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The Magic Mountain written by Thomas Mann is a beautiful, rich novel which presents the major philosophical ideas of our civilization in the form of vivid and fascinating characters. It is certainly one of the most important works of the twentieth century.
Thomas Mann (1875-1955) German novelist and critic, one of the most important figures in early 20th-century literature, whose novels explore the relationship between the exceptional individual and his or her environment, either the environment of family or of the world in general.
Mann’s fiction is characterized by accurate reproduction of the details of both modern and ancient life, by profound and subtle intellectual analysis of ideas and characters, and by a detached, somewhat ironic, point of view combined with a deep sense of the tragic. His heroes are often of the bourgeois class, undergoing a spiritual conflict. Mann explored also the psychology of the creative artist. (www.gsprize.com/theme_8.html)
He was a Nobel Prize winner and an unequivocal opponent of National Socialism, Thomas Mann was born on 6 June 1875, the son of a wealthy merchant family in the Hanseatic city of Lubeck.
His father had been elected twice as the burgomaster of Lubeck. His mother, Bruhn da Silva, came from a German-Portuguese-Creole family. The decline of precisely such a family over three generations was the subject of his first great work, Buddenbrooks which was written in 1901. (www.zelda.thomson.com/rootledge/who/germany/mann.html)
Buddenbrooks came out when Mann was 26. He began writing it during a one-year stay in Italy and completed it in about two and a half years.
The book outraged the citizens of Lubeck who saw it as a thinly veiled account of local incidents and figures. (www.kirjasto.sci.fi/tmann.htm)
Mann s father died in 1891 and his trading firm was dissolved. The family moved to Munich. Mann worked in an insurance office and studied at university before turning to journalism and freelance writing. Early novels and short stories like Tonio Kroger (1903), Tristan (1903) and Der Tod in Venedig (Death in Venice, 1912) revealed Mann’s preoccupation with the relationship between bourgeois life and the modern artistic sensibility, his fascination with death, and the philosophical influence of Wagner and Schopenhauer. (www.zelda.thomson.com/rootledge/who/germany/mann.html)
In 1905 he married Katja Pringsheim, the daughter of a wealthy Munich family. They had a total of six children. During the World War I Mann attacked liberalism. A man lives not only his personal life, as an individual, but also, consciously or unconsciously, the life of his epoch and his contemporaries. (The Magic Mountain).
After ten years of work Mann completed his second major work, The Magic Mountain (1924). The book represented the monument of a lost humanism. It won him the Nobel Prize. (www.kirjasto.sci.fi/tmann.htm)
With the advent of the Nazi regime, Thomas Mann, like his novelist brother, Heinrich, and the rest of the family, immigrated to Switzerland, before moving on to the United States in 1938. (www.zelda.thomson.com/rootledge/who/germany/mann.html)
In 1936 he was officially deprived of his German citizenship and in the same year he was stripped by the Bonn academic senate of his Honorary Doctorate. The Nazis avoided all mention of his name, attempting to expunge his memory from the German consciousness. For his part, Mann took an active part in the anti-Nazi struggle, denouncing the terrible complicity of the German universities’ in breeding those ideas which are ruining Germany morally, culturally, and financially’. (www.zelda.thomson.com/rootledge/who/germany/mann.html)
In America, where he taught for a time at Princeton University, Mann composed a number of anti-Nazi essays, including The Coming Victory of Democracy (1938). It was in his Swiss and American exile that he completed his monumental four-volume novel, Joseph and His Brothers, between 1933 and 1944, a moving tribute to the Jews in their darkest hour and to the freedom of the individual against a corrupt tyranny. (www.zelda.thomson.com/rootledge/who/germany/mann.html)
Mann’s final reckoning with Hitler’s world, with the mixture of genius and madness in the German ‘soul’ and the horrors of a collapsing civilization came in his last major novel, Dr. Faustus. Mann died on 12 August 1955 in Zurich, Switzerland, to which he had returned one year before his death. (www.zelda.thomson.com/rootledge/who/germany/mann.html)
Thomas Mann spent three weeks visiting his wife in Davos. He than escaped before the doctors who discovered symptoms of the disease were able to keep him there. He escaped from magnetic field of that mountain, barely carrying a trace of sickness but definitely having a clear trace of the future story. From this trace the novel of magical relationship between life and death has been made.
The story of The Magic Mountain talks about the life of Hans Castorp, who goes to the International Sanitarium Berghof in the Swiss Alps to rest and visit his cousin Joachim Ziemssen. He planned to stay there for three weeks and return to his home in Hamburg where he had a career as a shipbuilding engineer. When he arrives to the sanatorium his feelings of uneasiness transform into fascination to the routine established for the inhabitants and to the active social scene. Hans realizes that time is of no importance in the sanatorium and soon ordinary life becomes unreal to him. He becomes aware of his physical, spiritual and emotional vulnerability, as well as his own sexuality. He is attracted to a married Russian woman, Madame Clavdia Chauchat. The confusion brought on by this romantic obsession seems even to be reflected in his physical state, which is unstable and feverish. When the three weeks he intended to stay were almost up, Hans decided to take a physical examination. The examination proved that he had a heavy cold which has a high probability of developing into tuberculosis.
Disease which captured Hans Castorp is drawing him away step by step from the people of the real world. The disease, almost unnoticeably changes him. It takes over his will, improves his instincts, and strengthens the intensity of his fantasies. The sickness makes him sensitive to the voices and feelings, which in the turbulent life of a healthy person, he would hardly be able to hear or see.
When Hans Castorp hears that he has the first stage of tuberculosis he becomes happy. His sickness provides him with a reason for staying near Madame Chauchat as well as the opportunity to continue intriguing, profound discussions about life, death, time, religion and illness with another patient Herr Settembrini. Settembrini is an Italian men who believes that reason and the intellect must and will prevail, in daily life as well as in world affairs. He is contemptuous of the foolish flirtations and empty talk in which most of the sanatorium inhabitants indulge, and warns Hans repeatedly of the dangers inherent in cutting off all ties to real life and responsibility.
During carnival restrictions of the sanatorium had been decreased and Hans declared his love for Clavdia. She refused his proposal and left for Russia the next day. Hans was terribly sad. Joachim s health wasnt getting any better. The doctor told him that he would have to stay at the sanatorium for six more months. Joachim couldn t see himself spending one more day at the sanatorium, so he left. After a while Joachim came back but his condition was so serious that he died within a few days.
Clavdia Chauchat returned to the sanatorium with an old Dutchman named Mynheer Peeperkorn. Hans became very friendly with him, and their friendship lasted until the Dutchman died.
Naphta the Jew turned Jesuit and Settembrini were the two people Hans spent most time with. One day they got into an argument. A duel was arranged between the two of them. When the time came, Settembrini said he would fire into the air. When he did so, Naphta became furious and shot himself.
Although Hans planned to stay at the sanatorium only for three weeks he ended up staying for seven years. During this time he saw many deaths and many changes in the institution. Up in the mountain his second home, time measured in minutes or even years no longer existed.
With the outbreak of the World War I Hans Castorp leaves the sanatorium and returns to Germany to fight.
The Magic Mountain is a novel concerned with perspectives of history and philosophy of our time. The magic being exerted on the lives of patients of sanatorium is cutting them off from calendar time. Time flows through their days and years with quiet nothingness and perceptions of reality stretch into eternity. The Magic Mountain is the sick world of Europe, and its people are various aspects of the modern consciousness.
It seems as if Thomas Mann loves the disease, as if his art means devotion to weakness, suffering and death. The Magic Mountain is a collection of the sick people, it is an international meeting place of those who fight with death. This fight goes on in every room of the sanatorium. The theme of agony and death is revealed throughout the book in such a way that it doesn t support the idea of death, but rather steps out as help in exploring the magnificence of life.
Each of the characters Hans meets is a symbol for a strain of thought prevalent in pre-war Germany. Castorp himself is fascinated with ideas of death. Claudia Chauchat is a hedonist. Settembrini is an Italian humanist, secure in his belief that man can be improved through reason. Mann makes all these characters seem spent and sick, their tuberculosis being a sign of social illness. The start of war is symbol that such aesthetic wanderings must come to an end. The novel provides a look at the treatment for tuberculosis at the turn of the century. The disease represents a character itself, coming and going from the lives of the other characters.
The hero of the novel Hans Castorp, is in fact no hero at all. He is just an ordinary, insecure man unable to find solution to the conflicting ideologies of his friends and of his time. Simplicity and commonness is his best quality.
It is my belief that The Magic Mountain in one of the greatest works of 20th century. The story line which is very simple serves as a bracket to hold the immense collections of our opinions and knowledge together. It compiles a huge amount of controversial information and a variety of subjects such as Mathematics, Medicine, Astronomy, Physics, Politics, Psychology, Literature, History and many more. I liked the book very much. It opened up my horizons.
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