MEPHISTO by Klaus Mann


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A literary curiosity: a novel written in 1936 by Thomas Mann's son that's been banned these last number of years in Germany as libelous. Mann's brother-in-law, his sister's husband, was the ostensible prototype for the book's Hendrik Hofgen, a provincial actor who, by the agencies of a ""dirty"" smile, some natural talent, and the moral backbone of an amoeba, is able to rise through the miasma of the German Thirties to the position of State Theatre Director for the Nazis, directly under the sheltering wing of Goring himself. That Hofgen keeps a black mistress, Juliette, who regularly whips him, that he's toyed with Communism in order to keep contact with those on the outs in case they eventually get in--none of this matters once he moves himself onto the Berlin Stage in Faust and gives the Nazis a Mephistopheles to love, a ""rascal"" whose evil is endearing. Now suddenly on the heights, Hendrik's a swine who means to stay there; denunciations, jailings, killing await those in his past who threaten his position with compromising memories. Mann is quoted in the publisher's introduction as having intended to ""analyze the abject type of treacherous intellectual who prostitutes his talent for the sake of some tawdry fame and transitory wealth""--but the objective is clear enough from the texture of the writing; italicized invective and jeremiad breaks into the narrative, as though Mann couldn't hold back his rage and disgust. Not a calorie is spent on making Hendrik even a jot sympathetic or human: he's a monster plain and simple. Strangely, the fact that the book has an agreed-upon real-life skeleton makes it moderately compelling. As a novel, its harsh artless Expressionism leaves a clumsy mark; but as a knife-thrust into a real belly, the book fashions a genuine, albeit footnote-size, drama of passionate enmity.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 1977
ISBN: 0140189181
Publisher: Random House