The Magic Mountain (Woods translation)

The Magic Mountain (Woods translation)

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In this dizzyingly rich novel of ideas, Mann uses a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps—a community devoted exclusively to sickness—as a microcosm for Europe, which in the years before 1914 was already exhibiting the first symptoms of its own terminal irrationality. The Magic Mountain is a monumental work of erudition and irony, sexual tension and intellectual ferment, a book that pulses with life in the midst of death.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679772873
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/28/1996
Series: Vintage International Series
Edition description: 1 VINTAGE
Pages: 720
Sales rank: 90,450
Product dimensions: 5.13(w) x 7.99(h) x 1.26(d)
Lexile: 1350L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

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Read an Excerpt


In 1912 Thomas Mann’s wife, Katja, stayed in Dr Friedrich Jessen’s ‘Waldsanatorium’ from March to September, suffering from a lung complaint. Mann himself visited her for four weeks in May and June. During that time, he said, he suffered a troublesome catarrh of the upper air passages, owing to the damp, cold atmosphere on the balcony. The consultant diagnosed a ‘moist spot’ of tubercular infection, just as Dr Behrens in the novel diagnoses Hans Castorp. Mann, however, did not stay in the magic mountain, but hastened back to Flatland and Munich, where his own doctor advised him to pay no attention. There is an ironic twist to this story which would have amused the novelist — Katja, it appears was misdiagnosed, whereas Mann himself, in his post-mortem, was indeed seen to bear the marks of an earlier tubercular illness.

This is the biographical germ of the novel. Its intellectual germ is related to Mann’s great novella, Death in Venice. Death in Venice was a classically constructed tragedy of the fall of a great artist and intellectual. The Magic Mountain was to be the satyr play that accompanied the tragedy — the comic and parodic tale of a jeune homme moyen sensuel, caught up in the dance of death, amongst the macabre crew of the sanatorium. Both tales represented the fate of someone out of context, on a holiday visit, encountering love, sickness and death with a peculiarly German mixture of fascination and resignation.

Work on the novella was interrupted by the First World War. Mann spent the war years writing passionately in support of the German cause. His ‘Thoughts in War’, his praise of Frederick the Great as a man of action, his Reflections of an Unpolitical Man, are definitions of the German genius which, he asserts, is concerned with Nature, not Mind, with Culture as opposed to Civilization, with military organization and soldierly virtues. Culture is

compatible with all kinds of horrors — oracles, magic, pederasty, human sacrifice, orgiastic cults, inquisition, witch-trials etc. — by which civilization would be repelled; for civilization is Reason, Enlightenment, moderation, manners, scepticism, disintegration — Mind (Geist).*
*T. J. Reed, Thomas Mann: The Uses of Tradition.

Culture is German. Civilization is predominantly French. Mann opposes Frederick the Great and Voltaire as archetypes of the opposition. Voltaire is a man of thought; Frederick, a greater hero, is a man of action. What Mann was arguing was very much what most German artists and writers were arguing — the ‘decadent’ took strength from a sudden nationalist identification. There was, also, a personal battle furiously pursued through the battle of ideas. Thomas Mann’s brother, Heinrich, was against the war, and in favour of socialism, civilization and reason. In November 1915 Heinrich Mann published an essay on Zola, praising Zola’s defence of Dreyfus, praising Zola as a civilized ‘intellectual’, castigating those in France (and by implication those in Germany) who compromised themselves by supporting unjust rulers and warmongers. There is a sense in which the wartime attitudes of the brothers mirror the conflict between the civilized Settembrini and the spiritual nihilist Naphta, in the novel as we read it. And in Thomas Mann’s Unpolitical Reflections (published in October 1918) he makes a direct attack on his brother, in the figure of the Zivilisationsliterat, who claims that he sides with Life, Reason, Progress, and is against death and decay. He quotes the author of ‘that lyrical-political poem which has Emile Zola as its hero’ as saying he himself has ‘the gift of life . . . the deepest sympathy with life’. Mann the ironist observes that ‘the problem of what ‘‘health’’ is, is not a simple problem’.

In August 1915 Mann wrote to Paul Amann:

Before the war I had begun a longish tale, set in a lung-disease sanatorium — a story with basic pedagogic-political intentions, in which a young man has to come to terms with the most seductive power, death, and is led in a comic-horrid manner through the spiritual oppositions of Humanism and Romanticism, Progress and Reaction, Health and Sickness, but more for the sake of finding his way and acquiring knowledge than for the sake of making decisions.

The spirit of the whole thing is humorous-nihilistic, and on the whole the story inclines towards sympathy with death. It is called The Magic Mountain and has a touch of the dwarf Nase for whom seven years passed like seven days, and the ending, the resolution — I can see no alternative to the outbreak of war.

In March 1917 Mann wrote again to Amman about the novel, this time describing the opposed figures of a ‘disciple of work and progress, a disciple of Carducci’ and a ‘doubting, brilliantly clever reactionary’, and qualifying his hero’s sympathy with death as ‘unvirtuous’. He has to write his unpolitical reflections, he claims, to avoid overloading the novel with ideas.

When the thousand-page novel was finally published in November 1924, Mann was reconciled with his brother after a bitter rift, and his attitudes to German culture and the justification of war had changed. The Magic Mountain itself was now a large and complicated work of art, working as a mixture of Dantesque allegory and modern European realism, of German mythic culture and intellectual debate, of Bildungsroman and farce.

The magic mountain itself is a myth and a symbol with multiple meanings and charms. The German magic mountain is the Brocken, up whose dangerous paths Goethe’s Mephistopheles leads the delinquent Faust, to join in the lawless and phantasmagoric delights of the Witches’ Sabbath, or Walpurgisnacht. In the Walpurgisnacht chapter of the novel Settembrini quotes Faust (as he often does):

Allein bedenkt! Der Berg ist heute zaubertoll,

Und wenn ein Irrlicht Euch die Wege weisen soll,

So mu¨ sst Ihr’s so genau nicht nehmen.

But bear in mind the mountain’s mad with spells tonight

And should a will-o’-the-wisp decide your way to light,

Beware — its lead may prove deceptive.

The Walpurgisnacht of the novel is Shrove Tuesday — the Munich ‘Fasching’ or licentious carnival feast of disorder. Mann marks the curiously timeless passing of time in the magic mountain with feast days like Midsummer, as well as fleeting seasonal weather. The hectic patients become phantasms and apparitions — Behrens, the superintendant is compared by Settembrini to Goethe’s leading warlock, Herr Urian.

But there are other, equally powerful magic mountains. There is the Venusberg of Wagner’s Tannha¨}user, in which the Thuringian Wartburg becomes the secret dwelling of Venus, who entices young knights into its depths, and surrounds them with sensuous delights, amongst nymphs and sirens. This Venus is a descendant of an ancient German goddess Holda, originally the white lady of spring, a figure not unlike the fairy queen who in British fairy story lures True Thomas into the hillside, where, also, seven years appear to be only one day. The dwarf, Nase (Nose), of Mann’s letter to Amann is also a fairy-tale figure, in a Romantic tale by Wilhelm Hauff — a little boy imprisoned by an enchantress and transformed into a dwarf — for whom also time passes at seven years in a day. The mysterious Clavdia Chauchat, and Castorp’s increasing erotic obsession with her, are part of these Venus-dreams, which shrivel and distort everyday reality.

German literature is a dialogue between German classicism and German romanticism, and there is also a German-classical original of the magic mountain. Nietzsche uses the precise word, ‘Zauberberg’ in The Birth of Tragedy (1870-71) to refer to Mount Olympus. ‘Now,’ he writes, ‘the Olympian magic mountain opens itself before us, showing its very roots.’ This ‘now’ in The Birth of Tragedy, is the moment when Nietzsche quotes the wisdom of Dionysus’s satyr companion, Silenus, who tells King Midas what is the greatest good of the human condition:

‘Ephemeral wretch, begotten by accident and toil, why do you force me to tell you what it would be your greatest boon not to hear? What would be best for you is quite beyond your reach: not to have been born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best is to die soon.’ What is the relation of the Olympian gods to this popular wisdom? It is that of the entranced vision of the martyr to his torment. Now the Olympian magic mountain opens itself before us, showing its very roots. The Greeks were keenly aware of the terrors and horrors of existence; in order to be able to live at all they had to place before them the shining fantasy of the Olympians.


Here is a very pertinent concatenation of a satyr, the desire for death which tempts Hans Castorp, and a mountain hutching illusory forms. Nietzsche’s argument in The Birth of Tragedy is that the beauty of Greek tragedy derives from the satyr chorus, which was originally a religious ritual celebrating the dismemberment and eating of the dying god, Dionysus, and later became the chorus, and the comic fourth satyr play which accompanied the classical tragic trilogy of plays at the City Dionysia. Nietzsche’s text turns on the opposition between the Apollonian and Dionysiac principles in Greek art. Apollo goes with clarity, definition, individuality, dream and illusion. Dionysus represents the drive to bloody dissolution, annihilation, and a strong and gleeful admission of the terror and meaninglessness of life. Sophoclean heroes, Nietzsche tells us, are Apollonian masks, which are the opposite of the dark circles we see when looking at the sun. They are luminous spots designed to ‘cure an eye hurt by ghastly night’.

The Birth of Tragedy haunts European culture. Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) establishes a death drive, or principle of thanatos, to change his vision of dreams as essentially pleasure-seeking. It was written partly in response to the persisting dark dreams of the soldiers of the First World War, forced to relive horrors. Mann plays with its ironies and ambiguities in many of his texts. Both Aschenbach, in Death in Venice, and Hans Castorp, have riddling dreams, directly drawn from Nietzsche’s vision, which are turning-points in their respective stories.

Aschenbach, the lucid artist, begins his descent into madness when he meets the stranger outside the mortuary chapel in Munich. This sharp-toothed person, with ‘an air of imperious survey, something bold or even wild about his posture’, and looking exotic and strange, is surely the figure of Dionysus who appears outside the little temple and greets Pentheus at the beginning of Euripides’ Bacchae. The boy, Tadziu, with whom Aschenbach falls in love in Venice, has a name that sounds like Zagreus, a name for the dismembered Dionysus. The stranger god, with his panthers, and the cholera, both come out of the East — as does the smiling Clavdia Chauchat, with her slanted Kirghiz eyes. Like Pentheus, Aschenbach disintegrates and has a very precise dream-vision of the stranger-god, with his flute-music, his rout of companions, ‘a human and animal swarm’ of maenads and goats, who tear at each other and devour ‘steaming gobbets of flesh’. It is a vision of the loss of self in the religious frenzy of the sacrificial feast.

Hans Castorp, in the late chapter, ‘Snow’, lost and wandering in circles, falls into an exhausted sleep. Castorp’s dreamvision is at first a blissful and idyllic vision of a classical Mediterranean landscape (based on a painting by Arnold Bo¨}cklin) of beautiful and healthy humans working and playing in orchards, in meadows, by the sea. But the dreamer is led into a temple where two old hags in the sanctuary are dismembering a living child above a basin, and cracking its bones between their teeth. The lovely order is intimately connected to the mystery of the dismembered god. This vision causes Castorp to understand that the ‘courteous and charming’ people are intimately connected to ‘that horror’. They are interdependent, health and horror. Castorp is the object, like Everyman, of a tug-of-war between the two philosophers, the life-loving, reasonable Settembrini and the destructive, voluptuous and malicious Naphta. In the snow he sees that neither is right. What matters is his heart-beat, and love.

The Magic Mountain, as well as being a German myth, is a parody of the Bildungsroman, in which a young man goes out into the world, and discovers his nature through his encounters. The two talkative opponents are pedagogues, representing visions of human nature and the world which were tested in Thomas Mann himself during the 1914-1918 war. Settembrini is partly attractive, and partly, as Castorp sees him, an organgrinder playing one tune, resolutely unaware of its limitations. Naphta, Jew, Jesuit, connoisseur of the irrational, the anarchic, the nihilistic, is closer to Mann’s own vision, which itself is closer to Nietzsche’s strong pessimism than to the hopefulness of the Age of Reason. An enormous proportion of the novel consists of bravura descriptions of battling ideas, and it is fashionable now to dismiss Mann as a ‘dry’ (even desiccated) ‘novelist of ideas’, as though that description meant that he did not understand human feeling, or passion, or tragedy. It is possible to argue that novelists in general give disproportionately less space to intellectual passions than their power in society warrants. People do think, and they do live and die for thoughts, as well as for jealousy or sex, or erotic or parental love. As that wise critic, Peter Stern, remarked drily, ‘seeing that modern men are as often intellectuals as they are gamekeepers or bullfighters, Mann’s preoccupation is, after all, hardly very esoteric’. It is perhaps worth making the point that my own early readings of The Magic Mountain, impeded by scholarly earnestness, trying to get my bearings in an ocean of unfamiliar words, and baffled by an inadequate translation, quite failed to see how funny, as well as ironic and subtle, much of the argumentation and debate is. The nature of our relation to the comedy changes as Castorp educates himself out of the extraordinary bourgeois unreflecting innocence in which he begins. He begins to be amused, and we readers begin to share his amusement, rather than laughing at him, or observing him from outside his world.

It is necessary to say something about the late appearance of the Personality, Mynheer Peeperkorn, a figure somewhere between Dionysus and Silenus, who is so little part of the verbal argument that he can never finish a sentence. The idea behind him is that here is someone who does not discuss living and dying, but simply lives and dies. He is what he is, and claims Clavdia because he is alive. To take him seriously as someone who transcends the dialectic between the disputing angels of ‘life’ and ‘death’ we need, I think, to see him in terms of Thomas Mann’s essay on Goethe and Tolstoy, published in 1922.

This complicated, passionate, witty essay compares the two great writers as earthy writers, comfortable in their skins, possessed of a natural egoism which is at the centre of their power as writers and as observers of the earth they live in. He uses for both of them the legend of the giant Antaeus ‘who was unconquerable because fresh strength streamed into him whenever he touched his mother earth’. Mann tells tales of playing games called ‘Numidian horsemen’ with a room full of adults and children. He recounts an incident recorded by Tolstoy’s father-in-law, Behrs:

They were walking about the room together in light converse one evening, when suddenly the elderly prophet sprang upon Behrs’s shoulder. He probably jumped down again at once; but for a second he actually perched up there, like a grey-bearded kobold — it gives one an uncanny feeling!

In the case of Goethe, Mann records, among other things, his sensitiveness to weather conditions:

It was due to his almost exaggerated sense-endowment; and became positively occult when that night in his chamber in Weimar he felt the earthquake in Messina. Animals have a nervous equipment that enables them to feel such events when they occur and even beforehand. The animal in us transcends; and all transcendence is animal. The highly irritable sense-equipment of a man who is nature’s familiar goes beyond the bounds of the actual senses, and issues in

the supra-sensual, in natural mysticism. With Goethe the divine animal is frankly and proudly justified of itself in all spheres of activity, even the sexual. His mood was sometimes priapic — a thing which of course does not happen with Tolstoy.

Mann contrasts this earthy self-possession with the spiritual ‘shadow-world’ of Dostoevsky (‘exaggeratedly true’) and with Schiller, another ‘son of thought’. Schiller’s

essay, ‘On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry’ was described by Mann as ‘the greatest of all German essays’. In it Schiller distinguishes between the ‘naive’ poet who has the plastic energy simply to make a world (Shakespeare, Homer), and the ‘sentimental’ poet who can only find a world through his own sensibility and reflections. Mann puts Schiller with Dostoevsky:

. . . the conflict between contemplation and ecstatic vision, is neither new nor old, it is eternal. And it finds complete expression in, on the one side, Goethe and Tolstoy, and on the other Schiller and Dostoevsky. And to all eternity the truth, power, calm and humility of nature will be in conflict with the disproportionate, fevered and dogmatic presumption of spirit.

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The Magic Mountain 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although not the easiest of reading it is a fine book with several themes, Time being one of them. However, I cannot recommend the Woods translation. The purpose of Woods' interpretation is a mystery to me. It's lost all the depth and richness in this slaughtered version. The best translation is by H.T. Lowe-Porter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a dense read. Yet, it is rewarding. Like all great literature, one can relate it to events in his life. It is tragic, but uplifting at the same time. The author wanted the book to be read twice for full effect. I'm only going to climb this mountain once, but I don't regret the journey as the views from the top are beautiful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This publisher has done a TERRIBLE job with the printing, avoid this! The cover is a low resolution, pixelated mess. The printing inside is super tiny (like 7 point) and there's a huge 3 inches of blank space at the top of every page for no reason. It's like someone printed this at home. I don't know what the deal is, but it's very unpleasant.
traumleben on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It took me half the summer to plow through this book, but I'm glad I stuck with it. I wouldn't call it a "page turner", but the varied themes and uncertain lives of the characters make it a difficult book to abandon. Mann's characters are residents of a sanitarium in Switzerland, some of whom are essentially permanent residents while others wash in and out during different parts of the book. The guests of the sanitarium are identified by nationality and characterized by their myriad illnesses. In a way, they're loosely representative of "sick old Europe" before the first World War, each person with their own personality, philosophies and alliances. Amid the romances, friendships and acquaintances, the main character, Hans Castorp, explores the meaning of time and perception of its passage; he grapples with the concept of honor in his interactions with the other guests, but more acutely as he compares himself to his cousin who has committed himself to a military life. His seven year stay provides time for a tremendous amount of introspection. Other philosophical issues surface throughout, namely through the discussions of two intellectuals (a German mystic and an Italian anarchist). Magic Mountain is a dense tapestry and really merits reading more than once, but it's going to sit on the shelf for awhile before I heed my own recommendation.
baswood on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Melancholic Hans; a melancholic MannThe Magic Mountain is shot through with melancholy. It is the feeling I had when I first read the book some years ago and it hit me again when I re-read it recently.Melancholy today can be defined as a constitutional tendency to be gloomy or depressed or as feeling of thoughtful sadness. The link with depression gives a sense of demotivating or of a person locked into a syndrome where it is difficult to get out from beneath it and who sinks into despair. Thomas Mann was writing his Magic Mountain before, during and after the first world war, when the idea of melancholy had positive as well as negative aspects. It was not just sadness, sorrow and despair (although there is plenty of that in The Magic Mountain); it was tinged with sweetness, it involved the pleasure of reflection and the contemplation of what one loves or longs for. It provided an opportunity for indulgent self-reflection. Earlier during the Romantic Period melancholy was thought to be an aesthetic emotion, which could be induced by a sense of place, a desolate moor, a vast ocean or the grandeur of the mountains. These places would provide the solitude necessary for melancholy thoughts. Earlier still melancholy was seen in an even more positive light; Albrecht Durer at the dawn of the Renaissance saw it as an attitude of study by a seeker of knowledge and linked it all with alchemy."And every herb that sips the dewTill old experience do attainTo something like prophetic strainThere pleasures melancholy giveAnd I with thee will choose to live"(John Milton from Il Penseroso)Hans Castorp chooses to live with his melancholy for seven years at the Berghof sanatorium and indulges himself in this most bitter-sweet emotion, like many of his fellow residents. Robert Burton in An Anatomy of Melancholy says:"a most incomparable delight is to melancholize and build castles in the air, to go smiling to themselves acting an infinite variety of parts, which they suppose and strongly imagine they represent."Our hero Hans Castorp an only child of a merchant family travels to the Berghof sanatorium high in the mountains and a refuge for tuberculosis sufferers. He is visiting his sick cousin Joachim, but his intended stay of three weeks lasts for seven years as the institutional life at the Berghof suits his temperament and his feelings of being unwell are diagnosed as a possible "moist spot" on his lungs. At first he is company for Joachim, but soon meets and comes under the spell of some more long term sufferers; the humanist Settembrini, the totalitarian Jesuit Leo Naphta, the god-like personality who is Mynheer Peeperkorn and last but not least the seductive Clavdia Chauchat. They along with the Director Behrens all act as pedagogues for young Hans, who develops from being a callow youth into a man of reason.Mann creates a hothouse atmosphere in the Sanatorium and its surroundings to explore themes of illness and death, the passage of time, the nature of love and the shaping of society. There are lively debates centering on humanism, radicalism and religion. There are sexual scandals, intense nationalism leading to fistfights, horrible deaths through illness and finally the frightening summoning of a spirit from the other side. Mann is able to weave all his themes throughout this massive book and where dramatic events occur they do not interrupt the flow of his elegiac prose. Denis Diderot in his Encyclopeadia published in 1765 has this to say about melancholics:"Melancholics are usually sad pensive dreamers, anxious, steady in study and meditation, tolerant of cold and hunger, they have an austere face wrinkled eyebrow and a tanned complexion....they can behave like kings and emperors"I am not to sure about the wrinkled eyebrow but this strikes me as a fair description of Hans. His life in the sanitarium is conducive to those who are prone to melancholy. The rest cures that take up huge chunks of their day provide the perfect opportunity fo
Stormrose on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
13/20 Well, this is a short book! I'm joking, of course, because it's about 850 some pages long...and worth every one of them. When I started reading it, I was in a very "this is a serious book and ought to be approached as such" mindset; but fortunately, the novel beat that out of me, which was good - or else I would not have appreciated it half as much. Yes, it is a serious novel, but it's also a fun novel, an interesting novel, a hilarous novel (what else to a say in a story where characters lie about how high their fever is to get respect?). The plot can be described in two sentences: Young man goes to a sanitorium. Young man gets stuck in sanitorium: brilliance ensues. The cast of characters is fantastic, from the lewd, but strangely sexy and sophisticated Frau Chauchat, to the perfect military cousin Joaquim (who comes back in a seance later), and the director, who probably has tuberculosis himself). Readings this book, you start to wonder if anyone DOESN'T have tuberculosis - it seems that once you get onto the mountain, the atmosphere sucks you in, and you develop the disease just to avoid leaving! And the atmosphere is incredibly thick and powerful, we readers are sucked into it as much as the hero Hans is.I've never read a novel as obsessed - and as intelligent in its obsession - with time as this one, which not only philosophizes on time, but also applies that philosophy in the structure of the novel itself - more than half of the novel takes place during the first year, and the next six get progressively less time. What else to say about this book? A book where the attraction is expressed in terms of anatomy: " derived from and perfected by substances awakened to lust via means unknown, by decomposing and composing organic matter itself, by reeking flesh." The beauty of sickness: " There was something perfectly delighful and enjoyable about a tickle in the depths of your chest, that got worse and worse until you reached down deep for it, squeezing and pressing to let it have its way." Perhaps what this book is about is living life in the constant presence of death, and the way it's written, this seems almost like a good thing.
GarySeverance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"The Magic Mountain" is a lengthy extension of a comical short story of a passive, unremarkable upper middle class gentleman. World War I caused Mann to use the character as an observer of the decay of traditional German values and the political and social chaos that culminated in a "break" that changed Germany forever. Like Goethe's Faust, Hans Castorp takes a tour of life remaining passive as he explores the nature of time, the influence of art, the responsibility of social intervention, the obsession of passion, the intrusion of other cultures, and the direct confrontation of death. This novel has a profound effect on readers as they are linked to and limited by Castorp's perceptions. We are passively exposed to ideas and events as Hans travels to the sanitorium for a brief stay. Weeks become months as Hans receives a vague diagnosis, and we share his fate. Time slows to a virtual standstill during some days and accelerates to another season a few pages later. Years go by as we are exposed to the cultural views of the era. Ultimately, Hans must accept responsibility for his own life and death as we do page by page. This is a remarkably life-changing novel, particularly for readers intimidated by their own death.
Luli81 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I finished this over-long book and I can only say I am not prepared to read it again, even if Thomas Mann himself asked me in person.A complex book, philosophy, history and politics all mixed up with symbolism and irony. The author plays with the perception of time and the reader loses touch with reality. A weak main character, too much vanity and little sense. For my taste.I won't deny the singularity of the work, but I can't say I enjoyed it. I must have a too much plain mind to follow this kind of argument, I'll leave it for others to enjoy, I'll turn to something quite different.
labrick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book follows the story of Hans Castorp from his opulent, although fractured, early life through his stay at a Swiss sanatorium reserved mostly for tubercular patients. His main companion during and after his acclimatization to this other-worldly center for the infirm is his cousin Joachim, an ambitious and reserved military man whose only mission is to return to the ¿flatlands¿ and continue his career. Stays at the Berghof Sanatorium are lengthy, to say the least: ¿the shortest measurement of time is the month¿. Joachim, a resident for six months before Hans arrives, explains the regimented daily routine and odd etiquette that exists in Berghof. Although there are many other colorful guests, the patients remain relatively isolated, even from each other. This makes Joachim and Hans¿s relationship all the more important throughout the book.The book has many sub-stories (not subplots): little vignettes that add to the subject matter, but have no real bearing on the main story. This shouldn¿t be taken to mean that these tangents are strictly diversionary and ultimately damaging to the continuity of the story, some are immensely insightful and complementary. Time, or the perception of time, being a major them throughout the book, it should be noted that at Berghof, where every day is like the next, time does not exist. Hans notes that ¿The scholastics of the Middle Ages claimed to know that time is an illusion . . . and that the true state of things is a permanent now.¿ This idea of timelessness and its relationship to eternity are central to the theme of this book. In addition to this idea of eternity, Hans and other characters are constantly referring to the two main doctors by names that are associated with mythical gods that judge the dead. There are heavy undertones of existentialism and transcendentalism throughout: whole segments of inner dialogue that Hans calls ¿playing king¿ (Ex.¿For the sake of goodness and love, man shall grant death no dominion over his thoughts.¿). This philosophizing is what I found most intriguing about the book, not the interpersonal struggles that occurred in the closed environment of the sanatorium. Although very interesting and thought provoking at times there is some redundancy in the book that is unnecessary; the author could have just stated that life at the sanatorium was monotonous. There are also large sections devoted to debates between Hans¿s two polarized ¿pedagogues¿ (opinionated intellectuals who are also patients) that become tedious and tend to obfuscate. Understandably, these characters are essential to the struggle of opposing viewpoints, but the subject matter tends to become purely theoretical and trite. One final negative point about the book is that different languages are used throughout. Luckily I read the newest version that translated much of the non-English text, but I now have a couple bookmarked translation websites because of this book. Unless you have a working knowledge in French, Italian, German, Latin, and Spanish, you will find yourself translating at least small sections of text every couple of pages; not to mention that you will most likely be using the English dictionary quite a bit as well.Obviously an extremely intelligent person, hence the Pulitzer, Mann provided something for me to take away from the read. Although this is true, I¿m sorry to say that I¿ve gleaned much more from books with less pretention and girth. I was originally drawn to this book because I had read some by Hermann Hesse and was looking for other German authors. Although this is the best, and only, ¿time novel¿ I have read (the author labels it that within the book), I found Steppenwolf to be a far superior book as it relates to personal introspection and the polarity of ethics. This epic should be a ways down your list of books to read. If you really want to read Thomas Mann, try Death in Venice and then give this book a shot.
Myhi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The very best of Mann; an all-times masterpiece, not really easily to read though. Some of the never-ending discussions on topics no one cares about anymore are hard to go through; still worth making the effort.. Find myself thinking of that Hans sometimes, that special/timeless world on the top of a mountain - and the last scene.... Hans disappearance - back to the world, back to life, Hans actually died once he cured.
ThomasBurnett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I just finished Thomas Mann's Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain, tr. John Woods), and without a doubt it is among the five best works of literature that I have ever read. Covering more than 700 densely-packed pages, it is not for the light of heart, but provides ample reward for the tenacious reader. Published in 1924 and winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1929, The Magic Mountain should reside on your shelf next to The Brothers Karamazov, The Persian Letters, The Sorrows of Young Werther, and East of Eden.Part of why I found this novel so delightful was that I could closely relate to the ordeal of the protagonist, Hans Castorp, who as a young man finds himself unexpectedly confined to a hospital. In his case, he makes a trip to a sanatorium high in the Swiss Alps to visit his cousin. The patients are all receiving treatment for tuberculosis, and since most have been there for quite a long time, he finds himself in a very different culture than the "flatlands" from which he came. Just before leaving, Castorp asks for a physical exam to determine the cause of a fever which was plaguing him during his stay. But to his disappointment, the doctor finds that he has a mild case of tuberculosis himself! Our poor hero will be staying on for much longer than three weeks he had planned, and not as a guest, but as a patient.One of the most interesting themes in the novel is the treatment of time. Far up in the mountains, completely removed from the normal iterations of daily life, time takes on a different dimension. Each day is strictly regimented to best facilitate the recovery of patients. The residents move from bedroom, to dining hall, to outdoor "rest cure," and back, in an utterly predictable manner. Far from what one might expect, this apparent tedium does not cause time to slow down, but rather speed up, since each day is nearly indiscernible from all others. Thus, Hans Castcorp learns, his original three week stay is hardly worth mentioning: up here, a month is the smallest measurable unit of time.Besides our hero, there are two other outstanding characters: Settembrini, a boisterous Italian literary humanist, and Naphta, a sharp-tonged communist Jesuit. Castorp takes on the role of student when listening to the rhetorical fireworks of these bombastic speakers. These three men, along with a cast of other patients with tuberculosis, fill hundreds of pages of fascinating narrative and dialog. Put it on your Christmas list now
Autodafe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the most intellectually stimulating novels about the Fin Du Siecle period I have ever read. The exchanges between Herrs Naphta and Settembrini are brilliant.
Niecierpek on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The setting for this novel is Switzerland seven years before the First World War. Hans Castrop, a young 23-year-old German engineer right before his first job, goes to visit his cousin Joachim in a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps, where the former is getting the cure for TB. Hans ends up staying there for seven years. While there, he undergoes an education in ideas, love, compassion and truths of life. His main teachers are Settembrini, an Italian humanist intellectual, and Naphta, a curious conservative communist theologian. In terms of genre, The Magic Mountain is a novel of ideas and rather removed from what we would expect from a novel nowadays. As A.S Byatt points out:`Novel-readers expect certain emotional satisfactions -- love and liking, drama and tension, insights into the motivations and drives of characters. At first, and at second glance these things are deficient in this story . . . Nevertheless, I think, we persist in trying to read this story as a novel, and not simply as an allegory. This is partly at least because Mann always raises his structure of meaning on a foundation of the real, the solid, the banal, the observable.¿ It is undoubtedly an impressive intellectual work with a lot of scholarly discussion and many poignant insights, but it struck me as ultimately a work of longing and unfulfillment. Everybody there is longing for something they cannot get, whether at the intellectual or emotional level. No love is reciprocated, no teacher convinces a follower, no mystery of life¿s conduct or social contract is resolved. The only resolutions come through death. To put it in Mann's words, 'Death is the beginning and the end. Death is part of Life. Death is not the opposite of Life, Love is'.In the end the novel is quite wonderfully humane and contemporary. Even though Mann remains both aloof and mildly sarcastic towards all his characters and himself throughout the narration, there is a lot of humane intensity there. It was interesting to learn that Naphta¿s views were fashioned on Thomas¿ early political and philosophical views influenced mainly by Nietzsche, and the humanistic views of Settembrini on his brother¿s, Heinrich. It turns out that Thomas, a German nationalist early on (despite the fact that both his mother and wife were Jewish), was against democracy and progress. His views changed diametrically after WWI and became close to those of progressive communism later on in his life. The Nazis evicted the family from their home and burnt Mann¿s books.
dchaikin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
49. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (1924, 706 pages, read Sep 26-Nov 23)Translated from German by John E. Woods, 1995It felt like something of an accomplishment just to finish this one, but really I only scratched the surface. Hans Castrop goes to a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Swiss Alps for a vacation before starting his first real job. He is visiting his cousin, a patient. But things are different up on the mountain, and somehow Castrop ends up as one of the patients and spends seven years resting and recovering. There are multiple themes explored in this book, and all with ambiguity and without answers, and at length. Reading the text only gets into part of the conversation, as it's only one layer, or more like a hallway of open doors with rooms to explore. The main theme I took from Hans was one of reflection. Young, an orphan, educated but unbiased, he's a blank slate willing to listen to or read anything and everything, and then think about it during his "rest cures". And things do happen to him, but it's not always clear what. Another is the theme of time, the magic mountain seems outside real time. "So then, what is time? Will you please tell me that? We perceive space with our senses, with vision and touch. But what is the organ for the sense of time? Would you please tell me that? You see, you're stuck. But how are we going to measure something about which, precisely speaking, we know nothing at all--cannot list a single one of its properties. We say time passes. Fine, let it pass for all I care. But in order to measure, wait! In order for it to be measurable, it would have to flow evenly, but where is it written that is does that? it doesn't do that for our conscious minds, we simply assume it does, just for the sake of convenience. And so all our measurements are merely conventions, if you please."A masterpiece of sorts, I can't say this changed my life, but when I look back at the hours I spent reading, some of them very difficult and challenging hours, I don't regret a moment of them. If the stars align right and I get in the mood to read this again, to give it a little more of the time it deserves, it will be with anticipation.
poulantik on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
a famous and difficult to read novel - but is worth the trouble.
zip_000 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've just read some of the reviews for this book, which I just finished reading earlier this week. It's interesting to note that the book is the sort, at least for me, that requires one to finish and digest a bit before its qualities really begin to come out. I initially gave it only 3 and a half stars, but some of the other reviews convinced me to bump it up to 4 stars (not that stars matter at all)"The Magic Mountain" took me much longer to read than anything in recent memory. I've read the first four volumes of Proust's "In Search of Lost Time" and also Joyce's "Ulysses" recently, and they were really smooth sailing (and much more enjoyable) when compared to this one. While reading, I found the book variously boring, obvious, and pedantic. After about the half way point - I'd guess close to the introduction of Naptha, the novel got much more interesting. But then the end seemed to tack on several completely unnecessary chapters. I understand that the Peeperkorn character probably represents the decay of culture, but it just seemed superfluous to be. Also, the several sections which were essentially just reviews or critiques of musical selections were, I think, tediously unnecessary.I've read two other of Mann's novels: "Death in Venice" and "Doctor Faustus," and I liked both of those quite a bit better. There were certainly some very good sections in "The Magic Mountain." I especially enjoyed the skiing incident; I also appreciated the romance in the novel - I appreciated that it ultimately was not the point.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When thinking of The Magic Mountain and Hans Castorp, the young protagonist of the novel, I cannot help but consider the loss of innocence resulting from Hans' gradually increasing knowledge. As he learns from discussions with Settembrini and Naphta he gradually grows into a young man of some little wisdom. His questions and speculations mirror our own and his world, upon leaving the sanatorium, becomes a mirror for ours. Who is our Mephistopheles?
pickwick817 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I did not get much from this book. Some books I think I need Cliffnotes for, or would get more out of if I read it as part of a class. This is one of those books. Its about a guy who basically gets lost along the road of life. He ends up at a dead end for quite a while, and does not seem to mind it. He encounters some interesting characters while stagnating in his life. That's about all I got from it.
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PBrant More than 1 year ago
The German author Thomas Mann had the luck, not of the Irish, but of the novice. His social novel "Buddenbrooks", his first one, became a world bestseller, and literally made his name. First published in 1901, the novel became his best-known work until "The Magic Mountain" appeared in 1924 (n the USA, 1927). Inbetween he published a number of stories and lesser novels, such as "Royal Highness." With "The Magic Mountain," though, Mann undertook a much more expansive and philosophical turn. His novel of the lives of tuberculosis patients in a Swiss alpine sanatorium involved a large cast of characters and a tragic tone. The tragedy not only lay in the patients' illness but in the misguided treatment of their diesease. For sending them to a high altitude sanatorium to be treated was more or less sealing their fate. The altitude debilitated them, and led to their death. The "cure" was fatal. However, the novel is not one of unrelieved gloom, but a portrait of member of pre-World War I society. Indeed, the story is somewhat derailed by some philosophical chapters, that have little to do with the plot. Nevertheless, the narrative is gripping and contains a great deal of moving events about the fates of the patients. All in all, "The Magic Mountain" leaves one touched by the sad fates of those afflicted by a disease that been the subject of many a 19th century novel: tuberculosis. In this novel they belong to a community of sufferers, who nevertheless face their desitny with a good deal of courage.