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I'm so excited to see this!! Don't have time to read and comment intelligently right now other than to say that I read The Magic Mountain a few years back and LOVED it. Thomas Mann is da bomb! More later...

I was pretty sure I remembered you praising Mann to me. I bought a used copy of Dr. Faustus not too long ago and it's going to be the next fiction I read.

This is really great, Craig, as usual, and extremely tempting.

I know this is going to sound really stupid but at some point I either tried to read Buddenbrooks or watch the BBC version. Try as I might, I can't remember which. Whichever it is, I couldn't get into it, but maybe I'll try again.



I meant to ask if you had ever watched the BBC version and if it followed the book closely.


No, I haven't seen any screen adaptations of Mann's novels. I think I once got an adaptation of The Magic Mountain from the library, but I never did watch it. For me, the pleasures of reading Mann are in large measure literary pleasures: his prose enchants me. The novels have interesting stories, and interesting characters, and I'm sure they could be adapted decently to the screen, but for me something would be missing.

Benjamin Britten wrote an opera on "Death in Venice", and it is quite good, though challenging. I've written a bit about it here.

Mac, I hope you enjoy Doctor Faustus. I expect you will.

I am going to look for a book by Mann in waterstones at heathrow

The only novel on kindle is buddenbooks

Now that I have had a few moments to read this post - very enjoyable - and I do really want to read more of Mann. As seems to happen so much with me and literature, even though it was just a few years back I can't say I remember that much of The Magic Mountain except how much I enjoyed Hans Castorp and his friends up in the sanitorium and all of the discussions they had about everything. So for a few weeks I walked around with the book like a silly kid in college telling anyone I knew (like Mac) that they should give it a try. Then shortly after I finished it I was kind of at a loss as to what it was all about, and have thought ever since, "I need to re-read The Magic Mountain". It is of course large and somewhat daunting, and I wonder how I read it so quickly. I found Mann's prose to be simply sublime; and for as little as happens, the story was quite engaging. It looks like Dr Faustus is the other "must read" in his canon. But then there is the great line in Annie Hall that Woody, and Alvy, and some actors say - "You've read 'Death in Venice', haven't you?"

Then shortly after I finished it I was kind of at a loss as to what it was all about,

I have been having that problem so often lately. I read 5 or 6 books to write a post about them and I'm loving them all the way, but when I sit down to write, I say, "Now what was it?"


No luck!

Internet-related hyper-distraction is causing me problems in writing about books, and for that matter reading them. I have a backlog (in my mind) of three or four books I've read in recent months that I want to post something about here, but I really resist the commitment of gathering my thoughts enough to write 1000 words or so about them.

Sometime in the past year or two I read a substantial essay on The Magic Mountain (in The New Criterion). I thought it sounded awfully boring and if not for the praise of Craig and EG I might not have bothered with Mann for many years, which at my age could mean never.

I read some of The Magic Mountain around 30 years ago, but gave up after about a hundred pages. I think I found it very heavy-going, and the prospect of the remaining 600 pages was just too much for me. It must also have been the Lowe-Porter translation, since the Woods translation was published in 1995. I got that date in this review of his translation, which also says this about Lowe-Porter's translation:

Lowe-Porter is no longer with us to defend herself, but it is well known that she and Mann worked hand in hand as far as her translations of his works went--and Mann, after all, did speak English.

But how well, one wonders? I have to say the examples that reviewer gives do make Woods sound superior. At any rate it's the Lowe-Porter Faustus that I'll be reading, just because it's what I have. Besides, it's a 1948 Knopf edition, and books of that time are a physical pleasure to me.

That tendency of current translators and critics to scorn the efforts of the past is not admirable. Constance Garnett definitely has her flaws, but her translations are not garbage, either.

This brings up a kind of interesting point. Even if Mann spoke English very well, he would still have thought with a German brain, and not necessarily understood how native English speakers would perceive a particular turn of phrase. This is a problem that underlies all translation I would imagine. Paul probably knows more about that.


According to her Wikipedia page, Mann said that he approved of Lowe-Porter's translations "insofar as my linguistic knowledge suffices". He was competent in English, I believe, but his writing calls for more than just competency to judge well.

Grumpy, I'd have been surprised if you found Mann at an airport bookshop!

I'm reading Garnett's translation of Anna Karenina right now, and loving it.

There's actually a whole book on this translation business: Thomas Mann in English by David Horton. This review by a translator includes this observation:

Horton is surprisingly kind to the much-maligned Helen Lowe-Porter, who has become, along with Constance Garnett and, to a lesser degree, Scott Moncrieff, a favorite punching bag of advocates of retranslation. There is no question as to the astonishing quantity of errors these translators made; but it is also rank hubris to act as if the difficulty of the present-day translator's task can be compared to its counterpart a century ago. There is hardly a regionalism too rare or a slang term too new to be elucidated by a half-hour of industrious googling; today's translator can keep numerous dictionaries, the original text, and alternative translations open on the computer while working. Further, for the old guard of translators, the workload stretched the limits of human capacity: in addition to Proust, Moncrieff translated the major works of Stendhal, much of Pirandello, Abelard and Heloise, and a dozen other books before dying at forty years of age. Constance Garnett's translations run north of 20,000 pages. The history of twentieth century letters in English would be inconceivable without their work, or that of the Muirs or the Winstons, or countless others whose work is now being superseded.

I think if I had got to the Heathrow waterstones I might have been in luck. But it was nowhere near my terminal and gate

Death in Venice is online here. It's a pretty readable format.



You're a big literary deal when you have critics and translators. You're a *really* big deal when your critics and translators have critics.

The Constance Garnett version of Anna Karenina is superior to the Pevear/ Volokhonsky one, IMHO. They are better with Dostoevsky.

I guess it was probably CG whose AK translation I read 40 years ago. I don't know whether there were others. I doubt it ever crossed my mind to wonder about the quality of the translation, but I certainly enjoyed the book.

I never thought much about the quality of a translation (except for English translations of Japanese technical manuals) until I read the Inferno with some friends several years ago. We looked at several and they all had their strengths and weaknesses. Recently, we read Augustine's Confessions and I had a lot of trouble with the first translation I picked up. The Sheed translation was much better.


I tried the new translation of Magic Mountain but, after two reads, I'm content to remain with Lowe-Porter's.

Have a vague recollection-- it has been at least a few years since I read the Woods translation and comments on it-- that many of the 'errors' identified by Mr Woods and others are in reality questions of style rather than grammatical or lexical exactitude. When LP writes 'history's mould' and JW 'history's patina', which of those more accurately represents what TM's German says? I don't know but is history an organic compound that, well, decays and moulds, or is history a scientifically analysable manufacture that we can figuratively say acquires a patina? I'd guess that the former more accords with Mann's purposes.

I personally don't care to have Hans Castorp or Ludovico Settembrini talking like George Babbitt or Mme Chauchat like one of the Karshashians-- what is that sort of translation called that is so deplorable when it's a question of putting the Sacred Liturgy into the vernaculars? Dynamic equivalency or some such term.

I had the same question about "mould" vs. "patina." They're not synonyms, and the difference is significant. But we have no way of knowing which was closer to Mann's intent.

We can look to the German, of course, but I don't have a German edition, alas, but will look the next time I'm at the university library.

A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. Thomas Mann

I found this quote somewhere the other day. I hope it's really Mann.


I agree that a true writer hates to write

"I agree that a true writer hates to write"

Is that my problem? :)

I remember a funny bit, I think by Dorothy Parker, where she talked about writing one sentence and then having to go lie down with a washcloth on her head.


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