spending seven years in the midst of discussions of disease and death in a tuberculosis sanatorium, finds fulfillment in leaving to re-enter the larger world.

Mann then began his tetralogy Joseph und seine Brüder (1933–43, tr. Joseph and His Brothers, 1934–44, 2005), on which he worked intermittently for 16 years. This erudite and detailed recreation of the biblical story of Joseph is a brilliant study of the psychological and the mythological. In Doctor Faustus (1947, tr. 1948, 1997), Mann used the Faust motif to delve into the conflict between spirituality and sensuality. His last works include the novels Der Erwählte (1951, tr. The Holy Sinner, 1951) and Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull (1954, tr. Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man, 1955), a picaresque comedy adapted from an earlier fragment.


Mann's essays fall into two general categories—political and literary. His autobiographical essay Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen (1918, tr., Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man, 1983) marks his decision that the artist must participate in politics in order to preserve a creative society; Mann later became an outspoken critic of fascism. Translations of his major political speeches and essays are published in Order of the Day (1942). Mann's own selection of his literary essays appeared in English as Essays of Three Decades (1947). These elaborate the recurrent themes of his fiction through studies of thinkers who influenced him.

Mann left (1933) Hitler's Germany for Switzerland in self-imposed exile, was deprived (1936) of his citizenship by the Nazis, and after 1938 lived in the United States until he returned to Switzerland in 1953. Despite his roots in romanticism, Mann was a skeptical rationalist who opposed the anti-intellectualism of many 20th-century German theorists. Mann was awarded the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Children of Thomas Mann

Mann's daughter, Erika Mann, 1905–69, was an actress and author. Mann's son Klaus Mann, 1906–49, was a novelist, essayist, and playwright. He left Germany in 1933 and edited the anti-Nazi journal Sammlung in Amsterdam. A resident of the United States from 1935, he became a citizen in 1943 when he entered the U.S. army. His writings include Alexander: A Novel of Utopia (1929, tr. 1930); Pathetic Symphony (1936, tr. 1948), a novel about Tchaikovsky; the autobiographical Turning Point (1942); and André Gide and the Crisis in Modern Thought (1943). With his sister he wrote Escape to Life (1939) and The Other Germany (tr. 1940).


See Thomas Mann's letters (tr. 1971) and H. Wysling, ed., Letters of Heinrich and Thomas Mann, 1900–1949 (1998); his autobiographical Sketch of My Life (1960); memoirs by his daughter E. Mann (tr. 1958, repr. 1970) and son G. Mann (1965); biographies by R. Winston (1981), R. Hayman (1995), and D. Prater (1995); studies by J. P. Stern (1967), E. Heller (1958, repr. 1973), W. E. Berendsohn (1973), and A. Heilbut (1996); biography of Klaus Mann by F. Spotts (2016).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Mann, Thomas


Born June 6, 1875, in Lübeck; died Aug. 12, 1955, in Zürich. German writer. Brother of H. Mann.

Mann was born into an old burgher family. His first novel, Buddenbrooks (vols. 1-2, 1901), a long narrative of the lives of four generations of a patrician Lübeck family, brought him fame. Although the subtitle of the novel, The Decline of a Family, may be understood in terms of certain general biological and metaphysical laws, it may also be interpreted socially as an allusion to the incompatibility between spiritually refined people and the rude, aggressive reality of Germany on the threshhold of the age of imperialism. In the broadest sense, Buddenbrooks describes the twilight of bourgeois society. The novel is pervaded by the feeling that the old ways of life are worn out. In Buddenbrooks Mann’s unique qualities as an artist emerged clearly: patience, a penchant for detailed descriptions, and a capacity to combine sharply analytical and ironic principles with emotional warmth. The influence of 19th-century German realists and of Scandinavian and French writers, as well as the considerable impact of Russian writers, especially L. N. Tolstoy, is evident in the novel.

Among Mann’s best works are the novellas Tristan (1903) and Tonio Kröger (1903), which present a psychologically profound description of the relationship between artists and the bourgeois world. Irony is interwoven with inspired lyricism in these works. Published in 1924, the novel The Magic Mountain portrays the intellectual life of bourgeois society on the eve of World War 1. The action takes place in a high-mountain sanatorium in Switzerland, where the young engineer Hans Castorp spends seven years. In his contact with the inhabitants of the sanatorium, who embody various aspects of contemporary bourgeois consciousness, Hans Castorp passes through a number of stages of internal development and comes close to attaining a deepened humanistic understanding of the world. In this sense, The Magic Mountain continues the tradition of German didactic novels, but it is also one of the most important philosophical novels of the 20th century. The slow-moving narrative is permeated with internal tension. The structure of each sentence reflects the very process of understanding reality—the search for the most precise, most exhaustive word. The novel has a “symphonic” quality: an original rhythm of presenting and changing themes and returning to a multitude of motifs already introduced. The Magic Mountain won world recognition. In 1929, Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize.

During the second half of the 1920’s, Mann was active as a critic and essayist. He overcame the conservative views he had expressed in Observations of an Unpolitical Man (1918) and fought against the growing danger of Hitlerism in articles such as “An Appeal to Reason” (1930). The novella Mario and the Magician (1930) and the historical tetralogy on a Biblical theme, Joseph and His Brothers (1933-43; Russian translation, vols. 1-2, 1968), were pervaded by antifascist ideas. Mann humanized the myth and showed its concrete social and historical sources, thus expressing his opposition to fascism’s characteristic attempts to glorify myth and intuitive irrationalism in general at the expense of rational human thought. By shifting to a broad canvas of historical and modern reality and by introducing universal, representative heroes Mann was able to give fuller and more direct expression to the essential problems of the age.

In 1933, after the Nazis came to power, Mann emigrated to Switzerland. He moved to the USA in 1938. His affirmation of the humanistic heritage of German literature in the face of fascist barbarism is evident in the novel Lotte in Weimar (1939), a work about Goethe that was the fruit of the many years spent contemplating the poet’s career. The novel gives a profound interpretation of the relation between art and reality, between a brilliant artist and his milieu.

In 1943, Mann began work on the novel Doctor Faustus (1947), which was to be the most important of his later works. It is about the spiritual sources of the backwardness and reaction that led to the rise of German fascism. In broader terms, it deals with the deep crisis of the capitalist world and its culture. The strong influence of Dostoevsky can be felt in the novel.

Mann spent his last years in Zürich. During the Schiller anniversary celebrations in 1955 he delivered speeches in the German Democratic Republic and in the Federal Republic of Germany. His 80th birthday in June 1955 was celebrated throughout the world.

Mann’s artistic legacy remains at the center of world literature. His novels are 20th-century classics, for he found a way to broaden the genre and to give it new social and philosophical content. Although he used the traditional novelistic forms, Mann deepened and transformed them. He created narratives that could be interpreted on many levels and he gave them a special harmonic quality. He synthesized the writer’s speech and that of historical personages, the past and the present, different strata of reality, and different forms of understanding reality. Finally, he synthesized concrete portrayal and philosophically profound problem-solving. Mann was widely known in Russia from 1910, when the publication of the first collection of his works in Russian was begun.


Gesammelte Werke (in Einzelausgaben), vols. 1-14. Berlin-Weimar, 1922-37.
Stockholmer Gesamtausgabe der Werke, vols. 1-15. Stockholm-Amsterdam-Vienna-Frankfurt am Main, 1938-58.
Gesammelte Werke, vols. 1-12. Berlin, 1955.
Briefe, 1889-1936. Frankfurt am Main, 1961.
Briefe, 1937-1947. Berlin-Weimar, 1965.
Briefe, 1948-1955. Frankfurt am Main, 1965.
Autobiographisches. Das letzte Jahr. Bericht über meinen Vater. By Erika Mann. Frankfurt am Main, 1968.
In Russian translation:
Sobr. soch., vols. 1-10. Introductory article by B. L. Suchkov. Moscow, 1959-61.


Admoni, V. G., and T. I. Sil’man. Tomas Mann: Ocherk tvorchestva. Leningrad, 1960.
Dneprov, V. Cherty romana XX veka. Moscow-Leningrad, 1965.
Vil’mont, N. Velikie sputniki. Moscow, 1966.
Suchkov, B. Liki vremeni Moscow, 1969.
Rusakova, A. V. Tomas Mann v poiskakh novogo gumanizma. Leningrad, 1969.
Apt, S. Tomas Mann. Moscow, 1972.
lazykovyi stil’ Tomasa Manna, parts 1-2. (Collection edited by T. I. Sil’man.) Leningrad, 1973.
Motyleva, T. Dostoianie sovremennogo realizma. Moscow, 1973.
Tomas Mann: Bibliograficheskii ukazatel’. Moscow, 1956.
Navenstein, M. Thomas Mann, der Dichter und Schriftsteller. Berlin, 1927.
Lukacs, G. Thomas Mann. Berlin, 1949.
Mann, E. Das letzte Jahr. Frankfurt am Main, 1956.
Diersen, I. Untersuchungen zu Thomas Mann. [3rd ed.] Berlin, 1960.
Hilscher, E. Th. Mann, Leben und Werk. Berlin, 1965.
Das Th. Mann-buch. Frankfurt am Main-Hamburg, 1965.
Bürgin, H., and H. O. Mayer Th. Mann: Eine Chronik seines Lebens. Frankfurt am Main, 1965.
Berendsohn, W. A. Thomas MannKünstler und Kämpfer in bewegter Zeit. Lübeck, 1965.
Hermsdorf, K. Thomas Manns Schelme. Berlin [1968].
Matter, H. Literatur über Thomas Mann. Berlin-Weimar, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Mann, Thomas. "Richard Wagner and Der Ring des Nibelungen." Thomas Mann: Pro and Contra Wagner.
Felix Krull (in full The Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man) Novel by Mann, Thomas, originally published in German as Die Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull in 1954; the first few chapters were published in 1922 as a short story.
Joseph and His Brothers Series of four novels by Mann, Thomas that formed an epic bildungsroman about the biblical figure Joseph.
Tonio Kroger Novella by Mann, Thomas, originally published in German in 1903.