Disorder and Early Love: The Eroticism of Thomas Mann (Anglais) Broché – 1 août 2011
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Elena Danielson's Reviews > Disorder and Early Love: The Eroticism of Thomas Mann
Disorder and Early Love by Wolfgang Lederer
Disorder and Early Love: The Eroticism of Thomas Mann
by Wolfgang Lederer
Elena Danielson's review
Jul 11, 15 · edit
3 of 5 stars
Read from June 12 to July 11, 2015
I am finished with "Disorder and Early Love," --all about eroticism in the life and works of Thomas Mann. I finished all 1357 pages. My Bible has 984 pages, but then Wolfgang Lederer and Thomas Mann have more to say than God. And Lederer emphasizes several times that he is only following the one theme of homoerotic attraction through the biography and writings and that there are many more themes...it could have been longer. Don't try to read this book in bed, it is way too heavy even as a paperback. And don't read this book until you have read some of Mann's works first, with an open and unencumbered mind, since the thorough plot summaries are what goodreads decries as "spoilers." WL not only summarizes the early fragmentary stories and later mammoth novels, he combs through Mann's massive diaries and correspondence, and the writings of his brother Heinrich and son Klaus, and contemporary writers such as Herman Bang. (Who?) Lederer knows German literature well enough to spot the cunning digs that Thomas and Heinrich take at each others expense,-- veiled in paraphrases from great German cultural figures such as Goethe and Schiller. They could and did decode each others artfully clothed insults. And what a relationship they had, a fierce love-hate competition their whole lives. When Heinrich finally dies in exile, a ward of his brother, Thomas is simply relieved and writes beautiful words about his brother's great talent.
There are many mysteries here. The biggest is how the scholarly community missed the centrality of homosexual love in Mann's life and work until Mann's closed diaries were opened 20 years after his death. In retrospect "Death in Venice" (written in 1911 already) pretty much sums it all up early on. His brilliant career in the US in the World War II era would have been simply impossible if he had been totally out of the closet. But he knew how to sublimate his emotions and mine them for best selling, Nobel quality novels and still avoid offending the general public, even in the more squeamish US, by carefully calibrating his language in his fiction to the ethos of the era and burnishing his life story in a most compelling and attractive manner. From 9am to 12 noon during war and peace, he wrote his gay heart out. Then in the afternoon he worked tirelessly first in Germany, then Switzerland, then the US to help the victims of the Nazi madness. He helped hundreds of refugees find jobs and a foothold even in the chaos of war. He wrote a letter of recommendation that got my professor, Walter Sokel, an Austrian Jew, into the university in the US and launched his career. Mann's reputation in the US was finally brought down, not by hints of moral turpitude but by totally ludicrous accusations of communist sympathies. In the Hoover Archives I've seen letters by influential public intellectuals like Sidney Hook denouncing Mann. He was famous for the wrong reasons, and he was denounced for the wrong reasons, but he was a great popular success, and an uncompromising moral beacon during the catastrophic Nazi years.
Just as mysterious as his well-deserved but misunderstood fame, is the figure of his beloved wife Katia, mother of his astonishingly talented and tragic children, six of them,-- two of whom committed suicide, like his sister Carla. Katia was his anchor in life, first emotionally and financially, then with an intrepid pragmatism. Her family fortune and her annuity helped establish his financial security in the beginning, something his brother Heinrich never had. But that money ran out, and in the end his royalties secured the financial stability of the extended family through the chaos of war and exile. In World War I and the starvation that followed, she was the one who rode out on her bicycle in search of eggs and cheese to feed to children. All along she was the one who enabled him to work, preserved his serenity, listened to readings of every draft of every chapter he wrote, who found their homes in exile, who understood his infatuations with young boys without the least sign of impatience, who cared for his difficult children, and nursed his difficult brother.
After reading Lederer's book I think I have a notion of how Thomas Mann created his masterpieces out of his own emotional wreckage. I have no idea how Katia Mann did what she did. She was determined to keep her secrets...she was also successful.
The book is basically the raw material for a masterpiece of psychiatric literary criticism. It will probably never be properly edited and proofread. It is painful to see all the typos ("incling" and "Pottsdam"). It is a self-published volume and not picked up by very many libraries. But it is the raw material for a wonderful book that has not been written yet.