Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man Analysis

Thomas Mann

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Lisbon. Portugal’s capital city was to be only a brief stop on a world tour that Felix undertakes using an identity he has traded with an aristocratic Parisian friend. Because of a chance encounter on the Paris-to-Lisbon train with a distinguished paleontologist, his visit is extended for many weeks so that he can exploit his new identity in attempting to seduce the man’s wife and daughter.

Lisbon is one of many southern European destinations found in Thomas Mann’s fiction; the most celebrated occurs in Death in Venice (1912), but a more compelling literary source for the notion of a sojourn in a southern region is the Italian journey of the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), whose life and work permeated the consciousness of writers like Mann. For both authors, southern Europe represents not merely a gentler climate but also the warmth and grace of classical and Mediterranean cultures as well as a relaxation of the cultural and sexual inhibitions of home.

Lisbon is the one locale in The Confessions of Felix Krull evoked with any great degree of topographic detail; its hills and streets, people and dwellings—and a bull ring still in use today—are colorfully described. However, Mann had little interest in visual detail for its own sake. In his last year he observed, “The world of the eyes is not my world.” The vividness of Krull’s description of Lisbon is Mann’s masterful interpretation of his character’s evolving experience. Though the beauty and grandeur of the city predictably fail to have an effect on Felix’s character, at last his love of luxury and sensuous pleasure is in harmony with the physical environment.

If Mann had lived to continue his tale of Felix Krull, the episode in Lisbon would likely have been a point of transition to even more exotic escapades in South America, but the novel’s abrupt conclusion, with a scene in a garden followed by a hilarious seduction, makes the city itself seem to be a true consummation of Felix’s desire.


*Paris. Felix arrives in the capital of France virtually penniless and leaves it a year later as an aristocrat, albeit a fake one; he is transformed in the City of Light, but not by it. Although he takes in the circus and the opera, and enjoys other modest pleasures that he can afford as a low-paid hotel worker, he gives little attention to the city’s famous monuments and other...

(The entire section is 1017 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Alter, Robert. Rogue’s Progress: Studies in the Picaresque Novel. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964. One of the better-known works on the picaresque novel, the book discusses changes in the genre as it moved across generations and national borders. The book treats several novels considered picaresque, including Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man.

Hatfield, Henry. From the Magic Mountain: Mann’s Later Masterpieces. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1979. A critical look at the novels of Thomas Mann based, in part, on Mann’s correspondence. The work addresses Mann’s increasing political awareness, his use of myth and comedy, and how he was viewed by his contemporaries.

Lewis, R. W. B. The Picaresque Saint. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1959. A critical survey of the picaresque genre with a primary concentration on other novelists but many references to Mann; Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man is judged to be one of his masterpieces and the “logical hero” of the age.

Mann, Erika. The Last Year of Thomas Mann. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1958. A firsthand account by Mann’s daughter of the inception and construction of Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man. Written in memoir form, the work gives an intimate portrait of the author.

Torrance, Robert M. The Comic Hero. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978. Traces the origin of the comic hero from his mythological antecedents through the modern novel. Contains an extended discussion of Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man as representative of the picaresque.