The novel portrays the fate of a patrician family in Lübeck between 1835 and 1877. Over four generations the family’s “decline” accelerates as the men become increasingly alienated from their inherited profession as merchants due to their increasing refinement and attraction to the life of the mind (music, philosophy). Their lifespan decreases from generation to generation. Along with her brothers Thomas and Christian, Tony Buddenbrooks belongs to the third generation and ultimately proves the most vital and hardy of the siblings. But she too is forced to make sacrifices. Shortly after coming of age she faces pressure from her family to marry a man she does not love, Bendix Grünlich, who is presented almost as a caricature of a businessman. However, Tony is permitted a brief hiatus in Travemünde, where she finds true love for only time in her life, a relationship she subsequently sacrifices for the “firm.”
When writing about himself, Thomas Mann frequently refers to Buddenbrooks, his most popular novel and the one that saw his breakthrough as an author. The texts Bilse und ich (1906) and Lübeck als Geistige Lebensform (1926) are essential reading for any interpretation of Buddenbrooks. In both these texts Mann argues against an overly ‘realistic,’ autobiographic interpretation of the novel and particularly against seeing the work as somehow “peeking” into Lübeck society. In his portrayal of student-fraternity (Burschenschaft) member Morten Schwarzkopf, Mann seems to have drawn on the work of esteemed Danish literary critic Georg Brandes: Die Hauptströmungen der Literatur des 19. Jahrhunderts (Danish 1871 ff, German 1897, see vol.6: Das Junge Deutschland)
Nobel Prize 1929 “in particular for [...] Buddenbrooks [...] as a classic work of modern times“, by 1930 the number of copies published had crossed the one-million mark.
Hans Peter Neureuter
On a symbolic level the Baltic Sea—like love—comes to represent Tony’s experience of the infinite, the sea becomes the experience of the endless abyss.
Thomas Mann: Buddenbrooks. Verfall einer Familie. Novel. Edited and revised by Eckhard Heftrich in cooperation with Stephan Stachorski and Herbert Lehnert.Große kommentierte Frankfurter Ausgabe. Werke – Briefe – Tagebücher, vol. 1.1, p.145-158 (part 3, chapters 8-9); Kommentarband 1.2; Frankfurt am Main 2002.
|English||1935||Helen Tracy Lowe-Porter|
|English||1994||John E. Woods|
|Icelandic||1999||Þorbjörg Bjarnar Friðriksdó́ttir|
|Latvian||1929||Lizete Skalbe, Kārlis Štrāls, Zelma Kroder|
|Polish||1971||Ewa Librowiczowa, rev. by Jan Bokiewicz, Wojciech Freudenreich|
|Russian||1935||V. A. Zorgenfreja|
|Swedish||1952||Walborg Hedberg, rev. by Irma Nordvang|
|Swedish||1975||Walborg Hedberg, rev. by Nils Holmberg|