Mountain View


Paul Thomas Mann (6 June 1875 – 12 August 1955) was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate. His highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas are 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.

Mann was a member of the Hanseatic Mann family and portrayed his family and class in his first novel, Buddenbrooks. His older brother was the radical writer Heinrich Mann and three of his six children, Erika Mann, Klaus Mann and Golo Mann, also became important German writers. When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Mann fled to Switzerland. When World War II broke out in 1939, he moved to the United States, returning to Switzerland in 1952. Thomas Mann is one of the best-known exponents of the so-called Exilliteratur, literature written in German by those who opposed or fled the Hitler regime.

Mann’s work influenced many future authors, including Heinrich Bll, Joseph Heller, Yukio Mishima, and Orhan Pamuk.


Children of Thomas Mann and Katia Pringsheim
Name Birth Death
Erika 9 November 1905 27 August 1969
Klaus 18 November 1906 21 May 1949
Golo 29 March 1909 7 April 1994
Monika 7 June 1910 17 March 1992
Elisabeth 24 April 1918 8 February 2002
Michael 21 April 1919 1 January 1977

Paul Thomas Mann was born to a bourgeois family in Lbeck, the second son of Thomas Johann Heinrich Mann (a senator and a grain merchant) and his wife Jlia da Silva Bruhns (a Brazilian of German and Portuguese ancestry who emigrated to Germany when seven years old). His mother was Roman Catholic but Mann was baptised into his father’s Lutheran religion. 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 Lbeck Gymnasium (school), then spent time at the Ludwig Maximillians University of Munich and Technical University of Munich where, in preparation for a journalism career, he studied history, economics, art history and literature.

Mann lived in Munich from 1891 until 1933, with the exception of a year in Palestrina, Italy, with his novelist elder brother Heinrich. Thomas worked with the South German Fire Insurance Company in 1894-95. His career as a writer began when he wrote for Simplicissimus. Mann’s first short story, “Little Mr Friedemann” (Der Kleine Herr Friedemann), was published in 1898.

In 1905, Mann married Katia Pringsheim, daughter of a wealthy, secular Jewish industrialist family. She later joined the Lutheran church. The couple had six children.

Pre-war and Second World War period

Mann’s summerhouse in Nida (German: Nidden), today a museum

In 1912, he and his wife moved to a sanatorium in Davos, in Switzerland, which was to inspire his 1913 book The Magic Mountain. He was also appalled by the risk of international confrontation between Germany and France, following the crisis in Morocco, and later by the outbreak of the First World War.

In 1929, Mann had a cottage built in the fishing village of Nidden, Memel Territory (now Nida, Lithuania) on the Curonian Spit, where there was a German art colony and where he spent the summers of 1930-1932 working on Joseph and His Brothers. Today the cottage is a cultural center dedicated to him, with a small memorial exhibition.

In 1933, while travelling in the South of France, Mann heard from Klaus and Erika in Munich, that it would not be safe for him to return to Germany. The family (except the two oldest children) emigrated to Ksnacht, near Zurich, Switzerland but received Czechoslovak citizenship and a passport in 1936. After Nazi Germany took over Czechoslovakia, he then emigrated to the United States in 1939, where he taught at Princeton University. In 1942, the Mann family moved to 1550 San Remo Drive in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. The Manns were prominent members of the German expatriate community in Los Angeles, and would frequently meet other emigres at the house of Salka and Bertold Viertel in Santa Monica, and at the Villa Aurora, the home of fellow German exile Lion Feuchtwanger. On 23 June 1944 Thomas Mann was naturalized as a citizen of the United States. The Manns lived in Los Angeles until 1952.

Anti-Nazi broadcasts

The outbreak of World War II on 1 September 1939, prompted Mann to offer anti-Nazi speeches (in German) to the German people via the BBC. In October 1940 he began monthly broadcasts, recorded in the U.S. and flown to London, where the BBC broadcast them to Germany on the longwave band. In these eight-minute addresses, Mann condemned Hitler and his “paladins” as crude philistines completely out of touch with European culture. In one noted speech he said, “The war is horrible, but it has the advantage of keeping Hitler from making speeches about culture.”

Mann was one of the few publicly active opponents of Nazism among German expatriates in the U.S. While some Germans claimed after the war that in his speeches he had endorsed the notion of collective guilt, others felt he had been highly critical also of the politically unstable Weimar Republic that preceded the Third Reich.


Last years

The grave of Thomas, Katia, Erika, Monika, Michael and Elisabeth Mann, in Kilchberg, Switzerland

With the start of the Cold War he was increasingly frustrated by rising McCarthyism. As a ‘suspected communist’, he was required to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he was termed “one of the world’s foremost apologists for Stalin and company.” He was listed by HUAC as being “affiliated with various peace organizations or Communist fronts.” Being in his own words a non-communist rather than an anti-communist, Mann openly opposed the allegations: “As an American citizen of German birth I finally testify that I am painfully familiar with certain political trends. Spiritual intolerance, political inquisitions, and declining legal security, and all this in the name of an alleged state of emergency. . . . That is how it started in Germany. As Mann joined protests against the jailing of the Hollywood Ten and the firing of schoolteachers suspected of being Communists, he found the media had been closed to him. Finally he was forced to quit his position as Consultant in Germanic Literature at the Library of Congress and in 1952 he returned to Europe, to live in Kilchberg, near Zurich, 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 extended beyond the new political borders. In 1955, he died of atherosclerosis in a hospital in Zurich and was buried in Kilchberg. Many institutions are named in his honour, for instance the Thomas Mann Gymnasium of Budapest.


Mann in the early period of his writing career

Buddenbrooks (1909)

Blanche Knopf of Alfred A. Knopf publishing house was introduced to Mann by H. L. Mencken while on a book-buying trip to Europe. Knopf would become Mann’s American publisher and Blanche hired scholar Helen Tracy Lowe-Porter to translate Mann’s books in 1924. Lowe-Porter would go on to translate Mann’s complete works. Blanche Knopf continued to look after Mann. After Buddenbrooks proved successful in its first year they sent him an unexpected bonus. Later in the 1930s, Blanche helped arrange for Mann and his family emigrate to America.

Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929, after he had been nominated by Anders sterling, member of the Swedish Academy, principally in recognition of his popular achievement with the epic Buddenbrooks (1901), The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg, 1924) and his numerous short stories. (Due to the personal taste of an influential committee member, only Buddenbrooks was cited at any great length.) Based on Mann’s own family, Buddenbrooks relates the decline of a merchant family in Lbeck 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. 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. The tetralogy Joseph and His Brothers is an epic novel written over a period of sixteen years, and is one of the largest and most significant works in Mann’s oeuvre. 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 Leverkhn 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 unfinished at Mann’s death.

Throughout his Dostoevsky essay, he finds parallels between the Russian and the sufferings of Friedrich 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.” 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 Dostoevsky 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.”


Mann’s diaries reveal his struggles with his homosexuality, 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) uncovered the centrality of Mann’s sexuality to his oeuvre. Gilbert Adair’s work The Real Tadzio (2001) describes how, in the summer of 1911, Mann had stayed at the Grand Htel des Bains on the Lido of Venice with his wife and brother, when he became enraptured by the angelic figure of Wadysaw (Wadzio) Moes, a 10-year-old Polish boy (see also “The real Tadzio” on the Death in Venice page). Mann’s diary records his attraction to his own 13-year-old son, “Eissi” – Klaus Mann: “Klaus to whom recently I feel very drawn” (22 June). In the background conversations about man-to-man eroticism take place; a long letter is written to Carl Maria Weber on this topic, while the diary reveals: “In love with Klaus during these days” (5 June). “Eissi, who enchants me right now” (11 July). “Delight over Eissi, who in his bath is terribly handsome. Find it very natural that I am in love with my son … Eissi lay reading in bed with his brown torso naked, which disconcerted me” (25 July). “I heard noise in the boys’ room and surprised Eissi completely naked in front of Golo’s bed acting foolish. Strong impression of his premasculine, gleaming body. Disquiet” (17 October 1920).

“Modern Book Printing” from the Walk of Ideas in Berlin, Germany – built in 2006 to commemorate Johannes Gutenberg’s invention, c. 1445, of western movable printing type

Handling the struggle between the Dionysiac and the Apollonian,Death in Venice has been made into a film and an opera. Blamed sarcastically by Mann’s old enemy, Alfred Kerr, for having made pederasty acceptable to the cultivated middle classes, it has been pivotal in introducing the discourse of same-sex desire into general culture. Mann was a friend of the violinist and painter Paul Ehrenberg, for whom he had feelings as a young man (at least until around 1903 when there is evidence that those feelings had cooled). The attraction that he felt for Ehrenberg, which is corroborated by notebook entries, caused Mann difficulty and discomfort and may have been an obstacle to his marrying an English woman, Mary Smith, whom he met in 1901. In 1950, Mann met the 19 year old waiter Franz Westermeier, confiding to his diary “Once again this, once again love”. In 1975, when Mann’s diaries were published, creating a national sensation in Germany, the retired Westermeier was tracked down in the United States: he was flattered to learn he had been the object of Mann’s obsession, but also shocked at its depth.

Although Mann had always denied his novels had autobiographical components, the unsealing of his diaries revealing how consumed his life had been with unrequited and sublimated passion resulted in a reappraisal of his work.

Cultural References

The Magic Mountain

Several literary and other works make reference to Mann’s book The Magic Mountain, including:

  • Frederic Tuten’s novel Tintin in the New World, features many characters (such as Clavdia Chauchat, Mynheer Peeperkorn and others) from The Magic Mountain interacting with Tintin in Peru.
  • Alice Munro’s short story “Amundsen” in which a character makes a reference to The Magic Mountain during a conversation on tuberculosis.
  • Alexander McCall Smith’s novel Portuguese Irregular Verbs has a final chapter entitled “Death in Venice” and refers to Thomas Mann by name in that chapter.
  • Andrew Crumey’s novel Mobius Dick (2004), which imagines an alternative universe where an author named Behring has written novels resembling Mann’s. These include a version of The Magic Mountain with Erwin Schrdinger in place of Castorp.
  • Haruki Murakami’s novel Norwegian Wood, in which the main character is criticized for reading The Magic Mountain while visiting a friend in a sanatorium.
  • The song “Magic Mountain” by the band Blonde Redhead
  • The painting Magic Mountain (after Thomas Mann) by Christiaan Tonnis (1987). “The Magic Mountain” is also a chapter in Tonnis’s 2006 book Krankheit als Symbol (Illness as a Symbol).
  • The 1941 film 49th Parallel, in which the character Philip Armstrong Scott unknowingly praises Mann’s work to an escaped World War II Nazi U boat commander, who later responds by burning Scott’s copy of The Magic Mountain.
  • Ken Kesey’s novel, Sometimes a Great Notion (1964), character Indian Jenny purchases a Thomas Mann novel and tries to find out “… just where was this mountain full of magic…” (p. 578).
  • Hayao Miyazaki’s 2013 film The Wind Rises, in which an unnamed German man at a mountain resort invokes the novel as cover for furtively condemning the rapidly arming Hitler and Hirohito regimes. After he flees to escape the Japanese secret police, the protagonist, who fears his own mail is being read, refers to him as the novel’s Mr. Castorp. The film is partly based on another Japanese novel, set like The Magic Mountain in a tuberculosis sanatorium.

Death in Venice

Several literary and other works make reference to Death in Venice, including:

  • The 2006 movie A Good Year directed by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe and Albert Finney, which features a paperback version of Death in Venice; it is the book Christie Roberts is reading at her deceased father’s vineyard.
  • Woody Allen’s film Annie Hall (1977).
  • Philip Roth’s novel The Human Stain (2000).
  • Joseph Heller’s 1994 novel, Closing Time, which makes several references to Thomas Mann and Death in Venice.
  • Alan Bennett’s play The Habit of Art, in which Benjamin Britten visits W. H. Auden to discuss the possibility of Auden writing the libretto for Britten’s opera version of Death in Venice.
  • Rufus Wainwright’s 2001 song “Grey Gardens”, which mentions the character Tadzio in the refrain.


  • Hayavadana (1972), a play by Girish Karnad was based on a theme drawn from The Transposed Heads and employed the folk theatre form of Yakshagana. A German version of the play, was directed by Vijaya Mehta as part of the repertoire of the Deutsches National Theatre, Weimar. A staged musical version of The Transposed Heads, adapted by Julie Taymor and Sidney Goldfarb, with music by Elliot Goldenthal, was produced at the American Music Theater Festival in Philadelphia and The Lincoln Center in New York in 1988.
  • Mann’s 1896 short story “Disillusionment” is the basis for the Leiber and Stoller song “Is That All There Is?”, famously recorded in 1969 by Peggy Lee.
  • In a 1994 essay, Umberto Eco suggests that the media discuss “Whether reading Thomas Mann gives one erections” as an alternative to “Whether Joyce is boring”.
  • In the television series The Simpsons, Waylon Smithers attempts to get the children at Springfield Elementary to read Death in Venice.
  • In the Family Guy episode “Road to Europe”, a pro-Fascist German tour guide argues with Brian Griffin about Mann’s reasons for fleeing Germany, erroneously stating: “Nope, nope. He left to manage a Dairy Queen.” Brian attempts to correct him, but the tour guide then begins angrily screaming at Brian in German.
  • Mann’s life in California during World War II, including his relationships with his older brother Heinrich Mann and Bertolt Brecht is a subject of Christopher Hampton’s play Tales from Hollywood.

Political Views

During the First World War, Mann supported Kaiser Wilhelm II’s conservatism and attacked liberalism. Yet in Von Deutscher Republik (1923), as a semi-official spokesman for parliamentary democracy, Mann called upon German intellectuals to support the new Weimar Republic. He also gave a lecture at the Beethovensaal in Berlin on 13 October 1922, which appeared in Die neue Rundschau in November 1922, in which he developed his eccentric defence of the Republic, based on extensive close readings of Novalis and Walt Whitman. Hereafter his political views gradually shifted toward liberal left and democratic principles.

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 strident 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. Finally in 1936 the Nazi government officially revoked his German citizenship.

During the war, Mann made a series of anti-Nazi radio-speeches, Deutsche Hrer! (“German listeners!”). They were recorded on tape in the United States and then sent to Great Britain, where the BBC transmitted them, hoping to reach German listeners.

Views on Russian communism and Nazi-fascism

Mann expressed his belief in the collection of letters written in exile, Deutsche Hrer, that equating Russian communism with Nazi-fascism, on the basis that both are totalitarian systems, was either superficial or insincere in showing a preference for fascism. He clarified this view during a German press interview in July 1949, declaring that he was not a communist but that communism at least had some relation to ideals of humanity and of a better future. He said that the transition of the communist revolution into an autocratic regime was a tragedy, while nazism was only “devilish nihilism”.

Literary Works

  • 1893: “Vision”
  • 1894: “Gefallen”, short story
  • 1896: “The Will to Happiness”, short story
  • 1896: “Disillusionment” (“Enttuschung”), short story
  • 1897: “Death” (“Der Tod”), short story
  • 1897: Little Herr Friedemann (“Der kleine Herr Friedemann”), collection of short stories
  • 1897: “The Clown” (“Der Bajazzo”), short story
  • 1897: “The Dilettante”, short story
  • 1898: “Tobias Mindernickel”, short story
  • 1899: “The Wardrobe” (“Der Kleiderschrank”), short story
  • 1900: “Luischen” (“Little Lizzy”), short story written in 1897
  • 1900: “The Road to the Churchyard” (“Der Weg zum Friedhof”), short story
  • 1901: Buddenbrooks (Buddenbrooks – Verfall einer Familie), novel
  • 1902: Gladius Dei, novella
  • 1903: Tristan, novella
  • 1903: “The Hungry”, short story
  • 1903: Tonio Krger, novella
  • 1903: “The Child Prodigy” (“Das Wunderkind”), short story
  • 1904: “A Gleam”, short story
  • 1904: “At the Prophet’s”, short story
  • 1905: Fiorenza, play
  • 1905: “A Weary Hour”, short story
  • 1905: “The Blood of the Walsungs” (“Wlsungenblut”), short story
  • 1908: “Anekdote”, short story
  • 1907: “Railway Accident”, short story
  • 1909: Royal Highness (Knigliche Hoheit (de)), novel
  • 1911: “The Fight between Jappe and the Do Escobar”, short story
  • 1911: “Felix Krull” (“Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull”), short story, published in 1922
  • 1912: Death in Venice (Der Tod in Venedig), novella
  • 1915: Frederick and the Great Coalition (Friedrich und die groe Koalition), essay
  • 1918: Reflections of an Unpolitical Man (Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen), essay
  • 1918: A Man and His Dog (Herr und Hund; Gesang vom Kindchen: Zwei Idyllen), novella
  • 1921: “The Blood of the Walsungs” (“Wlsungenblut”), (2nd edition)
  • 1922: The German Republic (Von deutscher Republik), essay
  • 1924: The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg), novel
  • 1925: Disorder and Early Sorrow (“Unordnung und frhes Leid”), novella
  • 1930: Mario and the Magician (Mario und der Zauberer), novella
  • 1930: A Sketch of My Life (Lebensabri), autobiographical essay
  • 1933-43: Joseph and His Brothers (Joseph und seine Brder), tetralogy
    • 1933: The Stories of Jacob (Die Geschichten Jaakobs), novel
    • 1934: Young Joseph (Der junge Joseph), novel
    • 1936: Joseph in Egypt (Joseph in gypten), novel
    • 1943: Joseph the Provider (Joseph, der Ernhrer), novel
  • 1936: Stories of Three Decades (23 stories written from 1896 to 1929), short story collection
  • 1937: The Problem of Freedom (Das Problem der Freiheit), speech
  • 1938: This Peace (Dieser Friede), pamphlet
  • 1938: Schopenhauer, philosophy/music theory
  • 1938: The Coming Victory of Democracy, collection of lectures
  • 1939: Lotte in Weimar: The Beloved Returns, novel
  • 1940: The Transposed Heads (Die vertauschten Kpfe – Eine indische Legende), novella
  • 1943: Listen, Germany! (Deutsche Hrer!), collection of letters
  • 1944: The Tables of the Law, a commissioned work (Das Gesetz, Erzhlung, Auftragswerk), novella
  • 1947: Doctor Faustus (Doktor Faustus), novel
  • 1947: Essays of Three Decades, translated from the German by H. T. Lowe-Porter. , New York, A. A. Knopf, 1947. Reprinted as Vintage book, K55, New York, Vintage Books, 1957.
  • 1950: Michelangelo according to his poems (Michelangelo in seinen Dichtungen), essay
  • 1951: The Holy Sinner (Der Erwhlte), novel
  • 1954: The Black Swan (Die Betrogene: Erzhlung), novella
  • 1954: Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man: The Early Years (Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull. Der Memoiren erster Teil; expanded from 1911 short story), novel, unfinished