Paul Thomas Mann (June 6, 1875 – August 12, 1955) was a German novelist, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and Nobel Prize laureate, lauded principally for a series of highly symbolic and often ironic epic novels and mid-length stories, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and intellectual. He is noted for his analysis and critique of the European and German soul in the beginning of the 20th century, using modernized German and Biblical stories, as well as the ideas of Goethe, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer.
Mann was born in Lübeck, Germany, second son of Thomas Johann Heinrich Mann (a senator and grain merchant) and his wife Júlia da Silva Bruhns (who was brazilian and came to Germany when she was 7 years old). Mann's father died in 1891, and his trading firm was liquidated. The family subsequently moved to Munich. Mann attended the science division of a Lübeck gymnasium, then spent some time at the University of Munich where, in preparation for a career in journalism, he studied history, economics, art history, and literature. He resided in Munich from 1891 until 1933, with the exception of a year-long stay in Palestrina, Italy, with his older brother Heinrich, also a novelist. Thomas worked with the South German Fire Insurance Company 1894–95. His career as a writer began when he wrote for Simplicissimus. Mann's first short story, "Little Herr Friedmann" (Der Kleine Herr Friedemann), was published in 1898.
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 and artistic figures in their own right. Mann emigrated from Nazi Germany to Küsnacht near Zürich, Switzerland, in 1933, then to the United States in 1939, where he taught at Princeton University, along with such other émigrés as Albert Einstein. In 1942, the family moved to Pacific Palisades, California, where they remained until after the end of World War II. On June 23, 1944 he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
Thomas Mann returned to Europe in 1952, where he resided in Kilchberg near Zurich in Switzerland. He was never to live in Germany again, though he traveled there regularly and was widely celebrated. His most important visit to Germany was in 1949, at the occasion of the 200th birthday of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, where he attended celebrations in both Frankfurt am Main and Weimar, making a clear statement that German culture extends beyond the new political borders.
In 1955, he died of Atherosclerosis in a hospital in Zurich.
During World War I Mann supported Kaiser Wilhelm II's conservatism and attacked liberalism. In Von Deutscher Republik (1923), as a semi-official spokesman for parliamentary democracy, Mann called upon the German intellectual to support the new Weimar Republic. Afterwards, his political views gradually shifted toward liberal and democratic principles.
In 1930 Mann gave a public address in Berlin titled "An Appeal to Reason," in which he strongly denounced Nazism 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 socialism and communism. In 1933 when the Nazis came to power, Mann and his wife were vacationing in Switzerland. Due to his very vociferous denunciations of Nazi policies, his son Klaus advised him not to return. Later, Mann's books, particularly Buddenbrooks, were amongst the many burnt by Hitler's regime.
"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. Buddenbrooks relates the decline of a merchant family in Lübeck over the course of three generations, and is based on Mann's own family. The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg, 1924) follows an engineering student who had planned to visit his tubercular cousin at a Swiss sanatorium for three weeks finds his departure from the sanatorium delayed, ultimately for seven years, encountering a variety of characters who play out ideological conflicts and discontents of contemporary European civilisation. 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 leading up to World War II; and The Confessions of Felix Krull (Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull, 1954), which was still unfinished at Mann's death.
One of his greatest works was 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, who becomes 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 and is sold by them 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 (mindfully) 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 unrecogized Joseph adroitly orchestrates a recognition scene that results in the brothers' reconciliation and the reunion of the family.
Mann's diaries, unsealed in 1975, speak movingly of his own struggles with his sexuality, which found reflection in his works, especially through the obsession of the elderly Aschenbach for the young Polish boy, Tadzio, in his 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. Mann himself described his feelings for young violinist and painter Paul Ehrenberg as the "central experience of my heart." However, he chose marriage and family. His works also present other sexual themes, such as incest in "Wälsungenblut".
Mann was a humanist who valued the cumulative achievements of Western culture and believed in the necessity of upholding civilization against the dangers of decay. However, 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."
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