Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend Analysis

Thomas Mann

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Buchel (BEW-shihl) Family farm on which Adrian was born in the heart of Germany, not far from Weissenfels. It is an idyllic German farm with abundant land and forest to sustain three generations of the Leverkühn family. In typical German fashion, the timberwork residence, barns, and stalls are built together to form a courtyard. In the middle is a giant old linden, a Germanic symbol of the cosmic tree at the center of the world connecting heaven and earth.

For ten years, Adrian and his friend Serenus play with the farm animals, feast on wild berries and blossoms, swim in a pond, and hike to the top of a hill. It is an edenic picture of German country life. Yet there is something eerie about the charm of Buchel. Adrian’s father has a streak of a morbid magician. The buxom dairymaid teaches the boys gruesome folk songs. Adrian has an odd disturbing laugh. As Serenus suggests, beauty conceals poison.

Buchel is Adrian’s cradle and grave. In the care of his loving mother, he spends the final ten years of his life at his home debilitated and lost to the world.


Kaisersaschern (KI-zurz-AHSH-urn). German town to which Adrian moves to attend school, about thirty miles from Buchel. Kaisersaschern, whose name means the “emperor’s ashes”—namely those of Otto III—is a composite of several German towns but is most similar to Lübeck, Mann’s birthplace and home in northern Germany. It is a modern commercial and industrial town of 27,000 inhabitants at a major railway junction and along the river Saale, the lifeblood of the area. At...

(The entire section is 665 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As in The Magic Mountain (1924), expositions and discussions of ideas dominate Doctor Faustus. This time they are concentrated...

(The entire section is 253 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Written between 1943 and 1947, Doctor Faustus expresses its author's shock and grief about the political, cultural, and moral...

(The entire section is 123 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

With the choice of his title, Mann consciously placed himself within the long tradition of Faust literature. Thorough as usual, he studied...

(The entire section is 782 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bergsten, Gunilla. Thomas Mann’s “Doctor Faustus”: The Sources and Structure of the Novel. Translated by Krishna Winston. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1969. Still the best detailed treatment of the novel’s background and construction. Includes a useful appendix of Mann’s source materials and a thorough, though now dated, bibliography.

Heller, Erich. “Parody, Tragic and Comic.” In Thomas Mann: The Ironic German. 1958. Reprint. South Bend, Ind.: Regnery/Gateway, 1979. A careful and approachable reading of Doctor Faustus as tragic parody of art and artists, history, religion, and humankind’s ability to create meaning.

Kahler, Erich. “The Devil Secularized: Thomas Mann’s Faust.” In Thomas Mann: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Henry Hatfield. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964. Written for Commentary in 1949, Kahler’s essay sees Doctor Faustus as a radical novel and Mann’s “terminal book,” in which he documented all he had to say about art and life. Excellent introduction to the issues involved in the novel.

Lehnert, Herbert, and Peter C. Pfeiffer, eds. Thomas Mann’s “Doctor Faustus”: A Novel at the Margin of Modernism. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1991. Originally presented at a symposium on the novel, the essays in this volume concentrate on several central aspects of the novel: women, Jews, questions of modernism in history, music, philosophy, narcissism, love, and death. A general introductory essay situates the novel historically.

Mann, Thomas. The Story of a Novel: The Genesis of “Doctor Faustus.” Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961. A fascinating and enlightening account of how Mann came to write the novel. A delightful counterpart to more traditional scholarly criticism. Provides biographical connections and interesting information on the problems of writing in exile.