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Mann, Klaus (1906-1949)  

Klaus Mann's vision of homosexuality is marked by loneliness and alienation, and his fiction is characterized by melancholic hopelessness.

The oldest son of Thomas Mann's six children, Klaus received an education in alternative schools and began writing fiction at an early age. In the 1920s, he became a well-known representative, as author and anthologist, of the new German writers describing a generation adrift in metropolitan life. In the 1930s, he became a leader in the cultural resistance to fascism.

His relationship with his father was difficult, in part due to the father's greater talent and in part due to the son's greater ability to accept and live out his homosexual desires. But Klaus Mann's vision of homosexuality is marked by loneliness and alienation. In his autobiography, The Turning Point (1942), Mann wrote: "To be an outsider is the one unbearable humiliation."

That belief shaped his portrayal of male and female homosexual characters. In his fiction, same-sex love ends or bears no hope of success, for those involved switch their affections to a heterosexual love object (Anja und Esther [Anja and Esther, 1925]), literally succumb to the futility of such relationships and die (Alexander, 1930), or continue to suffer a lonely existence (Vor dem Leben [Before Life, 1925]).

His most hopeful novel, Der fromme Tanz (The Pious Dance, 1926), promotes a utopian vision of platonic male friendship, hard work, and unrealized . Often, homosexuality functions as a symbol of the decadence Mann saw within his own generation and time. In Der Vulkan (The Volcano, 1939), a budding love is destroyed by the drug addiction of one of the young men. His most openly homosexual novel, Windy Night, Rainy Morrow (also called Peter and Paul, 1947), remained unfinished at his death.

Trapped within the possibilities allowed by his day, his homosexual characters cannot break the bonds of being always the Other. These figures often bear the stamp of Magnus Hirschfeld's "Third Sex" theory: Male homosexuals are usually rather effeminate artistic types, and lesbians are masculinized females. They may revel in their position beyond the reach of bourgeois society, but they go to pieces because of it.

This is also true of Klaus Mann's heterosexual characters, but their demise into the demimonde of drugs and desire or their otherwise tragic existence is not due to their sexuality or sexual identity.

The melancholic hopelessness in his fiction stands in contrast to Mann's nonfiction works (for example, Andre Gide and the Crisis of Modern Thought, 1943) and to his involvement with the U.S. Army (as a journalist and translator) in working toward the defeat of Nazism and toward a more egalitarian future. His essay on the attacks used by the left in an attempt to discredit the Nazis--"Homosexualität und Faschismus" ("Homosexuality and Fascism," 1934)--is often cited as one of key gay texts of the early 1930s.

In exile after 1933, he turned to the past, specifically to the homosexual past for inspiration of his novels: Alexander, Symphonie Pathétique (Pathetic Symphony, 1935), Vergittertes Fenster (Barred Window, 1937). These great men from the homosexual pantheon--Alexander the Great, Tchaikovsky, and King Ludwig II of Bavaria--function as lonely figures whose love separates them from their societies.

His fictional view seems to reveal his own personal truth, for Klaus Mann chose to commit suicide.

Klaus Mann has long been seen as the son of Germany's most famous twentieth-century author, as someone who wrote too quickly and superficially, and as a homosexual whose suicide fit the script for literary homosexuals. In recent decades, critics--mostly gay critics in Germany--have found much more than the tragic, but talented homosexual son. Through new studies, a biography, and the publication of his diaries, a truer picture has developed. Klaus Mann stands now on his own, as gay German author, critic, and activist.

James W. Jones


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   Related Entries
literature >> Overview:  German and Austrian Literature: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

With major periodic setbacks, over the last two centuries German-speaking authors have gradually developed a gay and lesbian positive literature.

social sciences >> Overview:  Nazism and the Holocaust

As part of its agenda to preserve an "Aryan master race," Nazism persecuted homosexuals as "asocial parasites"; more than 100,000 men were arrested on homosexual charges during the Nazi years, with 5,000-15,000 gay men incarcerated in concentration camps.

literature >> Overview:  Novel: Gay Male

Since World War II, the gay male novel has progressively flourished in England and especially in America.

social sciences >> Overview:  Switzerland

Switzerland is a very cosmopolitan nation with a vibrant glbtq community, but it has lagged behind much of Europe, particularly the Nordic countries, when it comes to assuring equal rights.

social sciences >> Overview:  Third Sex

The relative popularity of the term "third sex" to refer to homosexuals is closely connected to its use by some of the most prominent representatives of the early homosexual rights movement in Germany.

social sciences >> Alexander the Great

One of the most fascinating men of all times, Alexander the Great was not only a great soldier and conqueror, he was also renowned for his love of Hephaestion.

social sciences >> Hirschfeld, Magnus

German-born Magnus Hirschfeld deserves recognition as a significant theorist of sexuality and the most prominent advocate of homosexual emancipation of his time.

social sciences >> Ludwig II of Bavaria

Best known for his enthusiastic patronage of Richard Wagner and for his fabulous castles, Ludwig II of Bavaria withdrew from public life, perhaps in part due to the impossibility of living openly as a gay man.

arts >> Mann, Erika

Writer, actress, and intellectual refugee from the Third Reich, Erika Mann was one of the twentieth century's most intriguing nonconformists, noted especially for her anti-fascist cabaret satire.

literature >> Mann, Thomas

One of Germany's greatest twentieth-century authors, Thomas Mann encoded his own homosexuality in his novels but thought that homosexuality led to the destruction of social institutions and the death of the individual homosexual.

literature >> Roditi, Edouard

Poet, translator, literary and art critic, and short story writer, Edouard Roditi was associated with most of the twentieth-century's avant-garde literary movements from Surrealism to post-modernism.

literature >> Schwarzenbach, Annemarie

Swiss writer and photojournalist Annemarie Schwarzenbach documented social conditions from Afghanistan to Alabama; her fiction reflected the tormented attachments and recurring loneliness that plagued her short lifetime.

arts >> Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilich

One of the greatest composers in the history of music, Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky inspired a cult of gay admirers who detected in his work themes of forbidden love.


Dirschauer, Wilfried, ed. Klaus Mann und das Exil. Worms: Georg Heintz, 1973.

Grünewald, Michael. Klaus Mann, 1906-1949: Eine Bibliographie. Munich: Edition Spangenberg, 1984.

Härle, Gerhard. Männerweiblichkeit. Zur Homosexualität bei Klaus und Thomas Mann. Frankfurt a.M.: Athenäum, 1988.

Kröhnke, Friedrich. Propaganda für Klaus Mann. Frankfurt a.M.: Materialis, 1981.

Kroll, Frederic, ed. Klaus-Mann-Schriftenreihe. Vols. 1-5. Wiesbaden: Edition Klaus Blahak, 1976-1986.

Wolfram, Suzanne. Die tödliche Wunde: Über die Untrennbarkeit von Tod und Eros im Werk von Klaus Mann. Franfurt a.M.: Peter Lang, 1986.

Zynda, Stefan. Sexualität bei Klaus Mann. Bonn: Bouvier Verlag Herbert Grundmann, 1986.


    Citation Information
    Author: Jones, James W.  
    Entry Title: Mann, Klaus  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 8, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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