Paul Thomas Mann (June 6, 1875 – August 12, 1955) was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual. His analysis and critique of the European and German soul used modernized German and Biblical stories, as well as the ideas of Goethe, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer.
In 1905, he married Katia Pringsheim, daughter of a prominent, secular Jewish family of intellectuals. They had six children—Erika, Klaus, Golo, Monika, Elisabeth, and Michael—who became literary, artistic figures in their own right.
In 1929, Mann had a cottage built in the fishing village of Nidden (Nida, Lithuania) on the Curonian Spit, where there was a German art colony, and where he spent the summers of 1930-32 working on Joseph and his Brothers. The cottage now is a cultural center dedicated to him, with a small memorial exhibition. In 1933, after Hitler assumed power, Mann emigrated to Küsnacht, near Zürich, Switzerland, but received Czechoslovakian citizenship and a passport in 1936. He then emigrated to the United States in 1939, where he taught at Princeton University. In 1942, the Mann family moved to Pacific Palisades, California, where they lived until after the end of World War II On June 23, 1944 Thomas Mann was naturalized as a citizen of the United States. In 1952, he returned to Europe, to live in Kilchberg, near Zürich, Switzerland.
He never again lived in Germany, though he regularly traveled there. His most important German visit was in 1949, at the 200th birthday of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, attending celebrations in Frankfurt am Main and Weimar, as a statement that German culture extends beyond the new political borders.
Thomas Mann's works were first translated into English by H. T. Lowe-Porter, Her translations have become classics in their own right and have contributed enormously to Mann's popularity in the English-speaking world.
In 1930 Mann gave a public address in Berlin titled "An Appeal to Reason," in which he strongly denounced National Socialism and encouraged resistance by the working class. This was followed by numerous essays and lectures in which he attacked the Nazis. At the same time, he expressed increasing sympathy for socialist ideas. In 1933 when the Nazis came to power, Mann and his wife were on holiday in Switzerland. Due to his very vociferous denunciations of Nazi policies, his son Klaus advised him not to return. But Thomas Mann's books, in contrast to those of his brother Heinrich and his son Klaus, were not among those burnt publicly by Hitler's regime in May 1933, possibly since he had been the Nobel laureate in literature for 1929 (see below). Finally in 1936 the Nazi government officially revoked his German citizenship. A few months later he moved to the United States.
However, already in 1933, in a personal letter dated October 26, 1933 but published only recently (in the feuilleton section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung dated Oct. 30, 2007), Thomas Mann expressed views on Nazism, which corresponded to the much later novel Doktor Faustus. In the novel, the author refers in several places to the historical debt of the German population, leading to World War II with all its cruelty.
During the war itself, Mann regularly made anti-Nazi broadcasts from California (transmitted by the BBC to Germany), each broadcast beginning with the words "German listeners!" While not widely listened to, they had a dedicated following.
"Images of Disorder", by social critic Michael Harrington in his collection The Accidental Century, is a highly literate account of Mann's political progression from the right to the left.
Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929, principally in recognition of his popular achievement with the epic Buddenbrooks (1901), The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg 1924), and his numerous short stories. (Precisely, due to the personal taste of an influential committee member, only Buddenbrooks was explicitly cited.) Based on Mann's own family, Buddenbrooks relates the decline of a merchant family in Lübeck over the course of three generations. The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg, 1924) follows an engineering student who, planning to visit his tubercular cousin at a Swiss sanatorium for only three weeks, finds his departure from the sanatorium delayed for seven years. During that time, he confronts medicine and the way it looks at the body and encounters a variety of characters who play out ideological conflicts and discontents of contemporary European civilization. Later, other novels included Lotte in Weimar (1939), in which Mann returned to the world of Goethe's novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774); Doktor Faustus (1947), the story of composer Adrian Leverkühn and the corruption of German culture in the years before and during World War II; and Confessions of Felix Krull (Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull, 1954), which was still unfinished at Mann's death.
In the Buddenbrooks, at several places he uses the Low German of the northern part of the country.
To his greatest works belongs the tetralogy Joseph and His Brothers (Joseph und seine Brüder, 1933–42), a richly imagined retelling of the story of Joseph related in chapters 27-50 of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible. The first volume relates the establishment of the family of Jacob, the father of Joseph. In the second volume the young Joseph, not yet master of considerable gifts, arouses the enmity of his ten older brothers, who then sell him into slavery in Egypt. In the third volume, Joseph becomes the steward of a high court official, Potiphar, but finds himself thrown into prison after rejecting the advances of Potiphar's wife. In the last volume, the mature Joseph rises to become administrator of Egypt's granaries. Famine drives the sons of Jacob to Egypt, where the unrecognized Joseph adroitly orchestrates a scene that discloses his identity, resulting in the brothers' reconciliation and the reunion of the family.
Mann's diaries, unsealed in 1975, tell of his struggles with his sexuality, which found reflection in his works, most prominently through the obsession of the elderly Aschenbach for the 14-year-old Polish boy Tadzio in the novella Death in Venice (Der Tod in Venedig, 1912). Anthony Heilbut's biography Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1997) was widely acclaimed for uncovering the centrality of Mann's sexuality to his oeuvre. Gilbert Adair's work The Real Tadzio describes how, in the summer of 1911, Mann had been staying at the Grand Hôtel des Bains in Venice with his wife and brother when he became enraptured by the angelic figure of Władysław Moes, an 11-year-old Polish boy.
A classic about an intellectual succumbing to passion, Death in Venice has been made into a film and an opera. Blamed sarcastically by Mann’s old enemy, Alfred Kerr, to have ‘made pederasty acceptable to the cultivated middle classes’, it has been pivotal to introducing the discourse of same-sex desire to the common culture. Mann was friends with violinist and painter Paul Ehrenberg whom he had feelings for as a young man. Despite the homosexual overtones in his writing, Mann fell in love with Katia Mann (whom he married) in 1904. His works also present other sexual themes, such as incest in "The Blood of the Walsungs" (Wälsungenblut) and "The Holy Sinner" (Der Erwählte).
Throughout his Dostoyevsky essay he finds parallels between the Russian and the sufferings of Frederich Nietzsche. Speaking of Nietzsche he says: "his personal feelings initiate him into those of the criminal… in general all creative originality, all artist nature in the broadest sense of the word, does the same. It was the French painter and sculptor, Degas who said that an artist must approach his work in the spirit of the criminal about to commit a crime." (Crime and Will in Mann) Nietzsche's influence on Mann runs deep in his work, especially in Nietzsche's views on decay and the proposed fundamental connection between sickness and creativity. Mann held that disease is not to be regarded as wholly negative. In his essay on Dostoyevsky we find: "but after all and above all it depends on who is diseased., who mad, who epileptic or paralytic: an average dull-witted man, in whose illness any intellectual or cultural aspect is non-existent; or a Nietzsche or Dostoyevsky. In their case something comes out in illness that is more important and conductive to life and growth than any medical guaranteed health or sanity… in other words: certain conquests made by the soul and the mind are impossible without disease, madness, crime of the spirit." ("Crime and Will in Mann")
Balancing his humanism and appreciation of Western culture was his belief in the power of sickness and decay to destroy the ossifying effects of tradition and civilization. Hence the "heightening" of which Mann speaks in his introduction to The Magic Mountain and the opening of new spiritual possibilities that Hans Castorp experiences in the midst of his sickness. In Death in Venice he makes the identification between beauty and the resistance to natural decay, embodied by Aschenbach as the metaphor for the Nazi vision of purity (akin to Nietzsche's version of the ascetic ideal that denies life and its becoming). He also valued the insight of other cultures, notably adapting a traditional Indian fable in The Transposed Heads. His work is the record of a consciousness of a life of manifold possibilities, and of the tensions inherent in the (more or less enduringly fruitful) responses to those possibilities. In his own summation (upon receiving the Nobel Prize), "The value and significance of my work for posterity may safely be left to the future; for me they are nothing but the personal traces of a life led consciously, that is, conscientiously."
"Magic Mountain" by the band Blonde Redhead, is based on Mann's novel of the same title
The 2006 movie "A Good Year" directed by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe and Albert Finney, features a paperback version of "Death in Venice." It is the book the character named Christie Roberts is reading while she visits her deceased father's vineyard.
In the Philip Roth novel "The Human Stain", several references are made to Mann's "Death in Venice".