Six Early Stories by Thomas Mann

In 1936, several short stories by Thomas Mann were translated and published in the collection, Stories of Three Decades. The translator of the anthology, Helen T. Lowe-Porter, omitted six stories, calling them “tentative and awkward efforts”. But I found Six Early Stories (1893-1908) highly satisfactory. This collection is my first encounter with the works of Mann; I have not read any of his novels (yet). As such and unlike the translator, I cannot judge these stories against Mann’s opus. I can infer though that Mann, even early in his literary development, was a writer of considerable talent and technical skill.

In each of the stories, a creative and astute but somewhat weakened or flawed character has to contend with life’s issues within a well-ordered, healthy, middle or upper class environment with accepted bourgeois ethics. In Mann’s hands, these commonplace situations are portrayed with a precocious touch and are highly satirized. But it was the role and voice of the narrator that fascinated me most about the stories. Whether in first or third person, the narrator is detached and analytical yet maintains a keen interest in the story or the central character. The narrator appears conflicted and speaks with an ironic tone. Mann is deliberately unclear about the role or stance of the narrator in relation to the central character or the storyline. He undermines the narrator and the reader cannot quite trust what the voice says. These stories then are complex, multi-layered and well written.

I enjoyed most of the stories in this slim collection. My favorites include:

  • The Will to Happiness, Mann’s first artist story, in which a rich family refuses to accept a sick artist as a son-in-law,
  • Death – a curios story in which a Baron schedules a date with death, with unforeseen consequences.
  • Avenged – a philanderer’s attempts to maintain a platonic relationship with a woman colleague.

Six Early Stories, as a sample of Mann’s early work, has whet my appetite for his longer and later pieces, such as The Magic Mountain and Death in Venice. I recommend this collection, which is translated by Peter Constantine, especially to those who have read Thomas Mann’s classic novels.

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8 comments

  1. I haven’t read anything by Mann. I think a short story collection might work best as an introduction to his works for me and I’m glad you pointed this out. Mann is on my list of intimidating authors and I’m hoping this will make him less intimidating to me.

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    • I was also a bit intimidated by him and his works. I will probably read his bigger collection of short stories before moving on to his novels.

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  2. I haven’t read his shorter stories ,thanks for the review ,I was actually planning to reread buddenbrooks early next year ,it was a book I liked but read it quickly so want take a slow read this time mann is a wonderfully talent writer ,all the best stu

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  3. I haven’t read anything by Thomas Mann either, so I’m interested in trying out this or anything else by him. They do sound really good, so I’m surprised the translator left them out.

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    • If these are his weaker stories, then they are so only in comparison with his other stuff. They are good so I ‘m thinking that the hype about his novels especially The Magic Mountain must be more than well deserved!

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