Thomas Mann’s Brush with Darkness

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In 1950, a Briefly Noted reviewer successful this mag made abbreviated enactment of “The Thomas Mann Reader,” an anthology culled from the German novelist’s immense prose output: “The full content created by this three-hundred-thousand-word monument is that Mann is simply a large writer, but possibly not each that major.” A New Yorker subscriber successful Los Angeles, residing astatine 1550 San Remo Drive, successful Pacific Palisades, was annoyed. “Yes, I whitethorn good beryllium a ‘major author,’ ” Thomas Mann wrote to a friend, “ ‘but not that major.’ ” The creator of “Tonio Kröger” and “Death successful Venice” was astatine the acme of his fame, yet galore younger critics dismissed him arsenic a bourgeois relic, irrelevant successful the property of bebop and the bomb. Another commentator numbered Mann among those “literary monoliths who person outlived their due time.”

In Germany, that verdict did not hold. Circa 1950, Mann was a divisive fig successful his homeland, wide criticized for his content that Nazism had heavy roots successful the nationalist psyche. Having gone into exile successful 1933, helium refused to determination back, dying successful Switzerland successful 1955. Over time, his sweeping investigation of German responsibility, from which helium did not exclude himself, ceased to beryllium controversial. More important, his fabrication recovered readers successful each caller generation. The accumulation of German-language lit astir him and his household is immense, approaching Kennedyesque dimensions. Whatever absorption Mann inspires—Bertolt Brecht voiced the modular objection successful calling him “the starched collar”—his chessboard mastery of German prose is not to beryllium denied, nor tin a definite humanities nobility beryllium taken from him. It is intolerable to speech earnestly astir the destiny of Germany successful the twentieth period without notation to Thomas Mann.

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