by Thomas Mann

Other authorsH. T. Lowe-Porter (Translator)
Hardcover, 1938





New York, A. A. Knopf, 1938.


A Major Literary Event: a brilliant new translation of Thomas Mann's first great novel, one of the two for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1929. Buddenbrooks, first published in Germany in 1900, when Mann was only twenty-five, has become a classic of modem literature -- the story of four generations of a wealthy bourgeois family in northern Germany. With consummate skill, Mann draws a rounded picture of middle-class life: births and christenings; marriages, divorces, and deaths; successes and failures. These commonplace occurrences, intrinsically the same, vary slightly as they recur in each succeeding generation. Yet as the Buddenbrooks family eventually succumbs to the seductions of modernity -- seductions that are at variance with its own traditions -- its downfall becomes certain. In immensity of scope, richness of detail, and fullness of humanity, Buddenbrooks surpasses all other modem family chronicles; it has, indeed, proved a model for most of them. Judged as the greatest of Mann's novels by some critics, it is ranked as among the greatest by all. Thomas Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1929.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member technodiabla
I found this book to be surprisingly readable considering it's age (I read the original English translation). Also, considering the plot was just basic life events it was a real page turner. The character development is sublime throughout.

The best thing about Buddenbrooks though is the interesting perspective into family decline and societal evolution. If you try and find the parallels in today's world, in your own family, it is very eye-opening. Mann finds and reveals so many timeless truths. Some passages are worth re-reading, even commiting to memory. I highly recommend this book to anyone-- do not be put off the length, age, or origin. This book is for everyone and very accessible.… (more)
LibraryThing member thorold
Definitely one of the great novels, but it takes a long time before you really see where it's taking you. Mann feeds you an enormous quantity of fine detail about bourgeois life, business practices, and values in Lübeck in the second half of the 19th century, until you feel you could have a stab at buying and selling corn yourself, or you start to think that you're stuck in a Zola novel where — inexplicably — no-one has yet gone mad and committed a violent crime. But then in the last hundred pages we get Thomas Buddenbrooks's Schopenhauer epiphany and Hanno's day at school, and suddenly the sane, orderly realism of the preceding chapters is destabilised and you're forced to look back at them from a very 20th-century perspective. Quite a different sort of reading experience from the in-your-face philosophical debate of late Mann, and quite a different style of writing too, but extremely rewarding.… (more)
LibraryThing member carioca
The audacity - to review Mann's Buddenbrooks. I adore this book, and I still can't shake the revelatory feeling I got while reading it for the first time back in my teens. Because of Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann became fast one of my favorite authors. And that is easy to understand - judging by my library choices, it is clear I have a preference for generational novels, family sagas and German literature in general. I just love the descriptions, the subtle eloquence (ok, that's borderline oxymoronic - and now neologistic!! - but that is how I felt about it), the restraint, the convoluted emotions, the complicated relationship with the German state and so on. What more could I possibly say? This is one of the greatest works of literature and I could never imagine owning a book collection that did not include this one.… (more)
LibraryThing member therebelprince

The name alone conjures up richness, grandeur, and decay. A sense of history pummelling us into submission, and of small moments lodged alongside great ones. I'm not as well-read in Mann as I should be (he seems, these days, to be one of the shibboleths of the literary establishment), but Buddenbrooks is the very definition of a classic.

Four generations of 19th century Germans across 700 pages sounds like a cruel ask, but Mann is writing with a style that is Stendhal crossed with Zola, although he lacks the cynicism of either of those gentlemen. Indeed, for all of his symbols of elegant decay, one gets the sense that Mann rather empathises with this beguiling family.

If you're going to join the clan, you can't go wrong with John E. Wood's famous translation. Straightforward, poetic, and compelling:

"The consul climbed the stairs to his living quarters, and the old man groped his way down along the banister to the mezzanine. Then the rambling old house lay tightly wrapped in darkness and silence. Pride, hope, and fear all slept, while rain pelted the deserted streets and an autumn wind whistled around corners and gables."

Every character in the extended family is beautifully realised, from resentful old Thomas to larrikin Christian, their determined sister Tony (my favourite character) and grey-haired old Ida. The book is written in a succession of very short chapters, creating a sense of the piling up of moments like individual knitting loops that come together to form a rich tapestry - or, for that matter, the lines drawn in the old, gold-striped family notebook representing each branch of the family, so childishly (yet ominously) crossed out by the young Hanno, certain before his maturity that there will be no more. Think of the party that opens the novel, or Hanno's captivating piano recital.

"Is that how the world works - like a pretty melody? That's merely flimsy idealism."

Of course, you don't need silly old me to tell you that Mann was a literary luminary. Still, I can't emphasise enough the ease and poignance of this great novel. It shouldn't be an intimidating classic, by any means.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Before there was The Magic Mountain and before Death in Venice Thomas Mann gained critical acclaim for Buddenbrooks. It is a long, beautifully written account of a declining bourgeois family, that some have suggested was inspired by his reading of Tolstoy among others. While the book has lighter moments it is overwhelmingly bleak. The Buddenbrooks' family success is behind them and there are few of the current and upcoming generations that are up to the task of maintaining the family much less improving it.
When we first meet the family one is immediately impressed by their conservatism and traditional ways. It is set in the 1830s in a northern German trading city and the fine mansion where they live and everything else about them exudes the feeling of haute bourgeoisie. The central characters are introduced, Johann and Elisabeth the father and mother with three children, Antonie (Tony), Thomas, and his younger brother Christian. It is their lives that form the center of the story for the first half of the novel.

With Thomas Mann every detail is important, so as time goes by (and it seems to fly by decade after decade) the background of the changes resulting from both the Industrial Revolution and the politics of the German states is as important as the family social struggles. And struggles they have as the Grandfather dies and the firm passes on to Johann who too few years later passes the firm on to his eldest son Thomas. If there is one central figure in the family saga it is TOny who first marries an older man rather than her young love as her father demands only to see that marriage end in divorce due to the bankruptcy of her husband who (wrongly) assumed the Buddenbrook family would bail him out. I hope you are beginning to get a feeling for the theme of decline.
Buddenbrooks reminds me a bit of Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons, a noel about another family who fails to change with the times and struggles to maintain their social standing. Mann's satirical side is borought home often and is best seen in a set piece when the workers challenge the leaders of the Town. The mini-revolt (it pales in comparison to the real revolution of 1848) is defused by Consul Johann while one of the town elders is parodied as he shows more concern for his carriage than anything the workers (who like children should be silent) might have to say.

One of the keenest issues for me is the position of women in the Buddenbrooks family and society in general. That is the lack of standing and choice that they have. This is evident not only in Tony's failed marriages (she has a second divorce before the midpoint in the novel) but also in other female members of the family, particularly Tony's younger sister Clara who is considered unmarriageable until a Minister, Sievert Tiburtius, takes an interest in her. Most woman in this society are prepared for nothing in life with limited choices and the prospect of life as second class citizens.

Throughout the novel Mann develops themes through the use of lietmotifs. These stem from his admiration for the operas of Richard Wagner, in the case of Buddenbrooks an example can be found in the description of the color – blue and yellow, respectively – of the skin and the teeth of the characters. Each such description alludes to different states of health, personality and even the destiny of the characters.
Aspects of Thomas Mann's own personality are manifest in the two brothers, Thomas and Christian, whose find it difficult to live together. Christian is much the free spirit who cannot be happy working in the family firm, the leadership of which Thomas has inherited as the eldest son. It should not be considered a coincidence that Mann shared the same first name with one of them. The influence of Schopenhauer is also present and it is through the brothers that both Buddenbrooks reflect a conflict lived by the author: departure from a conventional bourgeois life to pursue an artistic one, although without rejecting bourgeois ethics.
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LibraryThing member Laiane
After seeing a reference to this book -- not once but twice -- from a blogger whose literary opinions I respect highly, I decided to take the plunge and buy this in hardcover. My experience with German lit is slender, but I'm so glad I decided to read Buddenbrooks! I was impressed by the psychological detail of the characters. The chapters of the family Christmas and Hanno's school day are nothing short of stunning. A classic, truly.… (more)
LibraryThing member ElenaDanielson
Given the subtitle (Verfall einer Familie/Decline of a Family), reviewers don't need to worry about spoilers. The real surprise is that a book with this gloomy subtitle and written by someone in his early twenties has engaged so many readers for so many decades, even readers who don't much care for German literature in general. Why do so many readers get wrapped up in the problems of Tony and Tom when you know in advance it will not end well? Some reviewers called it a soap opera, and there is a certain soap quality to it. You want to shake Tony and say "don't marry that guy" not once, but twice..actually with her daughter's husband, three times....There is also a fairy tale quality to it. Gerda, Tom's beautiful distant wife, is an ice queen who watches with benign indifference as things fall apart one step at a time. There is even the hint of a fairy tale curse. Tom abandons his sweet florist shop girl Anna to marry aristocratic Gerda for practical financial and class reasons. When Tom constructs an ostentatious house for his family, he compliments Iwersen the florist for the magnificent decoration at the party for the construction workers. Iwersen explains that his wife Anna made the floral decorations for the new house. In parts of norther Europe construction parties have a sense of blessing the house and warding off evil by making the workers happy. You get the feeling Tom doing Anna wrong does not placate bad spirits...The earnest med student Morten from a working class family is the only man Tony ever loved. At the seashore he has to wait for her sitting "on the rocks" while she talks to her fancy friends in the pavilion. Then her father forces her to give Morten up for an oily repulsive business associate, who it turns out is colluding others to drain the Buddenbrook wealth. The most horrific scene, Tony in the arms of the disgusting Bendix Gruenlich, is left completely off stage. When it comes to the inevitable end, Tony says to Tom that she's sitting "on the rocks". The story comes to its conclusion at a crucial time in German history. Mann provides precise dates, some before unification in 1870, at the end just afterwards. He only obliquely alludes to unification and only mentions Bismarck once, but I suspect a German reader would be more attuned to the momentous events taking place off stage. Business practices change with economic integration, and the Buddenbrooks are easily swindled because of their old fashioned way with transactions. There are very subtle references to technological change as oil lamps on chains across the street are replaced by gas lights, and at the end the servants' bell pulls are replaced by electric buzzers. Long rides in horse drawn carriages are described in loving detail, and at the end Gerda goes home to her father in Amsterdam on a train. The horrific final scene of Hanno's agony at school takes place under the rule of a new Prussian school director. The old gentler director who governed the school when his father and grandfather were children has died and been replaced. There is just one paragraph in the school scene that explicitly mentions how unification and military success have ushered in an era of harsh manners and bravado, an era Hanno just does not want to live in. His soul mate Kai is a writer and so we can hope Kai will tell Hanno's story...and Anna prepares the floral arrangements for Tom's funeral. She has children, the oldest is old enough to be Tom's child.… (more)
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
I wished that this book had no ending, that it could have continued on and on, because no other book I have read in ages felt so satisfying. Mann's exploration of a Lubeck merchant family is so involved, and so passionate, and so sad.
LibraryThing member Miguelnunonave
As the (sub-)title implies, this is the story of the decadence of a family. Thomas Mann is one of the greatest German writers of the XXth century. The characters description is flawless and there is probably no better novel on the city of Lübeck. The book is full of northern German, hanseatic, Prussian rational mentality and, yet, it is equally sad and moving.… (more)
LibraryThing member libraryhermit
I was saddened as I read of the decline of the family described in this novel. When the older man dies from diabetes, I found that depressing. I understood that this was before the discovery of insulin therapy, and presumably he was an adult-onset diabetic. Any child would die within weeks or months of the onset of diabetes.
I have read comments about the style of prose of Thomas Mann. Even though the translation into English was of the finest, I would still like read Thomas Mann in German to get the full impact of his prosody. I cannot put my finger on it exactly, but there is something unique about the German idiom that is unavailable to me as an English reader. Must bring out my high school German tutors and get back at them.
We always hear about the mood of Germany from 1870 up to 1914. I wonder what it was really like. Reading books like this one is what can really make that period come alive. Will try to read this one again, and then contrast it with the Joseph and His Brothers tetralogy.
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LibraryThing member ErnestHemingway
"Have read... the 1st Vol. of Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann... Buddenbrooks is a pretty damned good book. If he were a great writer it would be swell. When you think a book like that was published in 1902 and unknown in English until last year it makes you have even less respect, if you ever had any, for people getting stirred up over... all the books your boy friend Menken [H.L. Mencken] has gotten excited about just because they happen to deal with the much abused Am. Scene."
Letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
Selected Letters, pg. 176
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LibraryThing member pauliensijbers
Living with this family for a while makes you never want to part from them.
LibraryThing member Arctic-Stranger
Ok, so this is a "great" novel. They even made a mini-series out of it for Public TV. So let's just assume it is a work of genius, and then we dont have to subject ourselves to the neverending sinking story of this German family.
LibraryThing member williecostello
Buddenbrooks is a dull novel, but wonderful nonetheless. There are no great conflicts in its 700 pages, no grand plot twists, no suspense. Action unfolds, but slowly and without sensation. And yet, the book is hard to put down. Mann's portraits of his characters––especially those of Thomas, Christian, and Tony––are just so vivid, so artfully done. The entire cast of characters feels remarkably real, as do the city and spaces they occupy. And though Buddenbrooks is not a novel of ideas, either, Mann displays his wisdom throughout: his perceptive observations of everyday behaviour, his understanding of the inner workings and effects of society, and his keen apprehension of personality. This is realism as its finest, and John E. Woods' translation makes the novel shine even brighter.… (more)
LibraryThing member WrathofAchilles
Perfectly titled. Mann is a fine portraitist. Like Brideshead Revisited, the advance of democracy, commerce, and learning has no care for the beautiful but useless.
LibraryThing member Coffeehag
This is a really oppressive book.
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
To sum up Buddenbrooks it is a four-generational story about the downfall of a middle class family. There is no storyline other than following the lives of the Buddenbrooks from 1835 to 1977. The Buddenbrooks are a typical family. They have their problems like everyone else. Faulty business deals, unstable health, failed marriages, partnerships made and broken. My favorite parts involved daughter Tony and her relationships with her family and the men who pursued her. The way her father simultaneously protects her and throws her to the wolves is eyebrow raising, but pretty typical of a father-know-best attitude.… (more)
LibraryThing member patience_crabstick
My first Thomas Mann novel. I loved it. A long, delicious soap-opera of a novel. There's a more extensive review at my xanga site (Daylily02) date January 3, 2007.
LibraryThing member Leonard_Seet
Thomas Buddenbrook was a businessman, who followed in the family’s bourgeoisie pragmatism and achieved moderate success. But his brother Christian was the prodigal son, who squandered time and money in theater. And Thomas’s son Hanno, escaped harsh reality into the world of music. The conflict between the pragmatic and the ideal, reflected Thomas Mann’s struggles, and would surface again in The Magic Mountain.

The reader sees the family’s decline in Christian’s worsening pain, in Thomas’s gloom, in Hanno’s unhealthy teeth, and in the failed marriages of Tony, Thomas’s sister. Although Tony tried to leverage her and her daughter’s marriages to uplift the family status, their failures pointed toward the finale, where Christian was permanently institutionalize and Hanno died without children. Not only had the wealthy dissipated, but also there was no heir.

Buddenbrooks is a monumental family saga.
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LibraryThing member kakadoo202
you probably have to be from north germany to understand the characters because when Tony meets people in Bavaria you can tell the difference. excellent insight of life of the nobility. reminds me of Anna Karenina.
LibraryThing member ivanfranko
Especially glad I read this. It has has an authenticity about it that could only come from a keen observer of family life. No wonder the Nazis burned the book. Mann splinters the ideals of bourgeois duty.
LibraryThing member colligan
A masterful work.
LibraryThing member Luli81
"Life was harsh: and business, with its ruthless unsentimentality, was an epitome of life." (Buddenbrooks, p.363)

Had I been told that an objective, even detached depiction of the downfall of a merchant family in a North-German town in the nineteenth century would shake me they way Buddenbrooks has shaken me, I wouldn't have believed it possible. But what I find most impacting is that even though I was prepared to witness the much forewarned decline of this family I was swept away completely all the same by the pragmatic but intense tone of the narrative which stirred unintended, troubled feelings in me.
Told in an omniscient, impartial voice and taking for background the first symptoms of major social and economic changes in Germany on its way into 20th Century modernity and uncertainty, Mann opens the narration with an opulent banquet in 1835 where the three generation of Buddendbrooks are celebrating their social and economic prominence and future prospects. Mann describes their world in detail and masterly pictures the characters with all their hopes, fears and ambitions, all this in a brilliantly flowing language.
The story mainly follows two of the children: Thomas, the crown prince who has been prepared to take over the firm and to become the future ruling man in the family, and his beautiful sister Antoine, a spoiled, naive creature with bourgeois airs but good-natured heart who will see her life expectations vanish and her dreams disappear as years go by.
While Thomas embodies the vitality, strength and vigor of a prosperous, responsible merchant of the time, his hypochondriac, indolent brother Christian and eventually Thomas’ introverted and frail son, Hanno, fail their merchant inheritance in allowing their artistic vocation to prevail over their duty to the firm, condemning the Buddenbrook name into oblivion.
In this sense, Mann sets the tone for some themes in his forthcoming works, one of them being the refined and sophisticated artistic attitude opposed to the simple, healthy and pragmatic life of a merchant family, a poignant subject in this novel and one which could also have reminiscences of his own personal experience.

Although Mann treats his characters lovingly he always keeps in an ironic distance which reminds the reader that the fate of the Buddenbrooks is a sealed one and that, like in life, eventual decay and ultimate death can’t be prevented. And this natural cycle of ups and downs both of the firm and the family, for they are bound together, is precisely what makes possible that a naturalistic story such as this one could reach one’s soul and fill it with wonder with its delicate and effortless language.

In the end, nothing is left, no grand house, no flourishing firm, no prominent family. The Buddenbrooks sink back into meaninglessness. Only an old volume with the genealogy of the whole family remains, echo of a long gone world and the only proof of what once was and never will be again.
But with the end comes freedom.

"Was not every human being a mistake and a blunder? Was he not in painful arrest from the hour of his birth? Prison, prison, bonds and limitations everywhere! The human being stares hopelessly through the barred window of his personality at the high walls of outward circumstances, till Death and calls him home to freedom!" (p.506)
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LibraryThing member chrisblocker
Buddenbrooks is not a book I would've likely noticed or picked up had it not been for an invitation from the Thomas Mann group. German literature has never attracted me and Thomas Mann was among that class of authors whose work, I felt, was probably more effort that it was enjoyable. (He had that look about him, okay?) So I made some assumptions based on nothing, so what? Had it not been for the subtitle of the book, “The Decline of a Family,” I probably still would be ignorant of Mann's abilities; but that subtitle pulled me in—I wanted to know more about this family tragedy. I'm glad Mann included it as part of his title.

What I most appreciated about Mann's writing was his use of description. I'm not a big fan of descriptive passages, authors that drone on and on about the shape of the table and how the hands of a grandfather clock move. Normally, I find it irrelevant, tiring, and detrimental to the forward movement of the plot. But Mann succeeds in this regard. His descriptions give life to the story. It paints the background and sets the stage for the scene. Colors and props become meaningful to the theme. In fact, I think it would be easy to say that his scenery is a character of its own.

Aside from scenery, excellent characters were also found in Toni and Hanno. Both were developed wonderfully, and I looked forward to their every scene. I think I could've like Christian had he been similarly developed, but he was more of a plot device than a character. Unfortunately for me, a large part of the novel focused on Thomas and I was never able to connect with him. By the novel's conclusion, I was completely ambivalent toward his character.

In the end, I enjoyed Buddenbrooks greatly. There were moments I lost interest, particularly when Thomas was at the center, but this did not take away from the grand setting and story that made this novel fabulous. Thank you, Thomas Mann, for reminding me not to make assumptions.
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LibraryThing member jonfaith
Apparently this was Faulkner's favorite novel from Mann. Aspects of it likely permeated his epic of the Compson family. Coincidentally I read this one while my wife's sister was staying with us over the holidays. The Sound and The Fury was read in 2004 when we visted her in London.

I thought of this novel yesterday while reading Nancy Mitford's Pursuit of Love. One almost needs to polish silver when pondering these works.… (more)



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