June 6, 1875 – Thomas Mann:
June 6, 1875 – Thomas Mann:
“Everything Is Politics.”
Thomas Mann is perhaps the greatest German novelist of the 20th century.
In 1930, Nobel laureate Mann gave a speech in Berlin titled An Appeal to Reason, strongly denouncing the growing Nazi movement and encouraging resistance by the working-class. He followed with numerous essays and lectures in which he attacked the Nazis. In 1933, when the Nazis came to power, Mann was on holiday in Switzerland. Because of his condemnation of the Nazis, his family advised him not to return. Yet, Mann’s books were not among those burnt publicly by Adolf Hitler‘s regime in May 1933, possibly because he won that Nobel Prize in literature for 1929. In 1936, the Nazi government officially revoked his German citizenship.
In 1942, the Mann family moved to Los Angeles. They were prominent members of the German expatriate community in Hollywood. Mann became an American in 1947.
During World War II, Mann made a series of very strong anti-Nazi radio speeches, Deutsche Hörer! (German listeners!). They were recorded on tape and then sent to England, where the BBC transmitted them, hoping to reach German listeners. Ironically, the FBI kept a file on Mann from the late 1920s until his death in 1955, primarily to track any communist leanings.
In 1975, 25 years after his death, Mann’s diaries fully revealed the extent of his queer desires. He married a woman when he was 30 years old and he fathered six children, yet Mann considered Paul Ehrenberg, a painter and violinist, who was younger by two decades, to be the true great love of his life. Similarly, a real-life infatuation with a Polish boy inspired him to write his classic novel of gay yearning, Death In Venice (1912).
In Death In Venice, an older man’s hopeless affection for a young boy leads to tragedy. In the summer of 1911, Mann had been staying at the Grand Hôtel des Bains on the Lido of Venice with his wife and brother when he became enraptured by the angelic Władysław Moes, an adolescent Polish lad.
Papers that were unsealed two decades after his death revealed that Mann had been exclusively homosexual through his 20s, and that he remained intensely attracted to men throughout his life. His diaries tell of his struggle with his queerness. Shattered by the failure of his relationship with Ehrenberg, Mann tried marriage, repressing his gay yearnings for decades.
In 1950, at 75 years old, Mann met a 19-year-old waiter, Franz Westermeier, writing in his diary “Once again this, once again love”. When Mann’s diaries were published, creating a national sensation in Germany, the retired Westermeier was tracked down in Los Angeles. He said he was flattered to learn he had been the object of Mann’s obsession, but also shocked at its depth.
Although Mann always denied his novels were autobiographical, the unsealing of his diaries revealed how consumed his life had been with unrequited and sublimated gay passion.
Mann’s diaries were embellished by entries about shirtless gardeners, soldiers, and even his own son Klaus who was a gay drug addict who ultimately committed suicide, as did another of his sons. All of Mann’s children became an artistic or literary figure.
Mann achieved a cult status during his lifetime, and it seems to have intensified after his death. His most ardent straight fans chose to dismiss his gayness as probable gossip or wishful thinking on the part of Mann’s queer fans. The publication of his diaries put an end to that.
There are gay themes in most of his works, including: The Magic Mountain (1924), Mario And The Magician (1930), Doctor Faustus (1947), The Deceived (1939), and The Confessions of Felix Krull (1954). In nearly all cases, the gay characters die, because Mann believed openly gay people would kill society and destroy the individual, even though he felt homoeroticism was artistically necessary. No surprise, Mann’s relationship with his three queer children, Klaus, Golo, and Erika was very complicated.
The last three years of his life were spent in a town close to Zürich, Switzerland.
Death In Venice has adapted to both a 1971 film and an opera by gay composer Benjamin Britten in the early 1970s. It is Britten’s last opera. The opera is unusual in that it is written for only three singers: a tenor (Von Aschenbach), a counter-tenor (the voice of Apollo) and a baritone who covers all the other roles; the young Tadzio (the object of Von Aschenbach’s lustful obsession) and his family are portrayed by dancers.
The film is directed in Panavision and Technicolor by gay filmmaker Luchino Visconti, starring gay Dirk Bogarde and Björn Andrésen. It’s gorgeous. Bogarde wrote that after the finished film was screened for them by Visconti in Los Angeles, the Warner Bros. executives wanted to write off the project, fearing it would be banned in the United States for obscenity because of its subject matter. They eventually relented when a gala premiere of Death in Venice was organized in London, with the Royal Family attending, to gather funds for the city of Venice.
Mann’s short story Disillusionment (1896) is the basis for the Leiber and Stoller song Is That All There Is? recorded in 1969 by Miss Peggy Lee. His novel The Buddenbrooks (1901) has been adapted to film in 1923, 1959, and 2008 by the krauts. Confessions of Felix Krull (1954) was adapted by a West German production in 1959, as was Doctor Faustus (1949) in 1982, and a Russian production in 2011. Lotte In Weimar (1975) is an East German film based on the novel, Lotte In Weimar: The Beloved Returns (1939) by Mann. The Magic Mountain (1924) was adapted to film in 1982 and 1994.