Questionnaire by Roman Seebeck

A Questionnaire by Roman Seebeck

German studies scholar Roman Seebeck put together a very helpful questionnaire for the first day of #MutuallyMann! When and where was the essay written? Who was involved in the creation of the text and which sources did Thomas Mann use? 

Thomas Mannʼs Essay “Germany and the Germans” (1945) – A Questionnaire

When and where was the essay written?

Written in Pacific Palisades from February 27 to March 18, 1945, Thomas Mann’s reflections on German history and psychology were originally supposed to be the topic of an extensive lecture tour to accompany the author’s work on the novel Doctor Faustus. However, Mann had to give up this idea due to continuing health problems. Instead, only two lectures in Washington, D.C. and New York City were held.

Who was involved in the creation of the text?

Like almost all of the essays Thomas Mann wrote during the time of his American exile, “Germany and the Germans” is the result of a collective work process. First, the manuscript was transcribed by Mann’s secretary Hilde Kahn and then revised again by the author. Afterwards, Erika Mann translated the essay into English after thorough editing. Thomas Mann had also sent the text to his friend and patroness Agnes E. Meyer and Heinrich Mann, who in turn sent him detailed comments. Finally, the lecture was rehearsed and discussed various times in presence of several guests in Pacific Palisades and in family circles in Chicago.

Where and when was the lecture held?

Thanks to Agnes Meyer, Thomas Mann had held a sinecure as a Consultant in Germanic Literature at the Library of Congress in Washington since 1942, which obliged him to give an annual lecture. “Germany and the Germans” was among the lectures given in this context, along with “The Theme of the Joseph Novels” (1942), “The War and the Future” (1943), “Nietzsche’s Philosophy in the Light of Contemporary Events” (1947), and “Goethe and Democracy” (1949). It was held on May 29, 1945, in the Coolidge Auditorium with an introduction by the poet and former head of the Library of Congress Archibald MacLeish. The second lecture followed in a shortened version on June 8, 1945 at Hunter College in New York City.

Which sources did Thomas Mann use?

The essay is closely related to the novel Doctor Faustus. This is shown on the one hand by the fact that that some of the sources used for the novel were also used for the essay (like newspaper clippings, Der Hexenhammer, a legal treatise on witch-hunting from 1486, the 1587 published Historia von D. Johann Fausten), and on the other hand by the fact that some passages of the novel (such as the description of Kaisersaschern) were reused directly for the essay. In addition, Thomas Mann had already been working on several of the topics addressed in the essay for many years, like the antagonism between Luther and Erasmus, which is why he was able to draw on older research for the essay. Among these sources were Stefan Zweig’s Triumph und Tragik des Erasmus von Rotterdam (1934) and Heinrich Heine’s Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland (1834). Nevertheless, the most important source of the lecture was Benedetto Croce’s Geschichte Europas im neunzehnten Jahrhundert (1932), which Mann excerpted in detail in preparation for the lecture.

How does the essay relate to other works of Thomas Mann?

“Germany and the Germans” is along with “Dostoevsky – in Moderation” (1946) and “Nietzsche’s Philosophy in the Light of Contemporary Events” (1947) one of three essays directly related to the novel Doctor Faustus. But the underlying question of how a disastrous tradition of political hostility and world seclusion could develop in Germany is also evident in other essays of Mann’s American exile, such as his radio broadcast Listen, Germany! Furthermore, the essay ties in with the Reflections of an Unpolitical Man from the time of the First World War, in which Mann – albeit with a completely different assessment – also sketches an intellectual and cultural history of Germany. In comparison, “Germany and the Germans” shows very clearly how Mann revised his early nationalist positions in favor of a cosmopolitan and democratic attitude.

How did Thomas Mann himself evaluate “Germany and the Germans”?

Shortly after he had decided to write the essay, Thomas Mann described his project to Agnes Meyer as “an objective, psychological, critical, but by no means purely negative and also self-reflective representation of the German character and fate, of German history […], of the peculiarity, inhibition and difficulty of German relations with the world.” After he had completed “Germany and the Germans,” Mann, who was notoriously critical of his work, noted very self-assured that he considered the essay “to be the best offered in this country.” This impression was further strengthened by the “exceedingly happy course” of his presentation in Washington.                                                                                                                       

Further Reading

 Thomas Mann: Essays V. Deutschland und die Deutschen 1938–1945. Ed. by Hermann Kurzke and Stephan Stachorski. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1996, pp. 433–449.

Stephan Stachorski: “Deutschland und die Deutschen.” Thomas Mann Handbuch. Leben – Werk – Wirkung. Ed. by Andreas Blödorn and Friedhelm Marx. Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler 2015, pp. 171–172.

Hans Rudolf Vaget: Thomas Mann, der Amerikaner. Leben und Werk im amerikanischen Exil 1938–1952. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 2011.

Photo: Thomas Mann at his desk in Pacific Palisades, 1952. Thomas Mann Archives Zurich.

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