Letters of Heinrich and Thomas Mann, 1900-1949

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Heinrich Mann’s name is less familiar than that of his Nobel Prize-winning brother in the United States. In the U.S. he is best known for PROFESSOR UNRAT (1905), the novel on which the Marlene Dietrich film THE BLUE ANGEL (1930) was based, but he ranks as one of Germany’s finest twentieth century writers. Because Thomas, five years younger, achieved success in his mid-twenties with his novel BUDDENBROOKS (1901), Heinrich early on had to become accustomed to being the “Other Mann.” Furthermore, the younger brother could be irritatingly patronizing. The earlier letters reveal two competitors, a situation exacerbated in middle life by their divergent attitudes toward their country during World War I, Heinrich being more of an internationalist and Thomas an intense proponent of German culture.

After the war the two established a more brotherly exchange by avoiding political and literary topics, but as they grew older and more secure in their professional lives, the correspondence regains intellectual quality—but without the earlier abrasiveness. The threat of Nazism, which appalled and eventually made refugees of both, brought them closer together emotionally and spiritually even as it separated them geographically.

LETTERS OF HEINRICH AND THOMAS MANN, 1900-1949 is a physically handsome book that paints a fascinating picture of an enduring relationship between two gifted brothers against the background of the international disorder of their times. Editor Hans Wysling has supplied a substantial introduction, eight pages of well-chosen photographs, and extensive identifying endnotes.