Who is Thomas Mann?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Sara Z. Potter
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2019
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Thomas Mann was a German writer and Nobel Prize laureate of the 20th century. He penned many classics of world literature, including the novellas Death in Venice and Tristan and such novels as The Magic Mountain and Doctor Faustus. His lengthy, elegant sentences make him a somewhat difficult but rewarding read, and his psychological and political themes resonate with many readers.

Thomas Mann was born in Lubeck, Germany, the setting for his first novel, Buddenbrooks, on 6 June 1875. His father was a senator and grain merchant from a Lubeck family, and his mother was a Creole woman born in Brazil. In 1891, Mann's father died and the family moved to Munich. Mann attended the University of Munich, studying art history, economics, history, and literature in preparation for a career as a journalist. However, he was not cut out for formal education.

Before beginning his career as a writer, Thomas Mann spent a year in Italy with his older brother Heinrich, also a writer, and spent another year working for the South German Fire Insurance Company. Shortly thereafter, he began writing for the magazine Simplicissimus. His first short story, "Little Herr Friedman," was published in 1898. His first novel, Buddenbrookks, largely based on his own family and hometown, appeared in 1901.


In 1905, Thomas Mann married Katia Pringsheim, the daughter of prominent Jewish intellectuals; the couple went on to have six children. Mann continued writing brilliant and popular novels and novellas, and in 1929 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. When Hitler came into power in 1933, Thomas and Katia were on vacation in Switzerland, and at the urging of their eldest son Klaus, they did not return to Germany. In the early days of the Nazi Party, Mann had been very vocal against them, speaking publicly in Berlin against their policies and publishing numerous essays on the theme. During the Third Reich, Mann's books were among those burned by the Nazis, and his honorary doctorate was revoked by the University of Bonn, though later reinstituted in 1946.

Mann never returned to Germany as a resident, and he moved to the United States with his family in 1939. He taught at Princeton University and moved to the Pacific Palisades in California in 1942. Two years later he became an American citizen and continued to reside in California until 1952, when he relocated to Switzerland. In 1949, Mann visited Germany to participate in celebrations of the 200th birthday of Goethe, one of his major influences as a writer. He was also awarded two Goethe Prizes on this occasion.


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