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Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn As Told by a Friend Paperback – July 27, 1999
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From the Inside Flap
"John E. Woods is revising our impression of Thomas Mann, masterpiece by masterpiece." --The New Yorker
"Doctor Faustus is Mann's deepest artistic gesture. . . . Finely translated by John E. Woods." --The New Republic
Thomas Mann's last great novel, first published in 1947 and now newly rendered into English by acclaimed translator John E. Woods, is a modern reworking of the Faust legend, in which Germany sells its soul to the Devil. Mann's protagonist, the composer Adrian Leverkuhn, is the flower of German culture, a brilliant, isolated, overreaching figure, his radical new music a breakneck game played by art at the very edge of impossibility. In return for twenty-four years of unparalleled musical accomplishment, he bargains away his soul--and the ability to love his fellow man.
Leverkuhn's life story is a brilliant allegory of the rise of the Third Reich, of Germany's renunciation of its own humanity and its embrace of ambition and nihilism. It is also Mann's most profound meditation on the German genius--both national and individual--and the terrible responsibilities of the truly great artist.
About the Author
Thomas Mann was born in 1875 in Germany. He was only twenty-five when his first novel, Buddenbrooks, was published. In 1924 The Magic Mountain was published, and, five years later, Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Following the rise of the Nazis to power, he left Germany for good in 1933 to live in Switzerland and then in California, where he wrote Doctor Faustus (first published in the United States in 1948). Thomas Mann died in 1955.
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My eyesight now is compromised, however, and I would so much like to have the Kindle edition so I can read it again with larger fonts. I urge Amazon to re-release this book, no matter if it's not quite perfect. It has certainly not lost it's relevancy today.
While reading this great book, one must be prepared to deal with layers upoon layers of finely woven details, which create a rich tapestry of German life and thought.
The scale of the book certainly compares in its sweeping scope to Mann's early great novel "The Magic Mountain".
"Dr. Faustus . . ." is definately one of the most important books of the 20th century.
But, I get ahead of myself, as frequently does the lovable, avuncular narrator of this novel, whose name translates roughly as Serene Historian, or something of that sort: Serenus Zeitblom. He is clearly a persona of Herr Mann himself, whom I wish I'd been able to meet to tell him in my Holden Caulfield way how much I like his books. Herr Professor Zeitblom is a philoligist, a scholar of languages, and, by extension, of culture; he is a very astute observer of Western European culture and civilization during the period from the late Nineteenth Century to the middle of the last century, a very important period in the life of his beloved Germany. He's a champion of reason and open-minded humanism, and is a very affable and interesting companion in your journey of 534 deeply packed pages. You thought Dostoevski's deep.... Oh, by the way, the devil dialogue in Chapter 25 is quite reminiscent of Dostoevski's devilish monk in the "Grand Inquisitor" chapter in his BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, and the fact that our narraror here is a philologist is a clear reference to philosopher Friedrich Nietzche,whose interest in both theology and music is mirrored in Mann's composer/hero; and Nietzche's behavior in a brothel is also exactly mirrored by the hero in Mann's novel, Adrian Leverkuhn, who is lured to the bordello by a devil-figure, one among many in this book. Another such persona of Old Scratch is a certain Professor Eberhard Schleppfuss ("Drag-foot") who teaches theology at the University of Halle. Mann has great fun with many of the names of his characters, and, in fact, in this "novel of ideas," many of the characters are more representations of philosophical points than fully fleshed out people. But, our kindly uncle Zeitblom manages to hold everything together and move all along to the tragic end.
There are also a great many musical references and meanings, as we would expect in a novel in which the hero is a composer (or, "tone-setter," or "arranger of sound" in the original German subtitle.) For example, the fact that the composer Leverkuhn has to give up love due to his pact with the Devil, which is supposed to give him great genius (power), is certainly a reference to the character of the dwarf Alberich in Wagner's music drama DAS RHEINGOLD. And, of course, with the Wagner reference we have a hint of Hitler and his Nazi Party, the precursors of which, Dietrich Eckart and the Thule Society, is referred to in Chapter 34's continuation in thinly veiled ways.
The fictious musical work of our composer-hero called THE LAMENTATION OF DOKTOR FAUSTUS seems to be a reflection of an actual work by the real composer Ernst Krenek called LAMENTATIO JEREMIAE PROPHETAE, which is available on several recordings, and Leverkuhn's visit to the Italian town of Palestrina (scene of the devil dialogue in Chpt. 25) is probably a reference to an opera of Hans Pfitzner called PALESTRINA which is about the great Renaissance composer of that name.
Finally, what is this massive book about? I haven't told you half of the complicated, ingenious inter-relationships of ideas and themes contained. I'll hazard a remark, though. This "cathedral of a book" is about nothing less than the questions of the origins of human culture and society and the relationship of the individual (genius) to the whole, and the meaning and value of all that. It is an impassioned call to at least attempt to save as much of this culture as possible and to pass it on to the world of the future, whatever that may be. And over it all, I see a continued faith in human culture and in "humanism" and an open-minded approach to life, which is itself, and will remain, a mystery.
Finally, I'd like to recommend a few books and other sources which you may find useful. The first is THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO THOMAS MANN, edited by Ritchie Robertson, published by Cambridge UP, 2002. Next is UNDERSTANDING THOMAS MANN by Hannelore Mundt, published by the University of South Carolina Press. Also useful is the MODERN CRITICAL VIEWS collection of essays called THOMAS MANN, edited by Harold Bloom, published by Chelsea House in 1986. Finally, you may like THE READER'S COMPANION TO WORLD LITERATURE, edited by Lillian H. Hornstein, et al., published by Mentor. In addition, you should watch Leonard Bernstein's Harvard lecture series called THE UNANSWERED QUESTION, available on DVD. He discusses the topic of the crisis of tonality in music in the Twentieth Century, which is one of the important topics of Mann's novel, and Bernstein focuses on the work of Schoenberg and Theodor Adorno, two major influences on Mann's writing about music in this book.