Learn about Life in the 1920s

Biography and Reviews of Thomas Mann following his Nobel Prize Win

THORNTON WILDER AND SINCLAIR LEWIS were possible candidates for this year's Nobel prize for literature. So was Remarque, author of "All Quiet on the Western Front." But it went to Thomas Mann, another German, whose "Magic Mountain" and "Death in Venice" have made his name somewhat familiar in America. His first novel, "Buddenbrooks," is said to be the most widely read novel in Germany, and this after a quarter of a century. Regret is exprest by the Des Moines Tribune that the generous prize does not go to Remarque. This year it amounts to $46,299. Herr Remarque may have more than this sum to his credit in royalties; but the Tribune's wish is based on the writer's great plea for peace. Perhaps the Peace prize, not yet announced, may find him worthy. Besides, Thomas Mann's achievements stretch over a quarter of a century. The Macon Telegraph prints a succinct account of Mann's life, with a few words of comment:

"Mann was born in Lubeck, June 6, 1875, and during his school days in a North German gymnasium he did not distinguish himself particularly in scholarship. He was interested, however, in publishing a magazine called Journal of Art, Literature and Philosophy. His school days over, Mann was sent to Munich, where he was destined for a life of business in a fire-insurance office. During his leisure time he wrote a novel, 'Gefallen,' which attracted attention to his talent.

"In 1903 appeared Mann's 'Buddenbrooks,' a novel which has been a steady favorite in Germany. It went through fifty editions in ten years. It was a family novel, showing the disintegration of a German noble family. A large part of the book, observers claimed, was autobiographical.

"Thomas Mann's greatest work is 'The Magic Mountain,' published in this country two years ago. The theater of the Magic Mountain is a tuberculosis sanitarium in the Swiss mountains—a community organized with exclusive reference to ill health. In his symbol the author embodies the diseased capitalistic society of prewar Europe—the world which made war inevitable.

"Mann's philosophy is said to revolve around the idea that intellectual type is not the ideal toward which evolution moves, but, instead, the man of action. All of his writing constitutes a rejection in literature of the intellectual as an unhealthy growth upon the main body of humanity."

The New York Herald Tribune gives some additional light upon the man, perhaps better known here by his books than through them:

"Thomas Mann writes in another mood than that prevailing in the current crop of American novelists. 'The most responsible of living artists,' he was called at his fiftieth birthday. It is difficult to reconcile his serious work with the fact that he began his literary career as an editor of Simplicissimus, the Munich Punch. Literature is to him, as he himself puts it, 'a heroic activity, a consecrated life'; and if he is never the crusader, the music of humanity rings in his every page. "'The Magic Mountain,"' Ludwig Lewisohn wrote, 'is such a novel as H. G. Wells might have written had he added philosophic to scientific culture, and were by temper a great artist rather than an eager propagandist and a telling journalist.' It is a prose epic, a philosophic symphony which in novel form seeks to affirm, picture, and pass judgment upon an era, and does so without the sense of putrefaction which marks so many lesser efforts to epitomize the age.
"To the solid bourgeois qualities of his Lubeck ancestors—his father was a merchant and a Senator in the little Hanseatic free city—Mann adds a Latin quality which he may have inherited from his Brazilian mother. 'Death in Venice' includes, even in inadequate translation, some of the most exquisite prose poetry of our day.
"In honoring Thomas Mann the Swedish Academy gave new luster to the Nobel prizes, for it gave its laurels to a man already recognized as a great world citizen."

The Nation states Thomas Mann's relation to English authors, and shows wherein he has outdistanced them:

"'Buddenbrooks' links Mann with the tradition of Galsworthy and Wells, but he begins, both as an artist and a thinker, where they leave off. He has obviously found both the form and the content of the works produced by their school inadequate, and he has succeeded in creating something new. On the intellectual side his work reveals a shift from politics and sociology in the direction of metaphysics and philosophy; on the formal side, a shift from literal realism in the direction of a more highly imaginative method which makes use of acute observation, but is not content with mere reproduction. 'The Magic Mountain,' in particular, is an answer to those who have asked for something radically new in fiction, because they have felt that sociological realism was played out. It belongs to no established genre, and thus, tho its author is by no means a young man. The Nobel Prize Committee may be said to have honored one who belongs rather to the future than to the past. Thomas Mann is a prophet, not in the sense that he has predicted future events, but in the sense that he seems to have anticipated the problems and the interests of a time subsequent to that in which he writes."