Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man Summary
Thomas Mann traces the progress of the "confidence man: of the title from his childhood through young adulthood. Felix, born and raised in Germany, begins life in a well-off family. Even as a child, Felix is captivated by acting after attending his first theatrical performance. His father, who makes champagne, unfortunately suffers serious setbacks, ultimately goes bankrupt, and, in despair, kills himself. These disasters prompt his family’s move from the countryside to Frankfurt. Felix is supposed to enter the military, but he fakes his way out of it. Thus released from doing his proper duty, he takes the train to France. En route, he steals a jewel case from another traveler.
Once in Paris, he starts work in a hotel, where he takes a different name and sells some of the jewels. In a convenient plot twist, he also becomes the lover of the wealthy woman who previously owned the jewels and, when it is revealed that he stole them, does not seem to mind. Felix uses his own name in his evening forays into Paris nightlife. He befriends a young nobleman who wants to stay in Paris with his charming mistress, but his parents want to send him away. Felix strikes a deal to impersonate the marquis and travel in his stead. On a train to Portugal, he meets a natural scientist, who provides the supposed aristocrat with an introduction to his family in Lisbon. While his daughter is initially captivated with Felix, it turns out that it is her mother whom Felix finally seduces.
Felix Krull is born in the Rhine Valley, the son of a champagne maker named Engelbert Krull. Townspeople consider the Krull family upper class but frown on the easygoing way of life in the Krull household; Engelbert, for one thing, shows too much interest in one of his female employees. The Krulls frequently invite friends, among them Felix’s godfather, Herr Schimmelpreester, for merry parties, in which Felix and his sister Olympia are allowed to take part.
The greatest experience of Felix’s youth is a dramatic performance by a famous actor, Müller Rose. Since the actor is a friend of his father, Felix is allowed to visit backstage. When he sees the actor removing his makeup, he is completely disillusioned, but he marvels at the impressions an actor can create. Before long, Felix himself becomes an actor. He starts extending school vacations by falsifying his father’s signature on absentee notes, but he finds even more satisfaction from feigning sickness so convincingly as to leave the family doctor completely persuaded of his illness.
The champagne business unfortunately does not prosper. Englebert’s champagne is bottled exquisitely, but the wine is of such poor quality that even Herr Schimmelpreester speaks of it only with disdain. The loss of his business and, soon thereafter, his friends is too much for Engelbert, who shoots himself. Herr Schimmelpreester recommends that Frau Krull open a rooming house in Frankfurt. He arranges for Olympia to be employed in a light opera company and Felix to be apprenticed in a Paris hotel. When the prospect of military conscription prevents Felix’s departure, he is free to explore city life in Frankfurt, although lack of financial means restricts his role to that of an outside observer. He studies the behavior of society at theaters and learns from window displays what is recommended for gentlemen. With equal interest, he studies the lives of prostitutes. Until now he had only one experience with one of his father’s female employees. He meets Rosza and, while her procurer is in jail, becomes her lover.
If Felix wants to follow Herr Schimmelpreester’s advice to seek employment in Paris, he has two alternatives: to serve his military term or to be excused entirely from service. After careful preparation, he goes to the army medical examination center. While declaring his fervent desire to serve the fatherland, he manages to convey the most unfavorable information about his background, and he crowns his performance with a...
(The entire section is 1,419 words.)