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Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family…

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

by Thomas Mann

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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

Work details

Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (1901)

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Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
Mann's sub-title for this book sets the whole tone and direction of the novel. Even in the first part, where the success - and trappings of success - are laid out in rich detail, he is giving us the seeds of decline which he then follows until the process is complete and the Buddenbrook family exists no more. He does this through a surprisingly narrow range of characters and plot, always leaving the political and economic upheavals of the nineteenth century firmly in the background. The philosophical and psychological development is increasingly spelt out through the finely detailed descriptions which have an almost still-life quality to them. He also makes extensive use of leitmotivs but my German reading speed is too slow to allow me to make many of these connections. In the end I have admiration for this book in the way I might have for a finely crafted work of art - but not one that I would hang in my living room. 27 October 2016 ( )
  alanca | Oct 27, 2016 |
"Don't you think, darling, the Buddenbrooks rather give themselves airs?"
By sally tarbox on 22 May 2013
Format: Paperback
One of the best books I've ever read, probably up there with War and Peace, in that you totally get into the characters - you feel you know them, they are so brilliantly drawn.
This novel covers forty years (1835-1876) in the lives of the well-to-do Buddenbrook family of Lubeck. When it opens, they have just moved into a grand new house, their children are young and life seems good. Very conscious of their place in society, they are - generally - aware of the need to act in line with that position. Mann never takes us far from their home; he shows us their business dealings, school life and relationships.
An absolute classic. ( )
  starbox | Jul 9, 2016 |
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. ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | Feb 22, 2016 |
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. ( )
  librken | Jan 25, 2015 |
Buddenbrooks was written by Thomas Mann when he was only 25 years old, but this reads as the work of a much older and more experienced writer. Buddenbrooks explores four generations of the Buddenbrooks family, a family that has everything going for it at the beginning of the book and declines through the 731 pages of this novel. The 19th century German family experiences business set backs, divorces, ill health, and death, all of which contribute to their demise. The family values itself very highly and refuses initially to see the problems occurring, instead relying on their pride in family to carry them along.

I loved this book. The detail of characterization and the exploration of family history were fantastic. I also loved the themes of entitlement vs. work ethic - sometimes both hard work and a sense of entitlement being balanced in one character, sometimes in contrasting characters. I haven't read much German literature, but I've read a lot of family epics from this general era. This differed in the specifics of money that were always present and the decline of all parts of the family - no one in the family is really successful here. Despite the decline of the family, and the multiple deaths (which by the way are written very convincingly - hit a little too close to home for me), it isn't an unrelentingly dark novel. I found it very readable and captivating. Definitely a 5 star read. ( )
  japaul22 | Aug 26, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (184 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mann, Thomasprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fontcuberta i Gel, JoanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Graftdijk, ThomasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lowe-Porter, H. T.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lowe-Porter, H. T.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Molenaar, Johan deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parker, DerekIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Quanjer, Th. A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rho, AnitaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosoman, LeonardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wallenström, UlrikaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woods, John E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"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!"
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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:47 -0400)

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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)

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