The writer Thomas Mann died sixty years ago in Zurich. Since that time his reputation as a major figure in modern European literature has remained, more or less, in tact. Yet unlike Proust, Joyce and Kafka, to whom he has often been compared, he is too rarely spoken about as a writer who affected the course of literature. For an artist who explored the psychological impact of human and creative aspiration, often told with great humour, his popularity is surprisingly thin.
Thomas Mann is an important influence on me. I was first introduced to his charismatic style of writing when I picked up a collection of his short stories. The book contained stories such as A Weary Hour, Felix Krull and Death In Venice. In these works Mann’s prose style is marked by polished irony as well as a clear literary facility. Most of all striking of all, the characters that appear in the stories are a series of romantic dreamers struggling to piece together the faintly absurd circumstances they find themselves in.
From the age of 26, when the publication of his first novel Buddenbrooks bought him widespread acclaim, Mann’s overwhelming preoccupation lay with unpicking the compelling forces that drive artists and intellectuals. This is no less true of his short stories, where he persistently sought out contrasting positions – inspiration and tiredness, spontaneity and deliberateness – between which his characters were caught and often grotesquely contorted.
Sixty years since he died. I’d like to encourage anyone who is interested in the forces that govern human nature and artistic proclivity to try out this very fine writer.