(1875 – 1955)
Considered one of the foremost twentieth-century German novelists, Thomas Mann gained fame for ironic and philosophical works that reflected the doubts and fears of his era. Mann’s epic novels and short stories highlighted the struggles and psychology of intellectuals and artists, exploring philosophical issues as he investigated German national identity. Praised as the peer of writers like James Joyce, Mann won the 1929 Nobel Prize for Literature and achieved international acclaim during his lifetime.
Shared Interest in the Arts.
Thomas Mann was born on June 6, 1875, in Lu¨beck, Germany. (Germany had only recently been unified by Otto von Bismarck in 1871.) Mann’s father, Thomas Johann Heinrich Mann, was a well-to-do merchant. His mother, Ju´ lia da Silva Bruhns, was born in Brazil and was the daughter of a German planter and a woman of Portuguese-Creole descent. Faced with Lu¨beck’s failing economy, Mann’s father wished that two of his sons, Thomas and Heinrich, would take over positions at the helm of the family business.
However, their father’s death in 1891, when Mann was sixteen years old, freed up the brothers to pursue their growing interest in the arts, though Mann would retain a suspicion of artists and nonbusiness pursuits for the rest of his life. Heinrich Mann went on to become an outstanding novelist and essayist, and even Mann’s younger brother, Viktor, made a name for himself with a 1948 family chronicle. Though Mann was bright, he hated school. He worked briefly in an insurance company, but, increasingly influenced by music and literature, he soon tried his hand at writing. He found inspiration in culture, philosophy, and opera. Mann was infatuated with the Romantic music of Richard Wagner as a teen, but became skeptical of Wagner’s power as he grew older. Thomas Mann also read the work of German philosophers like Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, exploring the idea of free will and the individual’s relationship to society. These diverse influences would lead to a flexibility of style that would become Mann’s literary trademark.
After writing a short story when he should have been working, Mann found himself a published author. The story, which gained Mann a letter of appreciation from prominent poet Richard Dehmel, encouraged Mann so much that he quit his job and began auditing courses at the University of Munich. By the time his first book, Little Herr Friedemann, was published in 1895, Mann had gone to Italy with his brother Heinrich. Read the rest of this entry