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Thomas Mann: Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain)

This is often considered Mann’s finest novel, particularly by non-Germans. While it is indeed a great novel, the allegory seems to me to be too pointed and it doesn’t seem to work as well as some of his other works. It is about Hans Castorp, a young man who is exhausted after taking his engineering exams and who is advised by his doctor to rest in a sanatorium for a few weeks. He heads for a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland, where his cousin is already undergoing a cure. While there he meets a strange cast of characters – his neighbours who are always making love, the Italian writer Settembrini and the probably married but desirable Clavdia Cauchat. Hans is found to have TB, the disease symbolic of death and decay, Mann’s favourite topic. Indeed, Hans’ fascination for Clavdia extends not to having a picture of her on his table but a copy of her X-rays. Hans stay of a few weeks is extended to seven years during which seances, love affairs, duels and other adventures succeed one another in an atmosphere of death and decay. It all ends when the First World War breaks out and Hans is off to the trenches where we leave him at the end. Mann takes us through the range of ideas floating around Europe – freedom, humanism versus absolutism, human suffering as well, of course, as death and decay – but it seems too contrived.

Publishing history

First published in German by Fischer 1924
First published in English 1927 by Knopf
Translated by H[elen] T Lowe-Porter