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Old 08-02-2013, 01:44 AM   #91
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I take back what I said about the lack of insight into the characters' thoughts and motivations. I have just read Chapter 4 in Part 8, and suddenly feel I know Thomas a lot better. Mind you, he seems to be living his life under such a strain that he must be heading for a heart attack or a stroke.
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Old 08-02-2013, 04:09 AM   #92
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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.
Ooooops!
I've edited it!

Yes, characters who have a capacity for making decisions and growth are always the most interesting. I find that too many of the characters are quite flat for a novel of this length--but again, I have a long way to go.

Last edited by fantasyfan; 08-02-2013 at 04:14 AM.
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Old 08-02-2013, 04:43 AM   #93
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Well, part of my deception of reading the book was the lack of depth and growth of the
characters. Tony made bad decision after bad decision and she didn't learn from it, even though she proclaimed herself to be wiser in the ways of the world. She vacillated in her own make-believe-world and didn't grow up. The 'stays' of society and her family held her floating.

I can believe that Thomas Mann made an example of a family that didn't have any growth in it. There is nothing heroic, in the moral sense, in these people.

It began as an interesting family saga, but I found it too long....

edit: and of course; the context of that period is interesting and it is an advantage knowing this context. But a book has to be able to stand on his own feet as well.
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Old 08-02-2013, 06:01 AM   #94
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This is more or less my impression too. I don't think it is a good work of fiction although I highly appreciate the occasional irony.

But I find it very interesting for all its non-fictional parts, for all the descriptions of the 19th century life in Germany, be them as small as what they ate or as important as the revolution of 1848.
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Old 08-02-2013, 09:33 AM   #95
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Quote:
Originally Posted by desertblues View Post
Well, part of my deception of reading the book was the lack of depth and growth of the
characters. Tony made bad decision after bad decision and she didn't learn from it, even though she proclaimed herself to be wiser in the ways of the world. She vacillated in her own make-believe-world and didn't grow up. The 'stays' of society and her family held her floating.

I can believe that Thomas Mann made an example of a family that didn't have any growth in it. There is nothing heroic, in the moral sense, in these people.
I agree. It's more a tragedy. Tony drinks the Buddenbrooks kool aid and that fight she put up before Grunlich was the last of what I thought of an independent/spirited thought. Her whole value after that point was to make herself a worth commodity for the family name and all her passion went into that.

In a way she was worse than Thomas because at least Thomas saw the hopelessness of the role he was to play. He strove and strove but you got the impression from his various speeches that he knew he was not up to the task. And as the book progresses he becomes more like this ridiculous shell - empty inside.

But in the end, their fall was necessary. To me, it was a lesson about the world (and in this case Germany) changing and them not changing with it. Remaining trapped within a family tradition or within the pages of its notebook, made this family more and more an anachronism.
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Old 08-03-2013, 06:21 AM   #96
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Speaking of disturbing passages of reminders of attitudes now gone there is this:

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Suddenly, just as she had done once before, she began to answer someone or something that the others could not hear. “Yes, Jean, it won’t be long now!” And right afterward, “Yes, my dear Clara, I’m coming.”

And then the struggle began anew. Was it a struggle with death? No, she was wrestling now with life to gain death. “I want to,” she gasped, “but I can’t. Something to help me sleep. Have mercy, gentlemen, give me something so I can sleep.”

At the words “have mercy,” Frau Permaneder sobbed loudly and Thomas groaned softly, clutching his head with one hand for a moment. But the doctors knew their duty. For the sake of the family, they were required under all circumstances to preserve this life as long as possible, and a narcotic would have meant the immediate loss of all resistance, the surrender of life. Doctors were not placed on this earth to bring death, but to preserve life at any price. And there were certain religious and moral reasons as well—they had heard all about them at the university, although they might not be able to recall them precisely at the moment. And so, instead, they stimulated her heart with various drugs and induced vomiting several times, which brought some momentary relief.

Five o’clock—the struggle could not get any worse than this. Sitting upright, her eyes wide open for battle, Madame Buddenbrook flailed her arms, as if grasping for support or hands that were reaching out to her, and constantly answered calls that came from all directions, which only she could hear, but which seemed to be growing ever more numerous and urgent. It was as if not only her dead husband and daughter were present now, but also her parents, her parents-in-law, and other relatives who had gone before. She called out names, and no one in the room could say precisely just which of her dead relatives she meant. “Yes,” she cried, turning first in one direction and then another. “I’m coming—soon—just a moment—but—I can’t—Gentlemen, something to help me sleep—”

At five-thirty, there was a moment of peace. And then, quite suddenly, a shudder passed over her aged, pain-racked face—the features twitched in a rush of horrified joy, trembled with deep, fearful tenderness. In the next second, she flung her arms wide, and then—so abruptly, so instantaneously that both what she had heard and her answer seemed almost simultaneous—she cried out in the most absolute obedience, with boundless, fearful, loving submission and surrender, “Here I am!” And passed on.
They had all pulled back in shock. What had happened? Whose call was it that had caused her to follow instantly?

Someone pulled the window curtains back and blew out the candles. Meanwhile, with a gentle look on his face, Dr. Grabow closed the dead woman’s eyes.

They stood there chilled by the pale light of the autumn dawn that now filled the room. Sister Leandra covered the mirror above the dresser with a cloth.
Unfortunately attitudes in the medical profession, at least in the US, have still not changed as much as such attitudes should. Still not accepting that it is better to ease the suffering of a terminally ill patient into a quicker death with less suffering than to employ extraordinary methods to prolong life and suffering.
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Old 08-03-2013, 06:55 AM   #97
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Wasn't that scene terrible?
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Old 08-03-2013, 08:26 PM   #98
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Yes, I have just read that chapter too and it was horrific that the doctors could consider dragging out the agony the right thing to do rather than give her a narcotic.

I agree with you Hamlet: although it isn't as bad as that any more, thank goodness, there is still the feeling that life is so sacrosanct that it must be preserved as long as possible, even when the sufferer is begging for release. Sometimes we treat our pets far more kindly.
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Old 08-04-2013, 03:56 AM   #99
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I'm finding the later parts of the book much more interesting than the early ones because there seems to be much more introspection, particularly by Thomas Buddenbrook. Part 10 Chapter 5 has him considering his relationship with death and the infinite - at least, that's how I am interpreting it.

Quote:
I bear in myself the seed, the tendency, the possibility of all capacity and all achievement. Where should I be were I not here? Who, what, how could I be, if I were not I - if this my external self, my consciousness, did not cut me off from those who are not I? Organism! Blind, thoughtless, pitiful eruption of the urging will! Better, indeed, for the will to float free in spaceless, timeless night than for it to languish in prison, illuminated by the feeble, flickering light of the intellect!
And a bit further on:

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And in so far as he could now understand and recognize - not in words and consecutive thoughts, but in sudden rapturous illuminations of his inmost being - he was already free, already actually released and free of all natural as well as artificial limitations. The walls of his native town, in which he had wilfully and consciously shut himself up, opened out; they opened and disclosed to his view the entire world, of which he had in his youth seen this or that small portion, and of which Death now promised him the whole. The deceptive perceptions of space, time, and history, the preoccupation with a glorious historical continuity of life in the person of his own descendants, the dread of some future final dissolution and decomposition - all this his spirit now put aside. He was no longer prevented from grasping eternity. Nothing began, nothing left off. There was only an endless present; and that power in him which loved life with a love so exquisitely sweet and yearning - the power of which his person was only the unsuccessful expression - that power would always know how to find access to this present.
But he backs away from this contemplation of infinity and goes back to the safety of the day to day:

Quote:
... harrassed by a thousand details, all of them unimportant, he was too weak-willed to arrive at a reasonable and fruitful arrangement of his time.
And I suppose we all do the same. We cannot cope with more than a glimpse of infinity at a time, and need to get back to our day to day occupations.

I loved that chapter.
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Old 08-04-2013, 04:30 AM   #100
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I've finished it too - and reading this discussion is very enriching for me!
I am arriving after many pages of this thread, and many very perceptive insights from you. As others have said, the German speakers have helped a lot understand the context of the dialects (providing much more colour for instance to Tony's permanence in the south), and others have added useful background information on the relationship between Mann and his treatment of the historical context.

What did I make of this book? As I said already, I remembered it as absolutely "unputdownable", while my experience this time has been very different. So in short I find myself very much in agreement with:
Quote:
Originally Posted by desertblues View Post
Well, part of my deception of reading the book was the lack of depth and growth of the
characters.
...
It began as an interesting family saga, but I found it too long....
Tony is too much of a "child", and thinking of how she was always treated in the family (e.g. the passage on the first marriage that fantasyfan highlighted), I would have found it more interesting if somehow her character had developed more rather than staying "a child" throughout.

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Originally Posted by issybird View Post
As for Gerda, she's an enigma. ... It's a little surprising that Mann didn't use her thoughts as a mouthpiece for his own commentary
Indeed, I wondered what Gerda's role was: as it is, her amused smiles are maybe a pause for reflection for the reader here and there. Or maybe she is a metaphor for Thomas' initial enthusiasm and hopes for something different and better for his firm that eventually crumbles - Gerda doesn't, but there is a sense in which she was always foreign - in this sense Hanno's destiny seems to fulfil the same "prophecy".
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I'm finding the later parts of the book much more interesting than the early ones because there seems to be much more introspection, particularly by Thomas Buddenbrook....
I also enjoyed the last two parts the most, one of which was taken mostly with Hanno's day at school. More in general, there isn't much on Hanno as compared to the other characters, but I really enjoyed what is there.

As an undercurrent, medicine and death seems to be two recurring topics, which are interrelated. Dr Grabow's universal recipe of bread and white meat is mocked from the word go, and the scenes at the dentist are hair raising! Medical practice could affect your life at various ways (and if we had not thought about it when Hanno's healthy molars are removed, he reminds us ourselves of this when despairing on his situation with Kai), and death is really a constant presence. I found teenager Hanno's (implicit) preoccupation with death quite touching.
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Old 08-05-2013, 02:10 AM   #101
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I have just finished also. Medicine and death: yes I agree with you, paola, that they are recurring themes, particularly of course towards the end of the book. Aren't we lucky to have antibiotics!

Hanno's day at school must have been based on Thomas Mann's own experiences. I hated high school, but I have to admit his was even worse than mine! It's a wonder anyone could ever learn anything in such a place.

I definitely enjoyed that last part much more than the earlier sections, and I am sure this is because of the greater exploration of the inner lives of some of the characters. I don't know that I would recommend it to anyone else to read though.
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Old 08-05-2013, 05:02 AM   #102
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Hanno's day at school was actually one of the sections I didn't like much, but it ended up somewhere really special, the improvisation scene. That was wow. And to be followed by the description of typhoid. I found it very effective.
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Old 08-09-2013, 05:01 AM   #103
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I would agree with Bookworm_Girl that Tony is one of the more interesting characters.

She always seemed to have the potential to change and develop as a person. During her experience with Morton I felt that her personality was developing but since she went with the family advice and married Grunlich her character seems to be flattening out. She has lost the opportunity to grow, develop. become a person in herself--to individuate--now she can only stagnate in a role. Perhaps one could see Tony as encapsulating in miniature the declining fortunes of the family over the generations.

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Old 08-09-2013, 08:31 AM   #104
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Yes I agree with you, fantasyfan, because there was this requirement to sacrifice oneself for the greater good of the family and the firm. Being happy and true to oneself was of no importance compared with appearances and what others would think. I'm thinking here particularly of the matter of Tony's second husband, with Thomas wanting her to go back to him rather than expose them all to the scandal of a second divorce.

I'm not sure how far along you are with the story, so I'll use the Spoiler.

Spoiler:
I think we are shown that Thomas was living his whole life under enormous strain, keeping up appearances at immense personal cost, so that in the end, it killed him. He was one of those to whom Thoreau referred, leading a life of quiet desperation.

At least he recognised that Hanno would never be able to do it, and it was an example of his faulty judgement that he chose the worst possible person to manage the wind-up of the business.
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Old 08-09-2013, 09:15 AM   #105
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Spoiler:
it was an example of his faulty judgement that he chose the worst possible person to manage the wind-up of the business.
Regarding the matter in the spoiler, to me it was an example of how Mann stacked the deck and unfairly, I think. Johann was able; it strained my credulity that he would be deceived by Grünlich's fake books, or that there wasn't scuttlebutt about the real nature of his business that he would have heard. And of course the crop Thomas bought was destroyed by hail, who was surprised? There was an inevitability about it all and fair enough in the sense that the family was played out, but there were too many instances of the worst possible outcome.

Thomas may have wanted Tony to stay with Permaneder to avoid scandal, but I think that would have been the better choice for her and perhaps that was an element in his advice. She liked Permaneder well enough her first trip to Munich (although the reader could only see him as a buffoon and knew it would end badly) and while he didn't live up to her expectations (or vice versa), she still had an establishment and the dignity of being a married woman, a better life than skulking in her mother's house and feeling snubbed whenever she left it. And Permaneder of course turned out to be a decent guy and there was the implication that Tony regretted her choice at times. Tony demonstrated little agency, but rejecting Thomas's advice was the absolute wrong time for her to find a spine.
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