*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...
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