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Old 07-30-2013, 07:36 AM   #76
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I have just finished Part 6, so am halfway through. I was horrified at the exchange between Tony and Tom starting on page 299 where she was supposed to put up with the situation she found herself in rather than "wounding the dignity" of the family. I noted also through clenched teeth the way in which he told her she was a child. And of course that was how she was treated and therefore the way in which she behaved at times, though I was cheering for her as she stood up for herself.

I continue to be very grateful that I wasn't born into a time when women were treated in that way!
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Old 07-30-2013, 10:34 AM   #77
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Originally Posted by desertblues View Post
Thomas Buddenbrooks speaks rather nasty about the Jewish people in p.466/470 of the Gutenberg version. There had been for centuries a more or less accepted anti-Semitism in East and Central Europe
There was an early instance that revealed underlying anti-Semitism, as I recall. When Thomas takes Tony to Travemüunde, he talks about the people there:

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"And then there's the Möllendorpfs and the Kistenmakers--all at full strength, I would think--and the Hagenströms...."

"Ha!--Naturally. How could we do without Sarah Semlinger?"

"Her names's Laura, my girl, let's be fair."
Laura Semlinger having married Hagenström, and there's a later reference I can't find to the Semlingers' murky origins. A little uncomfortably close to the Nazi era when the state gave all Jewish women and girls the middle name of Sarah.

I read in a short piece by Peter Gay that Mann wrote an anti-Semitic story early in his career which he later suppressed; according to Gay, very few have read it or know of it, I assume.

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Do you think that it's deliberate that the consul is always called Johann except for Thomas? I noticed it when the 100 year anniversary plaque was presented.
I didn't know what to make of the name Thomas. The obvious reference is to doubting Thomas, but nothing occured to me to develop that, and then it's Mann's name, too, which is a little odd.

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Buddenbrooks depicts the decline of the Hanseatic city-state . . . and the rise of the German National-state . . . . Buddenbrooks also reflects the development of global trade and overseas colonies, particularly in the trans-Atlantic realm. Mann’s novel . . . thus engages the panoply of fears that accompanied the process of German nationalization in an age of empire, including anxiety about the collapse of traditional social hierarchies, the inversion of gender roles, and the danger of racial contamination.”
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Thanks a lot for that background Fantasyfan. I did in fact see a lot of that in Buddenbrooks.
I really liked that, the way huge shifts in politics took place in the background (a passing reference only to unification!). It largely didn't affect life day-to-day, but a huge shift had occured by the end. Similarly, the industrial revolution happened on the periphery; in the course of the book, society changed from one that traveled by horse or by sail and could only communicate as fast as those methods, to one that moved by railroad and steamship and communicated instantly by telegraph. There was the one scene emblematic of major changes (there may have been others that aren't occuring to me) where Thomas notes with approval that the streetlamps are being replaced with gas. But Thomas was falling behind the times and his downfall was partially attributable to that.
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Old 07-30-2013, 05:07 PM   #78
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There was an early instance that revealed underlying anti-Semitism, as I recall. When Thomas takes Tony to Travemüunde, he talks about the people there:
(...)
I read in a short piece by Peter Gay that Mann wrote an anti-Semitic story early in his career which he later suppressed; according to Gay, very few have read it or know of it, I assume.
(...)
I really liked that, the way huge shifts in politics took place in the background (a passing reference only to unification!). It largely didn't affect life day-to-day, but a huge shift had occured by the end. Similarly, the industrial revolution happened on the periphery; in the course of the book, society changed from one that traveled by horse or by sail and could only communicate as fast as those methods, to one that moved by railroad and steamship and communicated instantly by telegraph. There was the one scene emblematic of major changes (there may have been others that aren't occuring to me) where Thomas notes with approval that the streetlamps are being replaced with gas. But Thomas was falling behind the times and his downfall was partially attributable to that.
Thank you for these insights. Thomas Mann did make a public stand against National Socialism and his books were banned. I guess he had to incorporate these remarks as anti-Semitism was common in the period of the Buddenbrooks.
And yes, the context is rather interesting, also for my own country.

Having said this: I finally ended the book. 'finally', as I felt myself plodding along for the last 200 pages. I didn't have the feeling something unexpected would happen and it didn't. But tragic all.

Spoiler:
he, he, on to some newer literature: Der Klavierstimmer(couldn't find the English title if any) by Pascal Mercier. I read the Nachtzug nach Lissabon/Nighttrain to Lisbon and saw the movie...excellent

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Old 07-30-2013, 06:16 PM   #79
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I didn't know what to make of the name Thomas. The obvious reference is to doubting Thomas, but nothing occured to me to develop that, and then it's Mann's name, too, which is a little odd.
I guess there is no great riddle behind the name. It was the name of the father of Thomas Mann, who was the example for this figure. His full name was Thomas Johann Heinrich Mann.
You can read a little bit more about the members of the Mann-family on this wikipedia site:
http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mann_(Familie)
It is in German but has a link to the English version too.
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Old 07-30-2013, 09:52 PM   #80
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I read in a short piece by Peter Gay that Mann wrote an anti-Semitic story early in his career which he later suppressed; according to Gay, very few have read it or know of it, I assume.
I never heard about this to tell the truth. We have a list with all stories Mann wrote on german Wikipedia, it would be very kind if you could find out which story Peter Gay was talking about.

If Gay meant Mann's first story "Gefallen", than that would be Gay's own private interpretation of this story since none of the protagonists is introduced as a Jew.

Mann called "Gefallen" a premature work some years later, that is right. There is a huge paragraph about analysis and interpretation about this story on Wikipedia. Statements on Wikipedia usually don't mean a lot, but this story is not regarded as antisemitic usually.

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Old 07-31-2013, 09:12 AM   #81
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OK, I've finished!

There were times where I felt like it was a bit plonkety plonk plonk. But then there were these fantastic moments. Off the top of my head:

- The last full Christmas as a family before the matriarch died
- The matriarch's death
- There were two impressive speeches by Thomas, one about the sea vs the mountains. I can't remember the other one, just that I really enjoyed it
- The fight between Christian and Thomas
- The absolutely exquisite description of little Johann's "improvisation"

I also liked the one-joke characters that appear over and over again, "...my good chawld."

The story was really quite dark, but there were so many little jokes, even if they were really just a handful repeated.
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Old 07-31-2013, 10:08 AM   #82
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I never heard about this to tell the truth. We have a list with all stories Mann wrote on german Wikipedia, it would be very kind if you could find out which story Peter Gay was talking about.
Gay gave the title as "Blood of the Wälsungs," with a date of 1905. I don't see it on the Wikipedia list.

This is what Gay had to say about it:

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The embarrassing rumor that it was anti-Semitic tale--the protagonists, inseparable nineteen-year-old twins named Siegmund and Sieglinde, are from a wealthy Jewish family, the Aarenholds in Berlin--would have been especially troubling for Mann after 1933, and he kept it out of general circulation. Sieglinde is engaged to a boring gentile businessman whom she likes far less than she likes her brother. She and Siegmund attend a performance of Die Walküre, which brings out into the open what has been implicit all along: their incestuous love for one another. They act it out afterward, at home, in Siegmund's luxurious room, on his bearskin rug.
Maybe the bearskin rug wasn't as tired a trope a century ago!
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Old 07-31-2013, 06:24 PM   #83
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It's so nice to see such an active conversation! I'm going to go back and read all the posts that discuss the book once I get farther into it, but I'm a good enough ways into it now and I'm enjoying it so far.

I went with the newer Woods translation. It was a tough decision and I really delved into it, but in the end I found both translations perfectly passable but neither particularly great. Both seemed awkward and not quite well translated at points. Because of the similar (though different) quality in this regard, I ended up with the Woods because of the minor difference that I'd read that the older Lowe-Porter translation excised small parts of the text and censored/altered a few other small parts of the texts. I didn't notice any censoring per se but I did find little examples of excising, such as the poet's dinner poem to the family. In the Lowe-Porter, one stanza was cut out. This is very minor in my opinion, but it gave me a reason to choose one translation over the other, especially in that, though I didn't notice any censoring-intended alterations in the beginning parts that I compared, I don't like the idea of them however minor they may be.

Anyway, I can tell that the writing isn't up to the same level as "Death in Venice", though I do ascribe part of it to the awkward translations. However, I do see glimpses of fine writing and I enjoy some of his nicely described scenes. One I'll share here is the garden scene from the beginning of Part 3. I love the description of a family sitting in a lovely sunny garden, with many of them reading as their study or divertissement. In an age where so few people read and it's almost an impossible idea to imagine an entire family sitting contentedly in silence with many of them reading, it sits in my imagination as something of a foregone ideal.

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One June afternoon, shortly after five o'clock, the family was sitting in the garden in front of the "Portal", where they had taken their coffee. They had set the light, rustic, stained-wood furniture on the lawn, because it was too warm and close inside the summerhouse, a single white room whose only decoration was a tall mirror framed by fluttering birds and two enameled French doors at the rear - which weren't real; if you looked closely you could see that the handles were just painted on.

The sparkling coffee service was still on the table, around which they sat in a semicircle; the consul, his wife, Tony, Tom, and Klothilde - sour-faced Christian was a little off to one side, memorizing Cicero's second oration against Catiline. The consul was busy with his cigar and the Advertiser. His wife had laid her embroidery in her lap and smiled now as she watched little Clara search the lawn for violets with Ida Jungmann, because now and then you could find them there. Her chin propped in both hands, Tony was reading Hoffmann's Serapion Brethren, while Tom tickled the back of her neck very circumspectly with a blade of grass, which she wisely chose not to notice. And Klothilde, looking skinny and old-maidish in her flowery cotton frock, was reading a story entitled "Blind, Deaf, and Dumb - and Happy Nonetheless", all the while scraping up cookie crumbs into little piles on the tablecloth, then transferring them carefully in a five-fingered grip to her mouth.

The sky and its few white stagnant clouds began to pale. The late-afternoon sun enhanced the color of the garden's tidy symmetry of paths and flower beds. The fragrance of mignonettes lining the beds ebbed and flowed on the breeze.
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Old 07-31-2013, 09:01 PM   #84
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Didn't you love the title of the book that Klothilde, the poor relation, was reading? I remember smiling at that when I read it, assuming it's a spoof title. But of course it might not be!

I think the main thing I'm finding with the book as a whole is that it is all description but I don't get any deep insights into what really makes the individuals tick. Of course I can pick up some of this from what they say and do, but remembering issybird's earlier reference to The Forsyte Saga, I think from my long ago reading of that work that I got much more about how people felt, and an understanding of their motivations.

I also just wanted to say how much I am enjoying the discussions by the German speakers about the various dialects - I do envy your ability to read in the original language.
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Old 08-01-2013, 01:53 AM   #85
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Gay gave the title as "Blood of the Wälsungs," with a date of 1905. I don't see it on the Wikipedia list.
I see, thanks a lot for this. The german title is Wälsungenblut. This story is well known, it's part of the normal german pocket book edition of Mann's early stories. The main protagonists are a jewish pair of siblings, but this story is usually not considered antisemitic, too. You can have a look at the german Wikipedia page if you'd like to.

The problems concerning the first printing of this story 1906 came because Mann feared that people might think that he is describing his own wife Katia and her brother Klaus in an incestous relationship. They had an affluent jewish background. At least this is what is usually concidered as the reason.

Maybe this is a bit of a missunderstanding because the jewish brother and sister perform some kind of Richard Wagner Kult in Wälsungenblut. But you have to keep in mind that this story was written before 1933. Richard Wagner's music was extremely polpular at the time Mann wrote this story, among germans and among german jews.

As we know today some national socialists liked Wagner for whatever reason. But the line Wagner = Nazi is wrong, even the equation Wagner = Antisemitism is wrong, although Wagner wrote essays that contain higly problematic antisemetic sterotypes at some point.

But thanks to this conversation I found out about Gay's works, I didn't know him or his books. Thanks a lot for sharing this, although this lead to some sort of controversy. I had a look at the Wikipedia page and some of his books and I think he's a quite interesting person. At least his biography and his own interests are.
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Old 08-01-2013, 04:55 AM   #86
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You seem to know a great deal about Thomas Mann, medard.
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Old 08-01-2013, 02:24 PM   #87
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I've just read the marriage proposal chapter in which Tony is told that Grunlich has sent a letter to her father proposing marriage to her. The most striking aspect of this scene is that it dramatises the Patriarchal nature of society through the use of one of the most core lies of such cultures--namely that a young unmarried woman equates with infantile child--i.e. someone incapable of reason who must be manipulated into the socially approved niche set out for them. In fact, Grunlich reminds me of a Mr Collins type who believes in a trophy wife and whose demonstrations of affection are purely superficial.

Unfortunately for Tony both mother and father use the woman as child routine on her. The mother says:

"A young girl like you never knows what she really wants. Your head and heart are both all in a muddle."

And the consul answers Tony's quite rational point that she hardly knows the man with:

"What could you possibly know about him? You're a child, don't you see, and you wouldn't have known any more about him if he had been here for fifty-two weeks rather than four, You're a little girl who's seen nothing of the world and has to depend on the eyes of other people, who only want the best for you."

Throughout we see Tony dehumanised and locked into a child-pattern which allows the father to exercise control. The fact that Tony actually seems so far to be a rather unpleasant person doesn't change the nature of her victimisation.

At this stage Tony has--as Caleb pointed out earlier--the right instincts. I gather that she will be less a victim later on, but that doesn't change the fact that she is being used essentially as an item of property for social aggrandisement rather than being seen as a person.

But did Thomas Mann actually have an understanding of the feminist rationale underlying the business with the first marriage? Did he have any real sympathy for the oppression of women in that type of patriarchal culture? Or was he simply portraying the situation as it existed?

So far, I find it an interesting book, but it lacks the subtlety and psychological perception of Ulysses, Remembrance of Things Past {Now known as In Search of Lost Time} or Conrad's Nostromo. Of course, this is only a personal opinion and I may well change my mind by the time I finish the book. In addition, another factor is that we are dealing with a translation here--and I suspect that neither of the two available is as powerful as Scott-Moncrieff's brilliant rendering of Proust.

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Old 08-01-2013, 03:31 PM   #88
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I think that Tony has been my favorite character in the book. I liked in the scenes that introduced Grunlich that Tony had enough insight to know that she didn't love him and to recognize that he was telling her parents exactly what they "wanted to hear" in his attempts to gain their consent. As you keep reading you will see what becomes of that match and what his true motives were. I don't want to reveal too much for you. As the book continues Tony does repeat often that she is no longer a silly little goose and that she now knows a little something about life and the world. She is strongly influenced by what she considers her "duty to the firm" and that affects the outcome of whether or not she continues to be a victim of life's circumstances.
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Old 08-01-2013, 03:58 PM   #89
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Thanks for making those points Bookworm_Girl. I suspect that Tony will indeed turn out to be quite an interesting character. In fact, so far, I find her more interesting than any other in the novel.

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Old 08-01-2013, 09:10 PM   #90
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Wrong cat, fantasyfan! But yes, I'm with both of you. Tony is flawed - aren't we all? - but she does try to overcome the constant harping on her being "a child". I'm certainly more on her side than on anyone else's.
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