“Buddenbrooks”, analysis of the novel by Thomas Mann

The novel “Buddenbrooks” was begun by Thomas Mann in October 1896. Initially, the writer planned to reflect in him the history of his family (mainly older relatives), but over time, the biographical narrative grew into an artistic one and spread to four generations of people connected by one common family history. On July 18, 1900 the novel was completed, in 1901 it was published, in 1929 it was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.

The “Buddenbrooks” are closely interwoven features of a realistic, historical, psychological and family romance. The central idea of the work – the destruction of the old bourgeois order – is revealed by the example of the degeneration of the classical merchant family living in the German merchant city of Lübeck. The duration of the novel covers the period from the autumn of 1835 to the end of the 70s of the XIX century (it is difficult to establish the exact date, since after the last, dated in the autumn of 1876, events from the life of the Buddenbrooks – liquidation of the company, sale of a family house and Gerda’s relocation outside the City Gate , some more time passes).

The work opens with a housewarming scene on the occasion of the acquisition by the Buddenbrooks of a spacious old house that once belonged to the ruined Rathenkamp family, and ends with the sale of not only the “family nest” on Mengstrasse, but also the mansion built by the last head of Johann Buddenbrock, Thomas. Over forty years of life, a prosperous and respected Lübeck family initially grows outwardly (Johann Buddenbrock, who continues the work of his father, is the father of two sons – the impolite Gotthold and the person who piously observes the interests of the business – Johann, who, in turn, has four children – Antonie, Thomas, Christian and Klara, whose life forms the basis of the plot of the Mann novel), and then gradually fades to “no”, degenerating both psychologically and physically.

The cementing basis of the Buddenbrock family – devotion to commercial business is violated every time a sensory beginning is introduced into it (the first marriage of old Johann Buddenbrock, the marriage of his son Gotthold for love in the shopkeeper Stüving, the marriage of Christian to courtesan Alina, etc.) or new blood ( aristocratic – Elizabeth Kraeger, artistic – Gerdy Arnoldsen, etc.). Trading, rational nature does not withstand interaction or confusion with spiritual and sensual, far from business principles of attitude to life. This is made clear by the example of the third generation of the Buddenbrock family, each representative of which becomes a dead end branch both for preserving the family name and business.

The eldest daughter of Johann Buddenbrock – Antonie – a romantically-minded girl who reads Hoffmann in her youth and dreams of great love, marries by calculation, and not her own, but her father’s. The calculation is incorrect. Gripping Grunlich turns out to be an ordinary crook. Antony’s marriage breaks up. The second marriage of the heroine, embarked on a respectable, business life, also ends in failure, because she connects her life with a person deprived of entrepreneurial potential. The death of a newborn daughter, which was the “first bell” of the degeneration of the Buddenbrock family, also hinders Antonie reconciling with the cheerful Bavarian Mr. Permander.

Thomas Buddenbrock – the successor of the family business, who headed the company Johann Buddenbrock after the death of his father, only at first glance seems a stable embodiment of the trading spirit. Toward the end of his life, the hero realizes that all this time he, obeying the clan tradition, only played a business man, but was not him. The son of Thomas, born of a music lover, Gerda Arnoldsen is not only far from trading, but also a rough, real world. The boy’s inability to the society around him was visible from childhood: little Hanno was sick a lot, grew up as a very impressionable child and was interested exclusively in music. His death from typhoid fever within the framework of the theme of family degeneration looks completely natural and predictable.

Christian Buddenbrock, from a young age prone to posturing, internal digging and finding non-existent diseases, remains the same in adulthood. He is not capable of either being a companion to a large trading company, or working as an employee. All that Christian is interested in is entertainment, women and himself. The hero understands that he does not correspond to the business spirit of the family, but asks his relatives to be indulgent, vainly invoking their feelings of Christian philanthropy: Thomas accepts his brother as he is, not earlier than recognizing his own weakness. For Christian, he (throughout his life) is a constraining factor: as soon as Thomas dies, the younger Buddenbroke immediately marries a courtesan, takes away part of the hereditary capital from the family and ends up in an insane entrepreneurial wife.

Klara Buddenbrock from birth is a closed, religious, strict type of character. Having married a priest, she does not leave offspring after herself, and dies of brain tuberculosis.

By the time the novel ends, only female representatives of the Buddenbrock family are alive, who are not direct continuers of the family business and have other names: Permaneder (Antonia), Weinshenk (her daughter Erica), the old virgin Clotilde, the illegitimate daughter of Christian Gisela, about whom in the work mentioned briefly and the very fact of its biological relationship to the Buddenbrooks is called into question. The only heir to the family – Ganno Buddenbrook rests in the cemetery. Family-owned company liquidated. House was sold.

The artistic feature of the novel is the alternation of detailed descriptions of events (housewarming in the Buddenbrooks house, the death of Elizabeth Buddenbrook, one day from Ganno’s school life, etc.) with a “fast-forward” story, which is important only in its nominative meaning. The historical signs of the time are expressed in the novel by table talk about the Napoleonic invasion of Germany, the social mood of the 40s, which turned into republican unrest in 1848, and the commercial flourishing of Lübeck that fell on the capitalist development of the country in the 60-70s of the XIX century. The psychological psychology of the novel is manifested in dialogues, descriptions of internal experiences, the most tragic (parting, death, self-awareness of the inner self) or wonderful moments (declaration of love, Christmas celebration, etc.) from the life of the characters.

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