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Thomas Mann: Der Erwählte (The Holy Sinner)

This is Mann’s retelling of the legend of Pope Gregory and he lays on all the medieval literature paraphernalia but, as with Joseph und seine Brüder (Joseph and His Brothers), he is endeavouring both to go beyond the traditional myth (his inspiration was the German poet Hartmann von Aue) and to bring in related cultures and their myths (he even throws in an Oedipal story and a good bit of incest, as Gregory’s parents are brother and sister) so this is not a standard Christian hagiography by any means. Of course, it is not unconnected with events in Germany at that time (1940s) and therefore the emphasis on sin and the redemption of sin is particularly relevant. Does it work? I preferred Joseph und seine Brüder (Joseph and His Brothers) which, despite being a standard Christian story, was more exotic than this novel. But if the idea of sins and their redemption is one you can accept, you will certainly appreciate this work.

Publishing history

First published in German by Fischer 1951
Translated by H. T. Lowe-Porter