Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family. Thomas Mann. New York, London: Everyman’s Library Alfred A. Knopf. 1901 (1994).
Why read it? Novel. The study of how a middle-class, prosperous family of businessmen in Germany declines in prosperity: the origin, causes and progression of decadence in the family, a transformation of the male heirs from the hard-headed spirit of business and reality to the spirit of escape from the world into beauty through art. The novel begins with the sumptuous dinner at the Buddenbrooks’ elegant and substantial house that illustrates the prosperousness of the family and ends with the death by typhoid of the last male heir, the sickly, fifteen-year-old Hanno whose sole love was music…. “To produce an artist is the end of a bourgeois business family….”
Thomas Buddenbrook traces the history of everyman, from youthful energy, to hard-working community servant, to enervated, dejected, dispirited, conscious-of failure-in-life, old age. The code of the Buddenbrooks is to do one’s duty to the family and to sacrifice one’s individual happiness to the prosperity of the family. The failure of the disciplined life and adoption of the code of art and beauty leads to the end of the Buddenbrook business and family.”
Some sample quotes:
“…the spectacle of decadence and art emerging from bourgeois banality….” p. xvi. ………. Nietzsche: “Every good book that is written against life is still an enticement to life.” p. xxii. ………. “Yes, this was certainly the right kind of match; but Herr Grunlich, of all people. She pictured him and his tawny whiskers, his pink smiling face, that wart beside his nose, his mincing steps; she thought she could feel his wool suit, hear his bland voice.” p. 103. ………. “And if she wants to wait until someone comes along who is both handsome and a good match—well, God help us all!” p. 109. ……….”Isn’t it remarkable…how you can’t get bored at the beach? Try lying on your back for three or four hours anywhere else—not doing anything, not thinking about anything.” p. 138. ……….
“My Christian convictions, dear daughter, tell me it is our duty to have regard for the feelings of others, for we do not know whether one day you may not be answerable before the highest judge because the man you have stubbornly and coldly scorned has been guilty of the sin of taking his own life.” p. 143. ………. “We are not born, my dear daughter, to pursue our own small personal happiness, for we are not separate, independent, self-subsisting individuals, but links in a chain; and it is inconceivable that we would be what we are without those who have preceded us and shown us the path that they themselves have scrupulously trod, looking neither to the left, nor to the right but, rather, following a venerable and trustworthy tradition.” p. 144. ………. “Tony had the lovely knack of being able to adapt readily to any situation in life simply by tackling its new possibilities.” p. 227.
“God strike me, but sometimes I doubt there is any justice, any goodness, I doubt it all. Life, you see, crushes things deep inside us. It shatters our faith.” p. 730.
An interesting theory about the relationship between business and art. What are its implications? RayS.