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Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family (Everyman's Library) (original 1901; edition 1994)

by Thomas Mann

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3,371611,611 (4.18)262
Member:ymkahn
Title:Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family (Everyman's Library)
Authors:Thomas Mann
Info:Everyman's Library (1994), Hardcover, 784 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:****
Tags:fiction

Work details

Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (1901)

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English (42)  German (6)  Dutch (3)  French (2)  Danish (2)  Hebrew (2)  Spanish (2)  Norwegian (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (61)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
The German Classic and Nobel Prize winning (originally titled) "Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family" is a novel of epic proportions.

The opening scene takes place in 1835 at the Buddenbrook estate. It’s a formal family dinner party and gathering of the Patriarch Johann Buddenbrook’s relatives and intimate friends including the town’s prestigious doctor, a leading German poet, senator, pastor, stock broker, and several business associates. It is a cheerful, optimistic event with good conversation, imported cigars, and vintage liquor, and abundant food served on exquisite china and silver in lush surroundings of crystal chandeliers, velvet drapes, fine art, and tasteful extravagant decor.

The Buddenbrook family is at it’s prime; they are the elite of society, the family business is thriving, and life is good. But as the grandson Tom cynically ponders many years later when he is the Patriarch and everything seems to be going wrong, “often the outward and visible material signs and symbols of happiness and success only show themselves when the process of decline has already set in.”

The plot starts out at a slow pace because Thomas Mann makes quite an effort to familiarize the reader with cultural norms with descriptions rich in detail, and he also does an excellent job of character development. The primary characters are the grandson Tom who inherits control of the family granaries, his sister Tony, and Tom’s son Johann who is expected to follow in his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father’s footsteps.

Throughout the story significant scenes occur involving the various family members and is broken down into 11 parts… each sometimes skipping ahead several years and carrying the reader through 4 generations of the Buddenbrooks to the conclusion in 1877. While Germany is struggling through an industrial revolution, several wars, an economic crisis, and political turmoil, Mann focuses on the Buddenbrooks involvement in their own family struggles; births, marriages, divorce, deaths, the Buddenbrooks 100 year anniversary of being in business, holidays, and vacations... the family dynamics, their accomplishments, and their tragedies.

What makes this book a classic - aside from the realistic plot, the memorable characters, and the great story-telling - is Thomas Mann’s ability to inject authentic social and cultural details. The attitudes of the rich elite, the role women played in society, the tradition of honoring and respecting the elderly, the role religion played in their lives, the disgrace of declaring bankruptcy and shame in criminal behavior, and obligations of family life.

And perhaps a forewarning of things to come in Eastern Europe, the Buddenbrooks anti-semitic attitudes towards Jewish people. Their biggest adversities, regardless of the root cause, always left them pointing the finger at the “contemptible” Hagenstrom family… competitors in business and rivals in society. Whenever a Hagenstrom crossed paths with a Buddenbrook, nasty thoughts ensued.

There are many memorable scenes, but several that made a lasting impression were Tony’s carefree summer holiday at the seaside resort, the violent family argument that took place during the reading of the deceased mother’s will, and the description of little Johann’s typical day at school.

Thomas Mann was only 26 years old when he wrote "Buddenbrooks", but wise beyond his years. He was strongly influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche and Buddenbrooks has elements of psychology. At a point of darkness and debilitating depression in Tom Buddenbrooks life, he ponders his religion and borders on having a miraculous revelation about the meaning of life. But in the end, it alludes him and he concludes, “Was this message meant for me? I don’t know what it was: I only know it was too much for my poor brain.”

As indicated in the title, the decline of the family is eminent but it is not for me to reveal why or how this happens. Perhaps it was inevitable with the changing times. Perhaps it could have been avoided. Like all family sagas, the combination of diverse personalities, critical events, and defining moments all play a part... or as the old German saying goes, “so ist das leben”. ( )
  LadyLo | Jul 17, 2014 |
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2280527.html

I finally made it - even tried the first few chapters in German, but got a bit stuck on obscure articles of clothing and furniture that I wasn't taught in school (apparently a "Vatermörder" is a stiff collar, not someone who has killed their father).

Anyway, the Woods translation did me very well. It's the story of the Buddenbrook family in Lübeck in the 19th century, and how things basically go downhill for Tom and Tony, the son and daughter of Consul Jean/Johann Buddenbrook who built up the business empire, and at the end an account of the childhood of Tom's son Hanno. The history of Germany rumbles by in the background, 1848 and 1871 and so on glanced at in passing; but Mann is much more interested in the family dynamics of the siblings (there's also a disinherited half-brother, a disreputable younger brother and a much younger sister who gets married off to a Baltic clergyman) tied up with continual and increasing worries about money. There are a lot of interesting things in the telling, about architecture, colour and music (this last especially important both for Hanno and his disreputable uncle Christian), and I can see why one might want to come back to it again.

At the same time, it feels like a bit of a literary sidetrack. Yes, it draws in a good way on Middlemarch and War and Peace, but I think that both are better books in themselves, and also both are more satisfactorily linked to the politics of their setting. Mann is perhaps a bit better at engaging our interest in characters who are themselves pretty flawed. At a time when European loved family sagas like this, you can understand that it won him his Nobel prize. Yet 1902 was the year that Joyce graduated from UCD, Virginia Woolf had just wound up her studies at King's College London, and Proust was getting to grips with translating Ruskin. Greater things were around the corner.

I do appreciate, with tinges of regret, the care taken by Woods in translating the various German accents and dialects. Lübeck and Hamburg are close but different; Tony's second husband is Bavarian, and Woods translates him as an American redneck, rough at the edges but with a heart of gold, encountering a much posher set of in-laws. It's hilarious and effective, though of course it introduces a slightly different dynamic; the original Herr Permaneder is actually a proud Central European, always going on about the mountains and the beer of his homeland in nearly impenetrable Bayrisch, and the Munich/Lübeck dynamic is completely different from the Texas/Sussex dynamic. So, while it's very entertaining, it's also a bit of a step from the original authorial intent. I guess it's unavoidable. Certainly, "Why, howdy do?" is a decent enough translation of "Ja, grüß Eana Gott!" and I don't think a translation could be much more accurate without excessive resort to footnotes. ( )
1 vote nwhyte | May 3, 2014 |
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. ( )
  kakadoo202 | Feb 7, 2014 |
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. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
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. ( )
1 vote Miguelnunonave | Sep 9, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (121 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mann, Thomasprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fontcuberta i Gel, JoanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lowe-Porter, H. T.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rho, AnitaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rho, AnitaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woods, John E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
First words
"Was ist das. - Was - ist das..."
"Je, den Düwel ook, c'est la question, ma très chère demoiselle!"
"And - and - what comes next?"                                                                                                                                            "Oh, yes, yes, what the dickens does come next? C'est la question, ma tres chere demoiselle!"
Quotations
p. 262: "A businessman cannot be a bureaucrat," he told his former schoolchum Stephen Kistenmaker--of Kistenmaker & Sons--who was still Tom's friend, though hardly his match intellectually, and listened to his every work in order to pass it on as his own opinon.
...
"Ah, I almost fear that as time goes on the businessman's life will become more and more banal."
p 506: What was Death? The answer came, not in poor, large-sounding words: he felt it within him, he possessed it. Death was a joy, so great, so deep that it could be dreamed of only in moments of revelation like the present. It was the return from an unspeakably painful wandering, the correction of a grave mistake, the loosening of chains, the opening of doors - it put right again a lamentable mischance.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679417370, Hardcover)

(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

Introduction by T. J. Reed; Translation by John E. Woods

Buddenbrooks, first published in Germany in 1901, when Mann was only twenty-six, has become a classic of modern literature.

It is the story of four generations of a wealthy bourgeois family in northern Germany facing the advent of modernity; in an uncertain new world, the family’s bonds and traditions begin to disintegrate. As Mann charts the Buddenbrooks’ decline from prosperity to bankruptcy, from moral and psychic soundness to sickly piety, artistic decadence, and madness, he ushers the reader into a world of stunning vitality, pieced together from births and funerals, weddings and divorces, recipes, gossip, and earthy humor.

In its immensity of scope, richness of detail, and fullness of humanity, buddenbrooks surpasses all other modern family chronicles. With remarkable fidelity to the original German text, this superb translation emphasizes the magnificent scale of Mann’s achievement in this riveting, tragic novel.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:50 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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