WALLENSTEIN: His Life Narrated by Golo Mann

WALLENSTEIN: His Life Narrated

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A decidedly strange book, intended to be the ""definitive biography"" of the Hapsburgs' commander during the first half of the Thirty Years' War, and presented as a literary as well as scholarly achievement. Literary it certainly is, written in an archly antique fashion that sometimes verges on Hilaire Belloc, but also dives into Joycean internal monologue. It is scholarly in the sense that it draws on primary documents--but both its narrative and its interpretation become vexing to readers in search of coherent explanatory efforts. The 17th-century war itself, of course, is a fearsome tangle of religious and national allegiances, and what Mann does put forth is the conventional and probably accurate judgment that Wallenstein was his own man at the beginning, out for personal enrichment and able to make decisions apart from the Catholic Austro-Spanish Emperor he served. When he begins to consider talks with his Swedish and Saxon enemies, Mann simply views it as a possible move toward ""treason,"" rather than an act of statesmanship. ""His ailing, already almost dissolved persona caused excrescences to exfoliate from the core of the visions he carried in his head. . . ."" Concerning the period as a whole, Mann announces that he will play down its horrors and atrocities, and goes so far as to insinuate that Wallenstein's special policy of making his army live on plunder rather than pay was the universal custom of the age. Interestingly, Mann also stresses that Wallenstein was ""by nature a defensive fighter,"" but at book's end we have no firm idea of the general or the human being--Mann having asserted that his character equals his deeds, without really elucidating those deeds. A final objection arises as Mann maintains not only impartiality but indifference toward the Catholic-Protestant schism (though he defends the Jesuits) and dismisses the notion that the Bohemian rebels or other Protestants suppressed by Wallenstein were in some sense more progressive than the Hapsburg forces. A large, challenging study but an ultimately unsatisfactory one.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1976
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston