During the month of November, I participated in the German Literature Month event hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. For this event I read Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann. Mann published this work in 1901 and he was twenty-six years old at the time. In 1929, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Before discussing the novel here are some details about Mann. He was born in Lubeck, Germany in 1875. His father was a grain merchant and senator. When his dad died in 1891, the trading firm was dissolved and Mann’s family moved to Munich. He worked in an insurance office until the publication of his first work, Gefallen. He gave up his job to attend the University of Munich and the Technical University of Munich, where he studied economics, history, art history, and literature in hopes of pursuing a career in journalism. He lived one year in Rome and started to devote his energies to writing.
In 1905, he married Katia Pringsheim, who came from a prominent Jewish family. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, he left for Switzerland. At the outbreak of World War II, he emigrated to the United States and settled in Princeton, New Jersey. He lectured at the University. Again he moved on and in 1941 he settled in California. In 1949 he visited Germany, his first trip back to his place of birth in over ten years. He eventually settled in Switzerland in 1952 and lived there until his death in 1955.
Mann has four novels on my 1001 list. This was my first time reading any of his works. Buddenbrooks, is an epic novel that chronicles the downfall of a wealthy mercantile family of Lubeck. I was amazed when I realized that this was his first novel since it is beautifully written. I assumed that this masterpiece came at the end of his career, not the beginning. He began the novel when he was twenty-two years old and completed it in three years.
Using the family saga, he pits the business world against the world of artists. Thomas Buddenbrooks, the eldest son of Johann Buddenbrook, has to take over the family business at a young age after his father’s death. Thomas does not understand his younger brother Christian who is enthralled with the theater and is a hopeless failure in the business world. Thomas also struggles relating to his only son, Hanno, who is a sensitive soul who daydreams about music. Moreover, he has to contend with his sister Tony, who has been twice divorced scandalizing the family. To make his life more miserable, the family business is failing along with his health and prestige in the town. The family struggle highlights not just the different worlds of businessmen and artists, it is an excellent study of the major events that happened in German history during the years 1835-1877, including the Revolution of 1848, the Austro-Prussian War, and the establishment of the German Empire.
Mann’s city in the novel has some of the street names and particulars from his hometown of Lubeck. He never names his own family or other families from his hometown, however, he has been criticized by some critics and readers for revealing hometown secrets and family skeletons. It should be mentioned that the fictional family does not have the same fate of Mann’s family.
Reading this novel was a pure joy. The trials and tribulations of this family sucked me in completely. I am eager to read his other works on my list.