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Mann, Thomas (1875-1955)  
 
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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. Winner of the 1929 Nobel Prize for literature, Mann bridges nineteenth-century realist fiction and the twentieth-century modernist style in his novels, short stories, and essays.

Mann was born the second of five children to parents who embodied the duality that would become the central theme of his writing. Thomas Johann Heinrich Mann, his father, was a very successful businessman as well as influential and respected citizen of the North German port of Lübeck.

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His mother, Julia da Silva-Bruhus, was the daughter of a German businessman and a Brazilian mother. Through her, Thomas became interested in music, literature, and art, which, because of his mother's parentage, Mann always associated with Southern cultures and climates. His pragmatism and work ethic derived from the Northern influence of his father, he believed.

When his father died in 1891, at the age of fifty-one, the family business was sold. His father had realized neither Thomas nor his older brother Heinrich would become his successor, as both had shown more interest in literature than in business.

Mann chafed under the rigid order of the college preparatory school he attended in Lübeck and failed two years. Because of this, he completed six of the nine years that comprise the educational sequence in a German Gymnasium and received the lesser diploma of "Mittlere Reife" in 1894. Between 1894 and 1896, he did attend lectures on history, art, and literature at the Technical University in Munich, the city to which his mother had moved in 1892.

Thomas Mann married Katja Pringsheim in 1905, and they had six children, three daughters and three sons. The Mann family contained several extremely gifted members.

His brother Heinrich wrote many novels and dramas, the most well-known of which is the novel Professor Unrat from which the film The Blue Angel was made. His daughter Erika was a stage actress who married W. H. Auden (in order to get British citizenship) and became the caretaker of her father's literary heritage after his death.

His first son Klaus wrote novels, short stories, plays, and essays depicting life for Germany's disaffected bohemian youth in the interwar period. His open homosexuality led to some conflict with his father, who chose to express his homosexual desires in a very different manner. Golo, the second son, became a respected German historian.

For many in the German-speaking world, Mann was the epitome of the "educated burgher," that man of the upper middle class whose comfortable economic status allowed him to acquire not only possessions but a cultural education, a spirit of refinement and good taste. Indeed, his works and his interests reflect such a status. Many of his stories and novels (for example, Buddenbrooks, 1901) depict an upper-middle-class milieu and the concerns of that family life.

Yet Mann struggled against a complete identification with bourgeois society. Indeed, he believed the source of his artistic inspiration lay in a realm antithetical to the bourgeois one he achieved in reality, namely, in the erotic, the sexual, and in particular, within homosexual desire.

Many of Mann's chief works pursue the struggle to maintain a balance between the spheres of the artist and of the everyday, family man. Often at the core of that struggle is one male's urge to love another, an urge that teeters between expression and repression.

In the letter to his friend Count Hermann Keyserling, published as "Über die Ehe" ("About Marriage," 1925), Mann tries to separate the creative and enduring institution of marriage, which creates families and, ultimately, states, from the artistically necessary, but eventually destructive force of . "There is no blessing in it save that of beauty, and that is the blessing of death," he wrote about same-sex desire.

The essay is a defense against the author's own homoerotic feelings. Mann was the solid burgher of his generation, celebrated author, and family father. He admits, if one reads carefully, that homosexual desire may have inspired his art, but homosexual identity had to be rejected since it threatened not only "society" but his own preeminent status.

These themes of homosexuality leading to the destruction of social institutions and to the death of the individual homosexual are woven into several of Mann's best works.

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Thomas Mann in 1937.
  
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