Thursday, February 03, 2005


Thomas Mann, author of Magic Mountain, was married, produced many children, and was considered to be ultra-respectable. His novels were best sellers, won him a Nobel Prize, and made him extremely rich and famous. When Mann came to live in America in the 1930's, Time and Life magazines welcomed Mann as "the greatest living author."

If you enjoy the likes of Proust, Gide, or Joyce, Mann's novel Magic Mountain may be the sort of 'serious literature' to please you.

In the Magic Mountain, Hans, a perpetual adolescent, visiting his handsome cousin Joachim in a TB sanatarium in the Swiss Alps, becomes attracted to Claudia. Claudia reminds him of a schoolboy he had once been sexually attracted to while a child.

Thomas Mann had had schoolboy crushes on other boys. When he was 14, Mann had fallen in love with a classmate, Armin Martens.

In his popular 1903 masterpiece, Tonio Kroger, Mann describes one schoolboy's love for another - shy awkward Tonio's platonic love for handsome Hans Hansen. Tonio eventually realises that love causes "sadness and humiliation" and that he must transform his energies into literature. Mann saw himself as Tonio.

In Magic Mountain, Hans discovers he has TB and ends up staying in the sanatarium for seven years. He finds this does not displease him as he can be near to Claudia and he can continue studying his fellow patients and their different ideas about life and its meaning.

Each of the patients represents a type of thinking found in pre-World-War-One Germany:

Claudia is a hedonist.
Hans is fascinated by death.
Settembrini is a humanist who believes the world can be made better by reason.
Leo believes that sickness is in men's nature and is the source of all progress.
Peeperkorn is an imperialist and buccaneer.....

Magic Mountain gives Mann the opportunity to write about the human condition and the human spirit.

The novel also allows Mann to think about the dark forces within the human mind. At one point in the novel, Hans begins to hallucinate. First he sees a pastoral scene where a boy smiles at him shyly. Then the dream shifts to a temple where witches dismember a child...

Magic Mountain is about Mann's private obsessions, such as homosexuality, fetishism, necrophilia, and forbidden love. The novel deals with the conflict between lust and love.

The central character, Hans, had once had a schoolboy crush on the Slavic lad called Pribislav. For a long time Hans loved Pribislav in silence. Then one day in school he asked to borrow Pribislav's pencil. Holding and stroking his friend's pencil gives him a thrill. The pencil shavings excite him.

Prabislav's resemblance to Claudia, according to biographer Anthony Heilbut, allows Hans to love a boy in the image of a woman, just as Proust probably disguised Albert as Albertine.

Claudia and Hans spend the night together. Next morning she leaves, unpersuaded by his ardor. When Claudia returns some years later, she is with a Mr Peeperkorn, and she seems to criticise Hans for not acting on his desires. Man intended the novel to have something of a light and homely touch, and to contain a touch of irony and humour. When the patients attend a seance, the female medium assumes the guise of a demure lad with "beautiful brown, brown curls."

Is there any message in the book? "What Hans came to understand," said Mann, "is that one must go through the deep experience of sickness and death to arrive at a higher sanity and health..."

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