DIARIES, 1918-1939 by Thomas Mann

DIARIES, 1918-1939

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The title is a little misleading--since the great novelist destroyed his 1921-1933 Diaries, as well as all the entries written before 1918. What remains, then, is a section for the years 1918-1921 and another for 1933-1939; and, while the multi-volume German edition is complete, Kesten offers US readers a fractional selection: ""I have never shortened a given entry. Instead I omitted entire entries, especially those containing tedious repetition."" Still, Mann scholars (and, to some extent, students of German political/literary history) will find provocative, eloquent material here, along with the steady fussings of a fastidious man. (""I am also suffering both physically and psychically from the fact that all No. 4 underwear is now too small for me, No. 5 too big,"") In the 1918-21 period Mann reacts passionately to Germany's defeat, to Versailles; he returns to his work on The Magic Mountain (explicating its themes for himself, rather pedantically); he ponders his reluctant enthusiasms for Balzac and Wagner (feeling ""hopelessly at home"" in Parsifal); and he chronicles his moody state-of-mind--ambivalent about his children, mildly disturbed by homoerotic impulses and conjugal impotence. (""Doubtless this stimulation failure can be accounted for by the presence of desires that are directed the other way."") The longer, 1933-1939 section, however, is--at least in Kesten's abridgement--far more singleminded: Mann, traveling constantly in his self-exile from Nazi Germany, rails against Hitler, against those who are too accommodating to Nazism (R. Strauss, Jung). He snatches at each new report from Germany--worrying, raging, fretting over the moral/intellectual exactitude of his own position. And yet, ever given to scraping self-examination, Mann finds himself responding to the appeal of Hitler's racial policies: ""But for all that, might not something deeply significant and revolutionary be taking place in Germany? The Jews . . . Secret, disquieting, persistent musings."" (Other high-interest points of the period: remarks on the Joseph tetralogy and reference to a 1927 homosexual passion--a probable reason for the destruction of some of the diaries.) So, despite the incompleteness and limited annotation (minimal commentary; notes inconveniently placed at the back of the book): a welcome arrival--especially since the late Richard Winston's biographical study (1981) did hot reach the periods touched on here . . . and especially for those intrigued by Mann's politics.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Abrams