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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Buddenbrooks (1901)by Thomas Mann

Book Review
Buddenbrooks
p. 1901
by Thomas Mann

  Looks like I am also 20% through my 1001 Books Project (reading all 1001 Books in the book 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.)  Only 800 additional books to go!  I decided to check because the 604 pages of Buddenbrooks, called "the last and greatest achievements of the European realist novel;" in the accompanying essay to the listing in my copy of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, had me in a reflective mode.

 I would go so far to say that if you can read Buddenbrooks without being plunged into a fit of reflective melancholy, you have a stronger constitution than I, because Buddenbrooks, with its intimate portrayal of the decline and fall of an upper-middle classs German trading family, is fairly designed to evoke contemplative thought.  The main generation in this multi-generational saga of the family Buddenbrooks consists of a "responsible" brother, a "ne-er do well" brother, and two sisters, one of whom marries ok (but dies young) and one of whom marries poorly. Most of the action revolves around the poorly marrying sister (Tony) and the responsible brother (Thomas.)

  Keeping track of every plot detail and personality can be as onerous in Buddenbrooks as it is in a Dostoevsky novel- Mann seemingly delights in the various formalities and intractices of names and titles as a way to draw out the class structure that runs through Buddenbrooks.  To call this the "greatest achievement of the European realist novel" would require drawing such a category extremely narrowly.  I'm assuming it excludes Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and includes Zola and Fontaine.

  There is no denying the incredible artfulness of every facet of Buddenbrooks- even in English translation the careful attention to every detail fairly sings out, but as a book published in 1901 it clearly belongs to the prior century, or the end of the "long 19th century" (ending after World War I) but not to the modern period, and it is hard to say where the Audience for Buddenbrooks exists outside of the PBS/BBC miniseries/Masterpiece Theater crowd.

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