Buddenbrooks

by Thomas Mann

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

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York, A. A. Knopf, 1938.

Description

The story of four generations of a wealthy bourgeois family in northern Germany captures the triumphs and tragedies, successes and failures, relationships, loves, and ordinary events of everyday middle-class life.

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 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.
… (more)
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 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 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 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 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
… (more)
LibraryThing member pauliensijbers
Living with this family for a while makes you never want to part from them.
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
… (more)
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 Schmerguls
I read this book in December 1951. On Dec 19 I said of it: "Buddenbrooks is really good. In its way, of course. He is not at all overdevelped and so the shortcomings of the 1900 novel are not so apparent. Furthermore, being translated from the German helps a lot. There is a quaintness that is quite redeeming, though one can't feel very greatly for the aristocratic family." On Dec 22 I said: "Quite a book, written differently tfrom anything I've read before. The characters are all upper-class people and I can't rationally be concerned when they don't make too much money, etc. But yet, such is influenceability by the author that insticnctively I react as intended, with sympathy. Senator Tom Buddenbrook has just died and the only carefully delineated characters living are Antonie and Hanno, Tom's son. Antonie is his twice-divorced sister, whose daughter, Erica's husband, was imprisoned and then left her. But what is to become of the business? Hanno can't possibly take it over--nor Christian, Tom's brother. If Marcus runs it it will surely die. Will it be sold out--to Hegstrom? It is a fascinating story, better--though of a different type--than The Forsyte Saga--but not as good as Kristen Lavransdatter. But, then, Kristen has assumed to me such a classic greatness based on my knowledge of my reaction at the time I read it. Whether my ascribal of greatness is objectively valid could, I suppose, be questioned. " On Dec 23 I said: (SPOILER) "The book is very good; it became more detailed towards the end, portraYing Hanno as 15 very well. The Senator's will had the business sold. Hanno died of typhoid in his teens and the book ended, with the family as good as finished. Christian was in a crazy house, Antoine, 50, was still alive and herself, but to what she had fallen! The book was seldom joyful, more bad than good in the fortunes of the family. A noble book, grandioSe, and deserving of the accolades it has won. I did not get The Magic Mountain next as I did not want to satiate myself on Mann, after the graNdeur of this book has faded I'll read The Magic Mountain, but not now.… (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 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.
… (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 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 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.
… (more)
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 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 librken
A fantastic plunge into 19th-century German society. This book carries you along like a comforting drug trip gone just a little wrong, such that you wind up where you did not want to go. Recommended to anyone who likes Anna Karenina or Vanity Fair.
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)
… (more)
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.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Coffeehag
This is a really oppressive book.
LibraryThing member stillatim
Not much to say- it is that good. The fact that Mann went on to write Magic Mountain and Dr Faustus, among others, is staggering. Here he created a range of characters, generally unsympathetic, and as boring as people usually are. But just as in real life, you come to care about them and wish them well. As the subtitle of the novel suggests, it doesn't really work out for anyone. The translation is wonderful- transparent but also just a tiny bit lyrical. My only complaint is that the women in the book aren't anywhere near as well fleshed out as the men; but that makes a certain amount of sense, given that women in a nineteenth century family of this kind did mainly play a supporting role. There's no sense that Mann or the narrator approves of the shallowness of most of the women, or approves of the social structures that force them to be shallow. But I really wanted to hear more about Gerda. More Gerda! Otherwise, though, just a beautifully executed, reader-friendly novel full of gentle irony, vicious irony, and sympathy for the unsympathetic.… (more)
LibraryThing member theageofsilt
It's a slog at the beginning. The novel concerns a prosperous German family so wrapped up in business and family honor that it becomes their downfall. The characters are beautiful realized and there are many vivid moments. There is an exquisite description of the family Christmas that I particularly enjoyed. I do believe that Mann, like so many writers of the period, equates creativity and an artistic temperament with physical weakness. This is not a book for those who like a lively plot, but rather a study of character and the times as capitalism rises Godzilla-like to dominate the world.… (more)

Language

Barcode

3751
Page: 0.2405 seconds