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Donostia Book Club

My name is Slawka Grabowska. I organize Donostia Book Club. We meet every month to discuss previously chosen books or short stories. Check out our FB page! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Donostia-Book-Club/105225566276875?ref=hl

Thomas Mann's Life

  • born Paul Thomas Mann, 6 June 1875 in Lübeck, Germany; died 12 August 1955 (aged 80) in Zurich, Switzerland
  • a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist and 1929 Nobel laureate
  • parents: Thomas Johann Heinrich Mann, a senator overseeing taxes and a grain merchant, Lutheran;  Júlia da Silva Bruhns, a Brazilian of German and Portuguese ancestry, who emigrated to Germany when 7 years old, Roman Catholic


Thomas was designated to take over his father's grain firm, but when his father died, Thomas was only 15 and the firm was liquidated. The family moved to Munich and for some time Thomas worked as a clerk in the office of an insurance company (he got the job thanks to one of his father's friends). He also spent 1 year in Italy with his older brother Heinrich (a radical writer).


His career as a writer began when he wrote for 'Simplicissimus'. His first short story "Little Mr. Friedman" was published in 1898.


Despite his evident homosexual longings, he claimed to fell in love with Katie Pringesheim and they married in 1905. It's hard to say if the marriage was really based on love:

  1. Katie Pringesheim was probably having an affair with her own brother, Klaus and their father,a prominent Jewish merchant, wanted to hide the scandal. He didn't really succeed in that: Thomas Mann used his wife's relationship with her brother as the basis for his novella "Blood of the Walsungs". Katie's father attempted to have the story suppressed. 
  2. Thomas wanted to marry into rich family to reestablish his own status lost with the death of his father.


Three of their six children were also writers: Erika, Klaus and Golo.

Mann's diaries unsealed in 1975 tell of his struggles with his bisexuality. It found reflection in many of his works (like "Death in Venice").


Look at our previous post to read an amazing essay by Colm Toibin about Thomas Mann's rather unconventional family:



His works were first translated to English by H.T. Lowe-Porter, beginning in 1924.

In 1929 he received a Nobel Prize for his first novel "Buddenbrooks" written in 1901. It was based on Mann's own family, related the decline of a merchant family in Lübeck over the course of 3 generations.


Currently he is probably most known because of "The Magic Mountain" (1924), which was already written when he received the Nobel Prize but was ignored by the jury. 


During World War I Mann supported kaiser Wilhelm II's conservatism and attacked liberalism. However, over the time he underwent the complete change of heart. In 1923 he called upon German intellectuals to support the new Weimar Republic.

In 1930 he gave a speech in Berlin titled "An Appeal to Reason" in which he strongly denounced national socialism and encouraged resistance by the working class. In following lectures and essays he attacked the Nazis.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Mann (advised by his son Klaus and brother Heinrich) decided to stay in Switzerland, where he at the moment was at the conference.

When War War II broke out in 1939 he emigrated to the United States. His books, unlike those of his brother Heinrich and his son Klaus, were not burned by HItler's regime (possibly because of the Nobel Prize?). In 1936 Nazi government officially revoked his citizenship.


There are more than 100 pages of FBI files on Thomas Mann, that you can read here:


He was investigated from 1927 through 1955. The files contain the security information showing Mann's afiliation with communist causes and associates. 


Also if you find interesting how his life in US looked like, here is a very interesting article comparing his and Nabokov's situation after emigration:



Here is another interesting article about how the United States government used Erika Mann (Thomas' daughter) as an informer and then tried to deport her as a Communist:



He returned to Switzerland in 1952. He visited Germany often but never went back to live there.

He died in 1955 of atherosclerosis in a hospital in Zurich.