E-mails of Thomas Mann, 1889-1955

by cheri block

Last week, Judge Blah and I wandered around San Luis Obispo and as always, ended up in the Phoenix Book Store where the floorboards creak and the old books smell.

An hour later, we left for a glass of wine at Blu, the lovely bar/restaurant next door. But not before rescuing several used books from their shelves.

Judge Blah chose an art book with a dust cover.

I chose a paperback, Letters of Thomas Mann 1889-1955.

Mann’s mind is deep. His writing is a mixture of political thought and of human nature. I first became interested in Mann after reading The Magic Mountain, his long book about so much, and The Death in Venice, perhaps his most famous short story, one that troubled me on many levels.

Now, I am venturing into the heart of this man. In the introduction to Letters of Thomas Mann, I have learned that he wrote over 20,000 letters and hundreds of others that were lost to the Nazis. All of his letters to his wife Katia were never recovered after he chose not to return to Munich in 1933.

At Blu, warmed by the cozy atmosphere of redbrick walls, a rich mahogany bar, and the wine, I began my practice of reading selections out loud to Judge Blah.

Letters to Alfred Knopf, his publisher; to Albert Einstein, Joseph Campbell, Louis Meyer; to his brother Heinrich and to Agnes E. Meyer, the wife of the Washington Post editor—all reveal Mann’s literary and political thoughts.

What will today’s authors leave for people like me?


About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in On fiction, People and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to E-mails of Thomas Mann, 1889-1955

  1. zeusiswatching says:

    I’ve read Buddenbrooks and Death in Venice (I thought it was incredible). The letters of this author would be of interest to me as well.

    Perhaps today’s authors will leave behind blog entries and personal journals, electronic rather than pen and paper, but some pen and ink journals too. I suspect emails will be few actually. We at least think of emails as ephemeral.

    • Cheri says:

      Hi Zeus,
      I haven’t read Buddenbrooks.

      Not sure if personal journals have been scraped for electronic communication. At any rate, we know volumes of letters will not be left.

      • zeusiswatching says:

        I once believed that blogs would displace the personal journal, but I am now convinced that while the two do overlap they are different enough. I think some form of digital journals might take the place of hand written journals for many people, especially as chirography is no longer emphasized and a whole generation is as comfortable with typing on a keyboard as the previous generations was with writing, but they will not be publicly published blogs.

        In fact I came to this conclusion after blogging for a few months, almost promising my journal books, glass dip pens and inkwell that I wouldn’t leave them for a keyboard. After boring Cyberspace with my blogged rants and posts about sundials I realized that my blog was more like sharing my interests and opinions (as no letter to the editor would permit), but in no way like a journal.

  2. Phil says:

    “……. Death in Venice………troubled me on many levels………”.

    What levels? And why?

    • Richard Manchester says:

      Remember you do not have to reply, Cheri. Keep him guessing.

    • Cheri says:

      Hi Phil,

      I am troubled by the sexual thoughts the main character has about a young boy.

      I was equally troubled by the pederasty in Plato’s Phaedrus.

      • Phil says:

        Considering the generation Thomas Mann was of, and the society he came from, it must have taken great courage for him to write Death in Venice.

        Did you ever see the wonderful film of it, directed by Luchino Visconti? If you didn’t, then do, if only for the poignant background music of Gustav Mahler (who Gustav von Ashenbach was allegedly based on) which, alone, makes the film worth seeing.

  3. andreaskluth says:

    To answer your final question: Today’s authors (like you) will leave a lot MORE. Tweets (the equivalent of Nietzsche’s aphorisms, which were not ALL good, remember); blog posts; and essays. The real loss is that we will no longer have these things in hand-writing, a confessional of character.

    • Richard Manchester says:

      There’s nothing like filling a virgin page with ink from a firmly-held fountain pen, Andreas.

      • zeusiswatching says:

        Agreed, and to follow up on andreaskluth’s comment, what goes on a blog or into a tweet is really very different than what is put into a letter. I find myself writing about very different things in my handwritten journals than anything I post to my blog. Letters are even different from journals. Letters are certain to be fewer, even rare.

        There is something about putting a Waterman’s nib to Clairefontaine paper that can’t be replicated by even the most sensitive keyboard and responsive wireless mouse.

      • Cheri says:

        Zeus has a great post with a picture of his fountain pens.

        Perhaps I will buy one he recommends and begin the correspondence with someone.

    • Cheri says:

      My point was not about how our writing will live on (albeit briefly), but about our correspondence.

      What is the equivalent to a letter today?
      As I read Mann’s letters (and I have read other writers’ correspondence), I am at once with them, of sorts.

      Remember Ken Burns’ documentary on the Civil War and those remarkable letters written home to wives, brothers, and others?

      E-mails will certainly not be part of an author’s treasure trove of correspondence, will they?

      • zeusiswatching says:

        “E-mails will certainly not be part of an author’s treasure trove of correspondence, will they?”

        No. Nor are they the equivalent of hand written letters. That form correspondence and the feelings and thoughts conveyed with pen and ink enclosed in an envelope with a return address on the back and indented address lines on the front, reside in the provenance of cell phone conversations.

        Emails will be a part of the corpus of business correspondence. They will be a part of the record of sundries and procedural documentation with evidence of how writers collaborate, share, and develop the work product, but emails are not the place for the kind of things once expressed in personal letters.

  4. andreaskluth says:

    (I am experimenting with splitting my comments by topic for clarity)

    To respond to your being troubled by the sexual thoughts in Death in Venice: You were SUPPOSED to be troubled. It is the mark of a liberal mind (as classically and properly defined) to be open to all experiences in order to examine them. Only a “conservative” mind suppresses that which discomforts him (by not reading Death in Venice, eg) in the hope that this might make the phenomenon go away (instead, it festers).

    Incidentally, you can think of the young man in Death and Venice as Hermes, beckoning the older man to Hades.

    Magic Mountain: very pretentious. As Mann was. Entire sections in French, dogs named Cerberus …. it’s what I would write to impress … you, for example.

    To get the man at his best, you should read Felix Krull. In the German-speaking world, it is as well-known as his other books. This is where he fantasizes about being a young and charming stud seducing older and richer women. Perfect for Hollywood. Well-written because it is by Mann, but not with his usual stick up his ass.

    • Richard Manchester says:

      Where was Chaucer at his best, Cheri?

      • Cheri says:

        OK Richard. I think you have an idea about this, so before I answer, I want to know what YOU think.

        Anyway, this entire weekend I must write my paper. I am writing about the Wife of Bath because she is the most amazing character of the lot.

        Maybe I will post a part of my paper next week.

    • zeusiswatching says:

      Death in Venice shows us a man whose soul is so trapped by his passions (it could just as well have been another passion in a different setting) that he becomes enslaved to the point of willingly ignoring all the signs of his impending doom, in this case staying in a location where disease is likely to kill him.

      The character gives himself over willingly (an important point), and so completely to his importance to him. The “coupling” of immortal soul to the obsession is so complete that the man gives himself over to destruction of body and spirit.

      I found the work impossible to put down, even though I had a good idea of how the work would end, it captured me and carried me along. Well, that is what happened to Mann’s character too. The work is brilliant.

    • Cheri says:

      My goodness. Zeus, you are a true scholar.

      What you do so well is to express complexity in language that we understand and can relate to.

      If you are not a professor or teacher, you have missed one of your callings. Really. I mean it.

    • Cheri says:

      it’s what I would write to impress … you, for example.

      Hi Andreas,

      After I read your comment, I had to go to work, but all the way down the hill I asked myself, What does impress me?

      What impresses us at one stage of life, may not at another.

      I am impressed by so many aspects of this wonderful life experience.

      Today, I am thinking of people who exhibit courage in the face of sickness, despondency, unemployment, old age—people with that drive and desire to “fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run”–those people impress me.

      People, like you, who demonstrate humanity and curiosity—I am impressed by those attributes.

      I was impressed by Thomas Mann until you said he had a stick up his ass.

      After that statement from a landsman, I wondered why I missed his pretentiousness in Magic Mountain. I loved that book.

      Oh well.

  5. Cheri says:


    Thank you for the film title. I have not seen it, but would like to.

    I did order the film you suggested about Sophie Scholl.

  6. andreaskluth says:

    Oh boy. I wish to retract (as it were) the “stick up his ass”.

    The Magic Mountain is a great work. Just a tad on the pretentious side, that’s all. But I loved it, too.

    In the blog comments I type faster than I think. I should be spanked sometimes.

    • Cheri says:

      I thought that phrase was funny. I laughed out loud. If only I could go back and reread M. M. keeping that in mind, but no way! no time!

      I like that you type what you think.

      Don’t stop doing that, at least here on my blog…

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