52 Authors: Week 41 - Louise Fitzhugh
Chris Rea: Auberge

Thomas Mann: Doctor Faustus

When Craig Burrell wrote about Thomas Mann for Week 32 of the 52 Authors series, I decided that the next fiction I read would be Doctor Faustus. I had been irrationally prejudiced against Mann, somehow imagining his books to be very dull novels of not very interesting ideas. But Craig made him, and especially this book, sound interesting, and I thought I ought to at least make Mann's acquaintance. 

Well, I was completely wrong about him. This book is not dull, and although it is among other things a novel of ideas, they are very interesting ones. I'm having a busy week, and so am not going to make much of an attempt to explain why I'm saying this, but will just say it: this is one of the great novels of the 20th century. It's great in the way that Dostoevsky is great, in that it brings together abstract ideas (including theological ones), the movements of culture, rich characters, and a powerful story. In fact I'll say that by the measure of simple enjoyment it's better than Dostoevsky, though that may only be because Germany is less foreign to me than Russia. 

It will probably be a while before I attempt one of Mann's very large novels (Faustus is a modest 500 pages), but I will surely do so. If the others are in the same class as this one, he is certainly one of the Nobel Prize winners who truly deserved the award.


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Craig made me want to read this so much! I just have not found the time yet but I will!

Another one to add to the list!

A few more remarks: it's the story of a composer who may or may not have sold his soul to the devil. I've never read Goethe's Faust, and probably missed some connections to it. I would be surprised if there aren't a lot of them. In part the book is concerned with the crisis of liberal humanism represented by Goethe.

As Craig mentioned, Mann's prose is on the complex side. I read the Lowe-Porter translation, the original English one, which Craig says is less clear than a more recent one. I didn't find it to be a problem, but I did have to make a bit more of an effort than with your average novel.

There is a good deal of writing about music in it, and much of that was over my head technically. But when you get to Chapter VIII, make sure you have access to Beethoven's last piano sonato, Op. 111, because you'll surely want to hear it.

Ok!! I ordered the book from amazon

I'm so glad to hear that you enjoyed it, Mac. It really is a wonderful book.

The first time I read the book I actually didn't know Beethoven's late sonatas. I remember reading that section on Op.111 and thinking, "I have got to hear this as soon as possible!"

I have read Goethe's Faust, but I found it so difficult that I can't comment intelligently on the relationship between it and Mann's book. After Goethe, returning to Mann's intricate prose is comparatively relaxing.

Marianne? Craig?

Excellent! I'll add it to my list.

"But when you get to Chapter VIII, make sure you have access to Beethoven's last piano sonato, Op. 111, because you'll surely want to hear it."

I'll listen to it now.

Amusing about Goethe, Craig. About halfway through Dr. F. I thought "You know, maybe it would add to this if I had read Goethe's Faust. It's probably online. I'll just take an hour or two and read it." Ha. I didn't get past the Prelude.

I think I'll take a stab at Goethe first too. I've been meaning to read it for years.

I've read a couple places that really one only needs to read part I, and that part II isn't necessary. Anyone know how true that is?

My copy arrived from amazon. Its the new translation. I forgot to get the old translation. I am going back to Aberdeen for an ordination next week and I will read it on the plane.

I'll be very interested in hearing your reaction. I don't necessarily recommend the old translation, btw. It just happens to be the one I have, recently bought at a used book store.

I don't know the answer to that, Rob. Let us know if you find out.

just so long as its not magical realism I'm sure it will keep me occupied


The new translation is the one I have, Grumpy, and I like it.

I'll probably at least sample the new translation next time I read it (and there will be a next time). There's one very challenging aspect of the novel for a translator: there are substantial stretches where certain characters speak in an antiquated way that apparently is very distinctive and significant in German ("Middle High German" or some one of those). Lowe-Porter uses a sort of Elizabethan style. I'm wondering how the newer one handles that.

One of the principal criticisms I've read of the newer translation is that it doesn't try to convey that antiquated style.

I've been wanting to mention The Phantom of the Opera in connection with Faust--the book by Gaston Leroux. I just happened to be reading it when I was reading Dr. Faustus for a class. I think there is a conscious relationship between Goethe's Faust and the book. The heroine is singing the part of Marguerite in the opera, so that's really obvious, but there is also a passage in the book that is a close paraphrase of something in Faust. I wanted to read Faust then and see if anything came of it, but I didn't have time.

I'm kind of wishing I had chosen Leroux as one of my authors now. The character of the phantom in the book, Erik (I don't think any of the plays or movies give him his name.), is both more really evil and more human than any of the productions. You know more about his history. Also, it's creepily scary. It's worth a read.



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