Mann, Thomas (1875-1955)

German novelist and critic, one of the most important figures in early 20th-century literature, whose novels explore the relationship between the exceptional individual and his or her environment, either the environment of family or of the world in general.

Mann, the younger brother of the novelist and playwright Heinrich Mann, was born into an old merchant family in L[[cedilla]]beck on June 6, 1875. After his father died, the family moved to Munich, where Mann was educated. He was a clerk in an insurance office in Munich and served on the staff of the Munich satiric journal Simplicissimus, before taking up writing as a career. He was influenced by two German philosophers, Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, although he rejected the ideas of the latter. In one of his later critical works, Essays of Three Decades (1947), he discussed his literary themes as influenced by these thinkers and other artists.

Mann's fiction is characterized by accurate reproduction of the details of both modern and ancient life, by profound and subtle intellectual analysis of ideas and characters, and by a detached, somewhat ironic, point of view combined with a deep sense of the tragic. His heroes are often of the bourgeois class, undergoing a spiritual conflict. Mann explored also the psychology of the creative artist.

A number of short stories preceded the writing of his first important novel, Buddenbrooks (1901; trans. 1904), which established his literary reputation and was translated into numerous modern languages. The theme of this book, the conflict between the man of artistic temperament and his middle-class environment, recurred in his tales Tonio Kr^ger (1903; trans. 1913-15) and Death in Venice (1912; trans. 1925). In The Magic Mountain (1924; trans. 1927), his best-known work and one of the outstanding 20th-century novels, Mann subjected contemporary European civilization to minute analysis. Among his later writings are the tales Early Sorrow (1925; trans. 1929), about parental love, and Mario and the Magician (1930; trans. 1930), concerning dictatorship; the series of four novels based on the biblical tale of Joseph, Joseph and His Brothers (1934-44; trans. 1934-44); and the novels Doctor Faustus (1947; trans. 1948), The Holy Sinner (1951; trans. 1951), and The Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man (1954; trans. 1955).

Mann was also a noted literary critic. Among his critical writings are ìReflections of a Nonpolitical Manî (1918), an autobiographical essay in which he concluded that an artist must be involved with society. His own involvement resulted in the loss of his German citizenship in 1936; this occurred after he had received the 1929 Nobel Prize in literature, principally for his novel Buddenbrooks, and after he chose in 1933 to exile himself from Germany, then under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler. Mann took refuge first in Switzerland and then in the United States (1938), becoming a citizen in 1944. In 1953 he settled near Z[[cedilla]]rich, Switzerland, where he died, August 12, 1955. He was the father of the author Klaus Mann (1906-49) and the writer and actor Erika Mann (1905-69).

Source: Encarta 1994

Copyright Microsoft Corporation, 1994