Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Berghof Sanatorium

Berghof Sanatorium. Health-care institution at Davos-Platz in the mountains of Switzerland. Primary setting of the novel. Thomas Mann’s visit to his wife while she was at a sanatorium near Davos was the inspiration for the novel and the source of many descriptions of place. Private rooms where patients lie for hours alone on their balconies as well as the monotony of the spa routine make the time pass quickly. What was to be a two-week sojourn for Castorp lasts seven years. Illness brings out the extraordinary even in a mundane person like Castorp. The unusual proximity to mortality sparks the genius in Castorp and other characters; it also stimulates their intellect and heightens their emotions. The detailed attention to the body that comes with constant physical exams, regular massage, and discussions of individual illnesses contributes to the basic conflict in the novel between the mind and nature, the material and the spiritual worlds—a conflict that preoccupies Mann in many of his works.


*Davos. Swiss resort area that includes a lake and the enclaves Davos-Dorf and Davos-Platz in the river valley, all places that the characters frequent and that constitute the view from the sanatorium, high on the mountain. As was true historically, Davos in the novel is a playground for the idle rich at the turn of the twentieth century. Stylishly dressed people wile away their leisure with outdoor band music, shopping in elegant stores, going to the movies (a new entertainment in those days), or winter sports. In view of World War I, which thunders into the novel at its close, these people and their pastimes look...

(The entire section is 687 words.)