1875. Thomas Mann born in Lübeck, northern Germany. His father was from a prosperous merchant family – head of the company and twice Mayor of Lübeck. His mother was artistic, with foreign blood. Five brothers and sisters. Rivalry with elder bother Heinrich, who was also a novelist. Two sisters commit suicide. Mann dislikes school, study, and discipline.
1891. Death of father. Family moves to Munich, south Germany. [North/South = Business/Pleasure]. Brief spell working in insurance office. Mann dislikes work. One year of classes at university studying journalism.
1896. Moves to Rome and Palestrina for one year with brother Heinrich – ‘biding time’ on financial allowance.
1898. Moves back to Munich. Spends one year as editor of satirical magazine Simplicissimus. German philosophers Nietzsche and Schopenhauer early influences. Records in his diary that he is ‘close to suicide’. First stories published – Little Herr Friedmann.
1900. Starts military service, but invalided out with psycho-somatic illness after three months.
1901. Publishes Buddenbrooks, his first novel, at twenty-five. This long saga of ‘the decline of a family’ brings him instant fame.
1903. Publishes ‘Tonio Kröger’.
1905. Marries Katia, daughter of well-to-do middle-class family. They have six children. Mann has very conservative political views. Begins a novel Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man (based on memories of Manolescu) which he abandons. (He picked it up forty years later, and continued writing, exactly where he left off.)
1913. Publishes Death in Venice, a novella. Records in his diary ‘nothing is invented in Death in Venice‘.
1912. Spends three weeks in a sanatorium in Davos with his wife. Begins The Magic Mountain as a short story.
1914. Outbreak of First World War. Mann takes very conservative political line, supporting Germany. Writes essays, Reflections of an Unpolitical Man, and almost in spite of himself, his political views change. Unable to write Magic Mountain during the war.
1922. Mann’s political views become more radical in the face of rising fascism.
1924. Finishes writing The Magic Mountain.
1925. Begins a series of foreign lecture tours.
1929. Awarded Nobel prize for literature. records in his diary – ‘It lay, I suppose, upon my path in life’. Starts work on Joseph and His Brothers
1930. Mario and the Magician – short novel symbolising the rise of fascism. begins lecture tours in America.
1933. Hitler seizes power in Germany. Mann moves to Zurich. Begins political debates with fellow emigrées on how best to combat fascism and maintain the humane basis of traditional German culture.
1936. Mann’s son Klaus, a writer and theatre critic, publishes Mephisto, a novel dealing with the relationship between art and politics, the dangers of compromising with evil, and which uses the Faust theme – all of which prefigure Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus.
1938. Moves to Princeton (USA) – then to California, joining fellow emigrés Bertolt Brecht, Arnold Schoenberg, Walter Adorno, Bruno Walter, and Igor Stravinski.
1943. Begins writing Doktor Faustus.
1944. Becomes a US citizen.
1947. Doktor Faustus
1949. Suicide of Mann’s son Klaus from drug overdose.
1952. Mann returns to Europe, but refuses to choose between the divided Germanies. Settles in Zurich
1955. Dies, leaving Felix Krull unfinished.
Thomas Mann: a life This exploration of Thomas Mann’s life by Donald Prater describes his relationship of intense rivalry with his brother Heinrich, who was also a novelist, his (much-concealed) homosexuality, his career as a prolific essayist, and the vast achievement of his novels. Particular attention is paid to Mann’s opposition to Nazism, and his role in the rise and fall of Hitlerism. It traces Mann’s political development from the nationalistic conservatism of his younger days, to the humanistic anti-Nazim of his maturity. Buy the book here
© Roy Johnson 2004