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In addition to his short fiction, Thomas Mann wrote novels, essays, and some poetry. When he received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929, his novel Buddenbrooks (1901; English translation, 1924) was cited specifically, though many of his later novels have received wide acclaim. Especially widely read and written about are the novel Der Zauberberg (1924; The Magic Mountain, 1927), a philosophical exploration of post-World War I dilemmas, and the four volumes of Joseph und seine Brüder (1933-1943; Joseph and His Brothers, 1934-1944, 1948), a modern mythology based on biblical tales. Mann’s essays, collected in Adel des Geistes (1945; Essays of Three Decades, 1947), cover a broad range of political and literary issues.

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During more than half a century of writing and publishing both fiction and nonfiction, the German writer Mann received at least a dozen honorary doctoral degrees from universities in Europe and the United States. Though Mann lost both his honorary doctorate from the Rheinische Friedrich Wilhelm Universität in Bonn and his German citizenship in 1936, when he was accused of “subversive attacks on, and the gravest insults to, the Reich,” he was reinstated as an honorary doctor at Bonn in 1947. Among his other honorary doctorates, two stand out in particular: One was his honorary doctorate from Harvard University, which he received together with Albert Einstein in 1935; the other was an honorary doctorate of natural sciences from the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule of Zurich in 1955, a degree that especially pleased Mann because it was so unusual.

Mann received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929, and he received numerous other honors throughout his writing career, including the Herder-Prize of Czechoslovakia for exiled writers in 1937. During his international travels, both before and during his exile, Mann received many personal honors. In 1935, he was the guest of former American president Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife at a private dinner at the White House. From 1938 to 1941, he was a visiting professor at Princeton University, and in 1953, two years before his death, Mann saw Pope Pius XII in private audience.

Mann’s fiction is diverse, sometimes reflecting conventions of the nineteenth century, as in Mann’s early novel Buddenbrooks, sometimes exploring philosophical dilemmas, as in his novel The Magic Mountain, sometimes experimenting with stream-of-consciousness writing, as in the final chapter of his novel Lotte in Weimar (1939; The Beloved Returns, 1940), and sometimes rewriting mythology, as in the tetralogy Joseph and His Brothers, based on a biblical story, and the novella The Transposed Heads, adapted from a Hindu legend. Always, however, Mann infused a new irony into his fiction. He is a key figure in Western literature.

Other literary forms

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Thomas Mann (mahn) presents a complex intellectual and aesthetic physiognomy, primarily in the area of long and short fiction, though for many he is equally powerful as an autobiographical, literary-critical, or political essayist. Alongside his novels and novelettes stand his novellas and short stories; the two types of fiction are often mixed in collections such as Ausgewahlte Erzählungen (1945).

A true twentieth century classical author, Mann spanned all the restless philosophical issues of his day, obsessed with the notion of decay and nothingness, with the concept of beauty superhumanly understood and melancholically associated with death, and with the shifting verities of political, social, and moral existence in a decadent world. On one hand, with the exception of the World War I period, during his early and middle years he guarded jealously his posture of intellectual independence and impartiality before historical events, retaining the objectivity of a witnessing...

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Critical Essays