Confessions of Felix Krull, confidence man: the early years

by Thomas Mann

Hardcover, 1979

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York, Knopf, 1979.

Description

A witty rogue reflects on his experiences in European society and offers his impressions of the existing social order.

User reviews

LibraryThing member subbobmail
My only complaint about this book is that Thomas Mann died before he could make it any longer. Damned inconsiderate of him. Felix Krull is aptly named; this young man with good looks and invulnerable self-confidence rises from obscurity and penury to the very height of European society. He's a fraud, but a sincere fraud, an artistic fraud, and doesn't that make him more genuine than the usual sincere sort? He certainly thinks so, and his narration is enjoyable enough to make such pleading sound plausible. This book is what happens when a Nobelist decides to write a beach read, and beautifully succeeds.… (more)
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
This is Mann's last novel and his most humorous one. The story of Felix Krull is filled with comic episodes worthy of the Mann's story-telling mastery. Mann based the novel on an expanded version of a story he had written in 1911and he managed to finish, and publish part one of the Confessions of Felix Krull, but due to his death in 1955 the saga of the morally flexible and irresistible conman, Felix, remains unfinished. In spite of that it is still one of the best novels about the question of identity. Early in the story Felix learns to deal with circumstances by changing his character as needed and he continues to shift identities becoming whomever he needs to be in all the ensuing predicaments that he encounters. It seems that Mann still had more story-telling magic left at the end of his life after World War II and decades after his great beginnings with Buddenbrooks and Death in Venice. The only regret is that Mann was unable to finish the novel; yet, the "early years" of Felix Krull still amount to a small masterpiece.… (more)
LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
A really cheersome, good-hearted exploration of the libidinal economy in all its aspects--starting with pacing, which is slow and sensual. The book remains unfinished after Mann's death, but a short novel paced like a long one is kind of a nice experience--no frenetic pace, no heavy symbolic build, no catharsis. Just a guided stroll through Felix's life, illuminated by his love of life. This is a parody of Goethe's autobiography Dichtung und Wahrheit, but Mann doesn't hold Felix up as a Goethe-proxy to be mocked per se; he offers him as an alternative to the humourless self-importance of the sage of Weimar, the one who does creature of destiny right, suggesting Narcissus, Adonis, Paris, Icarus, but never settling, laughing it up, the game never quite worth the candle. Felix loves us and he wants the same back, and it's as fascinating to see him gradually seduced by the idea of taking on the role of the Marquis de Venosta--a con equal to his magnificent need to be loved. (As he romances the professor's wife and daughter in Lisbon, he nevertheless dubs him "the man with the starry eyes," and you feel the admiration--like, anyone who wants to can sleep with my wife and daughter--assuming they're also into it, of course--as long as he respects me and doesn't think he's got the better of me. Felix's generosity of spirit makes it all seem just ducky.)

And oh, the class valences of all that--social capital: I'm reading Bourdieu's language book right now, and the way Felix deploys French and English and Italian and the characteristic words and gestures of the roles he inhabits, bellhop and rakehell and gamine and cod-aristocrat, exemplifies B's observations on aristocratic linguistic capital perfectly. That is Felix's gift: the bourgeous social capital he inherits from his sinking wine family and photographic memory (endless litanies of gewgaws and sartorie and natural-historical artifacts in this one that put Dorian Gray to shame) allows him to get on the board, but it's his gift for mimickry and nuance of signification that sends him rocketing to the top--neither confidence man nor Casanova really but The Talented M. Kroull (or in ways an unsour, bourgeois Lucky Jim, unsour because bourgeous and thus not fatally hampered like Jim no doubt). The scenes where he talks his way into a job in Paris, and then talks the fence into buying his stolen jewels, are perfection, not least because it's only a joe job in a hotel and because he gets only half what he bargains for from the guy. Felix may unavoidably dazzle a bit around the edges (though we have only his word that the world finds him quite as irresistible as all that), but he's no aggressive Euro-lover, all speedo and hands; it's his hard work, dreamy circumspection, and amiability that make us acquiesce to be dazzled by this charmessence of dust.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
I recently reread Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man (The Early Years), Thomas Mann's last novel and a comic masterpiece. Felix Krull's confessions are filled with humorous episodes worthy of the Mann's story-telling mastery. Mann based the novel on an expanded version of a story he had written in 1911 and he managed to finish, and publish part one of the Confessions of Felix Krull, but due to his death in 1955 the saga of the morally flexible and irresistible conman, Felix, remained unfinished. In spite of that it is still one of the best novels I have read dealing with the question of identity. It is that and much more.

Early in the story Felix learns to deal with circumstances by changing his character as needed and he continues to shift identities becoming whomever he needs to be in all the ensuing predicaments that he encounters. The expression of a latent admiration for a human being who can metamorphose himself into multiple identities reminds me of The Confidence Man by Herman Melville. That earlier novel is in a way a precursor to the modernity of Mann's unfinished opus. Felix Krull seems to view the world like a chessboard on which he can take pleasure in manipulating the pieces at will and cultivate his ambition and his knowledge of the ways of the world by spending whole days peering into shop windows.

There are three moments in the Confessions that exemplify the merging of identity and destiny of young Felix Krull. Early in the story Felix encounters an actor, Muller -Rose, whose extravagant operetta performance makes an indelible impression on him. The contrast between his stage character and his backstage repulsive self is a vision that impresses the young boy. The second moment occurs in Paris when Felix attends the circus. The performance of the acrobats and the high wire equilibrist Andromache were mesmerizing to Felix. "Andromache! Her vision, painful and uplifting at once, lingered in my mind long after her act was over and others had replaced it." (p 194)
The third moment occurs after Felix has settled into his identity as Venosta and is established in Lisbon. There is a bullfight which combines the flamboyance of the toreador costumes with the ravishing sensation of the duel to the death with the bull. Felix describes his impressions:
"the atmosphere that lay over all, at once oppressive and solemnly joyous, a unique mingling of jest, blood, and dedication, primitive holiday-making combined with the profound ceremonial of death." (p 375)
Each of these moments capture the sensation of Eros and Thanatos, pleasure and death, and form a counterpart to the often light-hearted way that Felix led his life as a confidence man.

He fools Venosta's parents with a lengthy letter that mimics the style of the man whose identity he has assumed and goes on to impress his contacts in Lisbon. Yet, he maintains a calm demeanor throughout his escapades filled with confidence in his ability. The reader eventually succumbs to his charm in spite of an episodic life in different identities that was full of nervous suspense. It seems that Mann still had more story-telling magic left at the end of his life after World War II and decades after his great beginnings with Buddenbrooks and Death in Venice. The only regret is that Mann was unable to finish the novel; yet, the "early years" of Felix Krull still amounts to a small masterpiece.
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LibraryThing member Voglioleggere
Fiction, The reality of illusion, A confidence and empathic man wins the favour and love of others by enacting the roles they desire of him and achieves his own ends. Original title: Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull. Der Memoiren erster Teil, 1954, Originally the character of Felix Krull appeared in a short story, written in 1911. In 1922, the first part of the story appeared under the title "Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull. Buch der Kindheit". Later, Thomas Mann expanded the story and managed to finish, and publish part one of the Confessions of Felix Krull, but due to his death, in 1955, the story remained unfinished. Film: Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull, Release Date: 25 April 1957, West Germany, Company: Filmaufbau, directed by Kurt Hoffmann, Starring Horst Buchholz as Felix Krull, Liselotte Pulver as Zaza, Ingrid Andree as Zouzou Kuckuck, Susi Nicoletti as Madame Houpflé. Mann (1875-1955), Nobel Prize in Literature, 1929.… (more)
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
A promising, unfinished novel. Seemed a bit rough around the edges, but really shone through in some other parts. The clumsy translation didn't help.
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
One of favorite books by Mann. Not one his typical overly-philisophical tomes.
LibraryThing member ewalrath
This book is difficult to review because it is unfinished. I find it an interesting take on pre-WWI Germany and German culture under Hitler- the ultimate con man even though the book technically takes place at the turn of the century. If you're interested in German literary history this book is a must-read.
LibraryThing member hbergander
Nearly a parody of the classical coming-of-age novel. Stylistically beyond Thomas Mann's other novels. Unfortunately, it was still unfinished when Thomas Mann died.

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