Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 385

‘‘Disorder and Early Sorrow’’ is often overlooked in the discussions of Mann’s literary output. After its first publication in 1925, it was reissued in 1934 with ‘‘Marion the Magician’’ and then in 1936 in the collection Stories of Three Decades . It has been included in several short story anthologies,...

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‘‘Disorder and Early Sorrow’’ is often overlooked in the discussions of Mann’s literary output. After its first publication in 1925, it was reissued in 1934 with ‘‘Marion the Magician’’ and then in 1936 in the collection Stories of Three Decades. It has been included in several short story anthologies, including The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction (1977) and The Norton Introduction to Literature: Fiction (1973). It has received limited attention from reviewers, but perhaps its most impressive appraisal came from Mann himself. On the occasion of his fiftieth birthday, his publisher asked for a special piece to be included in a commemorative collection. He submitted ‘‘Disorder and Early Sorrow.’’ He remarked at the time that it is ‘‘a story which I like so much that I am tempted to count it among my very best.’’ This praise is noteworthy since Mann was a very severe critic of his own work. About his The Magic Mountain, generally highly regarded among critics, he said that it was ‘‘a triumph of stubbornness, even if nothing more.’’

Noted critic Malcolm Cowley remarked that in ‘‘Disorder and Early Sorrow,’’ ‘‘all the hysteria of the German inflation is distilled into the tears of a six-year-old girl.’’ Agnes E. Meyer, recognizing the story as what Mann once called ‘‘little fingerexercises,’’ regards the work as something that allowed the author to clear his head before he moved on to write a longer novel, and calls the story a tale of ‘‘impeccable beauty.’’ Franklin E. Court summarized the symbolism of the title in an essay for Studies in Short Fiction: The disorder of the world is manifest in the workings of the Cornelius family, and ‘‘the revelers . . . seem to have come to terms with the ‘disorder’—they ignore it or find happiness in spite of it. Ellie’s ‘early sorrow’ is destined to intensify as long as she believes so firmly in ‘swan knights’ and ‘fairy princes’ like Hergesell.’’

Critical opinion on Mann’s writing as a whole has been consistently favorable. Though some critics have suggested that his stories suffer from pretentiousness and that his characters are cold and distant, most praise him for the depth of his vision and the vastness of his intellect. He has been called a master of style, and his works, through their realism and symbolism, have appealed to a wide audience.

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Essays and Criticism