Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Doctor Faustus is arguably one of the most significant novels of the twentieth century in any language. Acclaimed as a masterpiece at the time of its original publication, Doctor Faustus has been the subject of hundreds of scholarly articles and books.
The story centers on the life and career of Adrian Leverkühn, a preternaturally gifted man who is born into the Germany of the Second Reich in the generation following the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). The novel follows Leverkühn’s life and career until his death in 1943. Leverkühn is born into a provincial middle-class farming family. His parents are conventional, but his father does harbor some eccentric scientific interests. During his childhood, Leverkühn becomes lifelong best friends with Serenus Zeitblom, who serves as the novel’s putative narrator. Originally attracted to both mathematics and music, Leverkühn goes to college to study theology, a course of study that he eventually abandons in favor of music. Leverkühn’s prowess as a composer advances rapidly, but it is not until after he contracts syphilis from a prostitute (his only sexual experience) that his music becomes totally original and groundbreaking. As the syphilis proceeds to destroy Leverkühn’s physical and mental states, his creativity as a composer increases. After having achieved the first fruits of international success, Leverkühn suffers a complete nervous and mental breakdown and spends the last...
(The entire section is 1465 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
At the outset, Serenus Zeitblom doubts his ability to narrate understandably the life story of his friend Adrian Leverkühn. His friend is a musical genius whose strange, doomed career shows many parallels with the course of German history in the twentieth century. A former professor of philology, living in retirement and out of sympathy with the Adolf Hitler regime and greatly concerned for the future of his country, Zeitblom hesitantly begins his task in May, 1943.
Adrian Leverkühn was born in 1885 on a farm near Kaiseraschern, in Thuringia. His family was of superior yeoman stock, and his father, a man interested in curious natural phenomena, did everything in his power to stimulate his son’s intellectual curiosity. Adrian’s boyhood friend, Zeitblom, was a frequent visitor in the Leverkühn household. Years later Zeitblom can remember his friend’s absorbed interest in a book filled with pictures of exotic lepidoptera. One in particular, Heroera Esmeralda, fascinated the boy because of its unusual beauty and protective coloring. Adrian was introduced to music by a hired girl who taught him old folk songs.
Because the farm was to go to an older brother, the family intended that Adrian, a boy of brilliant mind and arrogant disposition, would become a scholar. When he was ten years old, he entered the school in Kaiseraschern. Living in the house of his uncle, a dealer in musical instruments, he had the run of the shop and began...
(The entire section is 1194 words.)