E. M. Wilkinson (essay date 1944)

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SOURCE: "Tonio Krdger: An Interpretation," in Thomas Mann: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Henry Hatfield, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964, pp. 22-34.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1944, Wilkinson analyses theme and technique in Tonio Kröger.]

i. Themes

Tonio Kruger occupies a central position in Thomas Mann's...

(The entire section contains 50194 words.)

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SOURCE: "Tonio Krdger: An Interpretation," in Thomas Mann: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Henry Hatfield, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964, pp. 22-34.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1944, Wilkinson analyses theme and technique in Tonio Kröger.]

i. Themes

Tonio Kruger occupies a central position in Thomas Mann's spiritual and artistic development. But a work of art must contain its own justification, and to appreciate the story there is no need to know anything of the author's physical or literary antecedents, nor to have read anything else he has written. Taken in and for itself, Tonio Kruger is many things—above all a tender study of youth, of its yearnings and sorrows and its soaring aspirations, of the incredible bitterness of its disillusion. Herein lies, perhaps, its widest appeal. But it is also the story of the growth of a man and artist into self-knowledge, while yet another major theme is an account of the process of artistic creation. Much of this process, its later stage of shaping and craftsmanship, lies outside our actual experience. Even these the poet may enable us to experience imaginatively, so that under his spell we embrace even the alien and unknown. But in one vital aspect of artistic creation, its early phase of "seeing" as distinct from "shaping," we share directly.

This, the aesthetic experience, is a special kind of awareness of the universe. It comes in those moments when we experience things and people, not in their bearing on our own needs and affairs, but for their own sake. They are then no longer simply particular people, things, or events.

We see through their accidental bounds and discover immense vistas beyond. Such moments of profound recognition are often the moments of "idle tears" which well up "from the depths of some divine despair"; idle in the absence of personal-practical cause or end, tears not for sorrows but for Sorrow. "What business of yours is the king who weeps because he is lonely?" Tonio asks with tender irony. And Hans could but have answered "What indeed?" Yet this power to weep with the king implies knowledge of a kind that Hans will never have, "star pupil" though he be. For it is not the result of gifts or ability, but of an inner relation to events. Tonio converts [what T. S. Eliot, in The Family Reunion, called] the "continual impact of external event" into real experience, endows fortuitous happenings with pregnant meaning and reads the pattern out of life. For him the walnut tree and the fountain, his fiddle and the sea, are more than themselves. Into them he sees "contracted" the "immensities" of beauty and art. Above all he possesses a Hamlet-like clairvoyance about his own reactions to people. He despises his teachers for their rejection of his verse-making. Yet he cannot help seeing their point of view too, so that, "on the other hand," he himself feels this verse-making to be extravagant, and "to a certain extent" agrees with them. These qualifying phrases haunt him painfully early. He is poignantly aware of this complexity in his relations to his parents. The contrast between them is more than just a contrast between two individuals. It is evocative of deeper issues, a symbol of the dualism in his own nature. His relation to Hans is equally complex. Tonio knows well enough that it is a relation which can never bring fulfilment, a love in which all the longing and burning, all attempts at closeness and all torture at their frustration, will be on one side. But he knows far more than this. And it is just in this more that the quality of awareness emerges most clearly. For even at fourteen he senses the universality held within this personal experience. Anyone so aware of life as he, cannot help being open and vulnerable to literature too, where the art of the poet underlines the universal within the particular. But this again cuts him off from Hans, for whom bangs and explosions are associated with fireworks, but scarcely with thrills over Don Carlos!

In this story Thomas Mann dwells mainly on the pain which awareness brings, on the separating effect of this kind of knowledge. Its compensations are ignored. Yet they are very real, as Tonio must ultimately have known. The joy it brings outweighs the pain. And even though awareness may make the pangs of suffering sharper, it yet removes from it the destructive quality of blind sorrow. To be so involved that we can see nothing beyond ourselves, to be so completely sufferer that light is shut out, and we grope along in the darkness of almost animal pain, is a deadening experience. "Dumpfheit," mere hollow existence, Goethe called such blind living, and preferred "a life eternally resonant," whether it brought him joy or sorrow.

This awareness, the power of being absorbed in something beyond oneself, of responding to the essential quality of a thing or event, the artist shares with others. But in him the mood is more intense and more permanent. The differentiation within the self is such that he more continuously per-ceives meanings which are hidden when we are absorbed in our own affairs. Of him it is especially true that "there is one man in us who acts and one who watches." Thomas Mann holds fast for us the very moment when this watching trembles on the brink of becoming literature, the transition from awareness to the communication of it through the medium of words. We can distinguish four phases in Tonio's love for Hans; not in time, for they may have happened in one single illumination, but in quality and depth of experience. First he loved Hans and suffered much on his account. That is a purely personal experience expressed in particular terms. Then he was so organized that he received such experiences consciously and recognized the hard fact that he who loves more must suffer more. That is a general human experience expressed in universal terms. But now—and this is the transition from "watching" to "shaping"—"he wrote them down inwardly," that is, the experience became formed, a kind of blueprint of a poem. Finally we get the hallmark of the artist, the pleasure in the experience, with all its bitter knowledge, for its own sake, without any thought of its practical value for his living: "to a certain extent he took pleasure in these experiences, without indeed adjusting his personal life to them nor gaining practical advantage from them."

Much of Tonio's delight in his beloved "fountain, walnut tree, his violin and, far away, the sea, the Baltic," is due to the music of their names, "names which can be included in verses, with good effect." It is the delight the poet takes in calling "the bright, unshadowed things he sees by name." When Lisaveta speaks of the "redeeming power of the word," she surely means that through his medium the artist's insight becomes manifestly fruitful. But again Tonio chooses to ignore the rewards and to dwell rather on the toll which the artist must pay for having surrendered to the power of his medium, a toll paid in sterility and isolation. Even as early as his love for Inge, Tonio realized that he must be in some sense remote from an experience in order to be able to "form" it into literature, remote, not in space or time, but in attitude. Later his joy in the world and the need for "distance" took such possession of him that he became merely an onlooker of himself and others. The roots of such an artist's loneliness lie deeper than is normally supposed. The restlessness which chafes at domesticity, the need to conserve his energy, these are only the more superficial aspects of the problem. His inner loneliness springs rather from his deep sense of failure as a human being. At some point in an experience words become more exciting to him than the experience itself. Even in an intimate relationship he fears he may be sidetracked by his artist's eye, his urge to form may suddenly "see" it, crying out to be shaped by his hand into a work of art. Tonio gives utterance to this sense of failure: "To see clearly, even through a cloud of tears and emotion, to recognize, notice, observe … even in moments when hands clasp each other, lips meet, when man's eyes are blinded by feeling."

Tonio has nothing but scorn for the dilettanti, those sparetime artists, who make the mistake of thinking they can pluck "one leaf, one single little leaf" from the laurel tree of art without paying for it with life itself. "The sterile branch" from Goethe's Tasso might serve as a motto to this whole conversation with Lisaveta. So humanly impotent does the artist seem to Tonio that he even questions his virility, and again a remark of Goethe's: "Every poem is, as it were, a kiss, which one bestows on the world; but children aren't born from mere kissing," might well complete the sentence he leaves unfinished: "We sing so beautifully that it's really moving. However.…" It is the serene finality of art, its contrast with the deadly earnestness of all actuality, which tortures Tonio, as it tortured Nietzsche when he spoke of the flame of genius, "from whose bright circle everything flees, because, lit by the flame, it seems so like a Dance of Death, so foolish, thin as a lath and vain."

Just because Tonio feels equally strongly the pull toward life, he carries within him the possibility of harmony. But Hans is represented as completely lacking in imagination, and we cannot help wondering whether this must always and inevitably be so. Will Tonio's language never be, in part at least, his language? Will he forever be saying resignedly to the Hansens of this world: "Do not trouble to read Don Carlos"? We know that it need not be so, that, though it seems likely that this Hans will remain all his life what he is, there is also Hans Castorp, who begins as one of the "innocent, unseeing ones," but ends by discovering that the germs of imagination, which are in all of us, must not be surrendered, must be tended and harnessed in the service of life. When Tonio stands lost in window-longing, unable to join in the dance, he needs some friendly hand to help him out of his lonely introspection. But even more do Hans and Inge need a push in the opposite direction, need jolting out of the confident assumption that they are the hub of the universe. For only a balance between these two ways of experiencing can bring maturity: doing and seeing, being one of the crowd and being an onlooker. The important thing is that life should not only be lived in and for itself, but that it should also be known.

Tonio does go a considerable way toward maturity. By bringing his problem into the light, he rids himself of much of the bitterness which had been accumulating while he pursued a way of life so alien to one side of his nature. This clearing away of the old is essential if new values are to be born: "Die and be born again!" The irony of his final remark: "That settles me!" symbolizes the destruction of a former self. Soon after this self-confession, he feels the need to go back to his beginnings. As in a dream, he revisits his childhood, passes in review figures which have become symbols, and re-estimates their value for him. Despite his apparent emancipation, the influence of his father had been at work underneath, as his dreams betray clearly enough, secretly sapping his energy and undermining his confidence in himself and his calling. When now, in his dream return, he sees the old house, symbol of the burgher's way of life, filled with books, children begotten of the spirit, what a revelation it must seem of the way he ought to go! What an indication that the "toughly persistent diligence" of the burgher can play its part just as effectively in his own realm of the spirit. The tenderness with which the whole incident is suffused is a sign that the bitterness has been eased and the tensions relaxed.

An artist cannot fence off his living from his creating. They must run fluid one into the other. But he has also to learn not to let his entity as an artist be disturbed by the life he lets in. And he can only achieve this security if he accepts his art, if he believes in his mission of making life expressive for the inarticulate. Then he need not fear lest his art be shaken by rich, vital experience, nor lest his human relationships suffer because of the artist in him. Tonio comes to maturity when he accepts himself as an artist, an artist "from the very beginning, born and fated to be one," and repudiates that aestheticism which, through fear and insecurity, takes flight from the spring into the rarefied atmosphere of the coffeehouse! It remains eternally true that "What is to live in song immortal, Must be destroyed in mortal life"; but equally true that "one must first be something, if one is to create something." "To have died" is only one stage in the process of artistic creation; and for the artist to cut himself off from life altogether means going out into the waste land of pure form and art for art's sake.

As a man, too, he matures. The journey to self-knowledge has brought him the courage to face the isolation of personality, and he is now content to leave those he loves in their "otherness" without wishing to possess them. Out of the growing acceptance of himself, the longing for what he is not is eased, and he can watch with tender understanding their small intensities which are none of his intensity, and love them with the love which is extolled in the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians.

ii. Artistry

The art of story-telling, that is quite simply the art of compelling people to listen, even if one disregards the content.

No analysis of the artistry by which Thomas Mann compels us to listen to his story can ever take the place of direct appreciation. Criticism is never a substitute for the aesthetic experience. After—and only after—we have been exposed to the direct impact of a work, analysis can perhaps help us to further deepened and enriched experience of it. But there remains always the task of synthesizing what has been analyzed, and this cannot be done by a simple process of adding parts. The whole is always greater than the sum of the parts, and different. Synthesis can only be achieved by surrendering again to the power of the story itself.

The architectonic outlines of this novella grow naturally out of the requirements of the story. Its mixture of epic and dramatic, the absence of connecting links, justify Thomas Mann's own description of it as a prose ballad. Two brief episodes give the essence of the youthful Tonio. There follows a short narrative passage leading to the central reflective part, where all that was implicit is made explicit. It is a commentary on those dramatic scenes which were directly presented to our imagination, but there is nothing artificial about it. It is natural that Tonio, caught at a turning point in his life, should render account to himself of all he has been and is becoming. This is the critical turning point of the novella, and it occurs simultaneously on three planes. In the outer world of space and time the turning point is marked by his decision to leave Munich. In the inner world of the spirit it is a moment of rebirth, marked by his wholehearted affirmation of life. And in the timeless world of form the ballad-style here gives way to long monologues of introspective reflection. The final part is again dramatic, but in a different way. In revisiting his past Tonio trails behind him the cloak of all that has happened in between. There is consequently a large measure of introspection to this second drama. Not only are the episodes of the first part fused into one experience, but the conversation with Lisaveta vibrates beneath. With the final admission that his deepest love is still for the "blond, the blue-eyed," the novella returns to its beginnings.

The perfect symmetry is achieved by the skilful weaving of the strands, backwards and forwards, so that the past fulfils the future as surely as the future fulfils the past. The Hans and Inge motifs, announced separately at first, are loosely intertwined as Tonio paces the streets of Luibeck. But in Denmark these strands are pulled taut and woven together with symbolic value. How subtle are the variations in this disturbingly familiar quadrille scene! There is no M. Knaak, but the directions are in French all the same and with "nasals"! The second confession to Lisaveta, this time in letter form, rounds off the whole. Nothing is lacking to complete the symmetry. Even the short epic transition leading to the scene with Lisaveta finds its echo. For, as Tonio lies in bed after his encounter with Hans and Inge in Denmark, his thoughts run back to those years of "rigidity, desolation, ice.…"

The two first episodes are brilliant illustrations of the choice of a "pregnant moment." Each, the walk and the dancing lesson, occupies at most an hour. How in so short a time does the author manage to convey a relationship so that we breathe its very essence? He does it by skilful choice of time and place, catching the relationship at flood tide and in a situation calculated to reveal all the pull and thrust of tensions. The books we like, the people we admire, the activities we pursue, are eminently revealing, and Thomas Mann makes full use of this fact. Hans loves horse-riding, and the contrast between his "books about horses, with snapshots" and Tonio's Don Carlos brings out strikingly the incompatibility of their natures. When Mann introduces Erwin Immerthal we experience directly the ease of Hansen's manner with his own kind, and his awkwardness with Tonio is thereby thrown into greater relief. In the Inge episode the contrasts are between the sheer physical delight in the dance and Tonio's escape into the imaginative world of Immensee, between Inge's admiration of M. Knaak and her scorn of Tonio's clumsiness. Despite the unmistakably different atmosphere of these two stages of adolescence, there is a marked parallelism which gives a satisfying sense of form.

Just as the symmetry grows naturally out of the requirements of the story, so too the ironic style is the ideal form for a hero who stands between two worlds and for a situation in which the artist admires and needs the burgher, and the burgher replies by arresting him! As long as spirit (Geist) and life remain unreconciled in Thomas Mann's work, they are treated with irony, "something in between, a neither-nor and both-and." Hence those qualifying phrases so akin to our English understatement and derived no doubt from that Low German parentage which we and he have in common. The style of a writer, he declares, is ultimately, if one listens closely enough, a sublimation of the dialect of his forefathers: "and I make no secret of the fact that … in its absence of passion and grandiloquence, in its proneness to mockery and pedantic thoroughness, my style is a typical Lubeck mode of speech." His dry humor often results from an aside which jerks the reader out of his absorption in the story, inviting him to study the character with detachment: "for he played the violin"; "for he often said.…" Understatement has the special virtue of arousing interest while leaving scope for the imagination to complete the picture. How effectively it is used here to convey that moment when some ordinary and familiar object or person is suddenly illumined by a new and unearthly light: "He had seen her a thousand times; on one evening however he saw her in a certain light, saw how she … laughing, threw her head to one side in a certain proud manner, in a certain manner raised her hand … to the back of her head … heard how she accented a word… in a certain way.… That evening, he took her image away with him." The repetition of "certain" implies far more than is actually said and sends our imagination in pursuit of what Tonio saw.

Ideas are but the raw material of art, and only by taking on body can mind become spirit. Thomas Mann, being first and foremost an artist, expresses his thoughts naturally in images. His are not the primordial, universal images we find in poetry. They are suggested by figures and events of his immediate surroundings: father and mother, the friends and loves of his youth, a criminal banker he has known, a lieutenant he has met, a prince in civilian clothes, a young businessman, an actor without a part. Everything is presented in sensuous form rather than in concepts: not sterility, but the laurel tree; not separateness, but the mark on his brow; not responsibility, but immaculate sober dress; not Bohemianism, but a ragged velvet jacket and a red silk waistcoat; not art versus life, but "fixative and the odor of spring," "the perilous knife-dance of art and life's sweet, banal waltz time." The names are symbolic, too. Why is Lisaveta a Russian except that she acts as confessor to Tonio's introspection in the manner of Turgenev? Or M. Knaak so typically Low German except to emphasize the spuriousness of his French pretensions? Why Magdalena, except that in some obscure way intimate associations had formed in the author's mind between this name, moralor physical-falling, and those early Christians "with clumsy bodies and fine souls?" Or take the ring of Tonio's own name, upper-middle-class like the cuisine of his Lubeck home, and derived from Krog, which occurs so frequently in Low German place names, signifying an inn! How it contrasts with the exotic Tonio, clearly his mother's choice, so that the very title announces the theme of the story!

An image becomes a symbol when it is remembered for the sake of some special significance it had for us. It is then stripped of irrelevant and extraneous detail, and details from other images of similar significance are often superimposed on the first and become part of the symbol. The episode of the lieutenant was clearly an actual incident in Tonio's experience. But we know at once that it has more than anecdotal significance for him, because it is related to the other anecdotes he tells solely by the accident of its connection with his own problem. This is the only thread on which all these stories are strung. Sometimes we can trace the development of an episode into a symbol. At first the girl "who often fell down while dancing," is a real person, and we are told details about her; her surname, her father's profession, that she asked Tonio to dance and to show her his poems, even that she asked him to do so twice, a detail quite irrelevant for the meaning of the symbol. Of all this he remembers only the connection between physical clumsiness and love of poetry, and in the conversation with Lisaveta makes the generalisation: "people with clumsy bodies and subtle souls, people who are always falling down, so to speak." The actual experience has become symbol. Later this symbol is transmuted into art. Magdalena is brought to life again, but no longer as an individual person. There adhere to her traits derived from his other experiences of people with spirit. She has become the symbolic peg on which to hang such associations.

Nowhere is the poet's power "to ring up the curtain for us" more evident than when, in Tonio's dream return to his home, he conveys the bittersweet melancholy of the days that are no more. The problem here is to raise an idea from the level of a mere concept to that of an emotional experience. The idea to be conveyed is a familiar one. When we relive something in the memory, everything happens much more quickly. The whole experience is telescoped. We do not have to take Tonio's word for it that this is what happens now. We go through the experience itself. Tonio lives his early life again, but we relive the first part of the novella. We do this because memory permeates the language and sets it vibrant, because the words are similar enough to awaken in us the same reminiscent melancholy which stirs in him. Yet there is that slight difference which is always there when we revisit a familiar scene or dream about it. We, too, feel that quality of pastness which is inseparable from memory. Hans and Tonio watched the train go by and, with the trustful confidence of children, waved to the man perched up on the last coach. The grown man, less spontaneous and more circumspect, merely gazes after him. Without any comment, merely by means of this slight alteration, we feel the whole weight of the intervening years. Similar variation is used with twofold effect at the gate of Hansen's old house. No mention of sedateness or of the time that has passed, but the same weight of years comes across merely because he swings the gate with his hand instead of riding on it. And here we see very clearly the telescoping effect of recollection. It all happens more quickly, detail and dialogue fall away. And whereas the first time we had the simple statement: "their hands, when they shook them, had been made quite wet and rusty by the garden gate," now Tonio's mood of pensive reflection is conveyed by the addition of: "Then for a while he examined his hand, which was cold and rusty." This is enough, without any direct reference to his emotional state.

The trance-like quality of this return is suggested by the magic use of words connected with sleep and dream, by the hypnotic effect of "Where was he going?" thrice repeated at regular intervals to mark the stages in this progress between sleeping and waking, by the tenderness with which he perceives that the narrow-gabled streets have become poignantly small! How directly we share in his experience when it says: "He would have liked to have kept going for a long time.… But everything was so cramped and close together. Soon one was at one's destination"! We, too, are brought up sharply, because we have arrived sooner than we expected.

The same dream light shines on his experiences in Denmark. Now that Hans and Inge have become symbols, they have the strangeness of all dream figures. In masterly fashion the uniqueness, the personal immediacy of this experience is preserved, while at the same time it is lifted beyond the particular to the typical. That they are not the old Hans and Inge, but figures on to which he has projected all his own imaginative yearning, is brought out by the significant little phrase: "who was perhaps his sister." This is indeed the Inge Holm he—and we—knew, and this the same little Hans Hansen grown up; the same and yet different, for she is every Inge, and he is every Hans.

In a purely artistic sense, Thomas Mann suggests, it was probably its musical qualities which most endeared his "lyrical novella" to its readers. "Here for the first time I grasped the idea of epic prose composition as a thought-texture woven of different themes, as a musically related complex—and later, in The Magic Mountain, I made use of it to an even greater extent. It has been said of the latter work that it is an example of the 'novel as architecture of ideas'; if that be true the tendency towards such a conception of art goes back to Tonio Kröger." When he speaks of a musical structure in his works he does not mean, like so many modern poets, that he is more concerned with the rhythmical arrangement of words than with their sense. The meaning of poetry is much more than that conveyed directly to the intelligence; far more is conveyed indirectly by the musical impression upon the sensibility. But, even so, this musical impression of poetry is never the same as that conveyed by music itself, for words have a meaning before they are rhythmically arranged in poetry. Thomas Mann is passionately concerned with the meaning of words, and the musical quality of his prose does not lie so much in their rhythmical arrangement, as in the repetition of certain phrases in different contexts, phrases which call up a whole world of associations as a snatch of song might do. This is the leitmotif technique which he adopted from Richard Wagner.

In Buddenbrooks the linguistic leitmotif was handled on an external and naturalistic basis. A descriptive phrase was attached to a character, a label, which usually called up some outward and accidental aspect of him rather than his essence. In Tonio Kröger the leitmotif is transferred from the outward to "the more lucent medium of the idea and the emotions, and thereby lifted from the mechanical into the musical sphere." From being a mere label each leitmotif now bears a strong emotional content arising from the central problem of the story, and they are woven into the texture with contrapuntal effect, each theme being pointed against another to express the fundamental opposition between art and life. Nowhere is this method used more skilfully or with greater effect than in the conversation with Lisaveta. Art and life run parallel throughout, both in theoretical formulation and in symbols ranging from one single word ("fixative" and "odor of spring") through phrases ("who are always falling down") to symbolic anecdotes (the lieutenant and the banker). First one voice announces the theme, then another takes it up. A contrasting theme is announced, and they are played off against each other as in a Bach fugue. Our delight is in tracing the emergence, the blending, the dividing and dying of the themes.

The reason for the effectiveness of the verbal leitmotif, when used in this way, is that we remember not only in images, but also emotionally. When a pregnant phrase is repeated, chords of remembrance are struck, which go on echoing in us long after the notes have died. Instead of recapturing only Tonio's remembrance of the past, we recall the whole emotional aura of our own original reaction to the phrase, a whole train of personal associations for which the author is not directly responsible.

Even when a leitmotif in Tonio is of a descriptive nature, it is nevertheless not used in the same way as in Buddenbrooks. Tonio's father is first described by a phrase which is little more than a label giving the essence of the burgher. But the context in which it occurs endows it immediately with emotional quality, for we connect Herr Krbger's concern at his son's bad report with his formal correctness. The next time this motif appears, the descriptive element recedes (his blue eyes are omitted); the appearance of the father is becoming symbolic of one side of the conflict in Tonio's breast. People see his way of life as an outward sign of the decay of the family. "The tall, thoughtful gentleman," his father, dies—that is, one side of himself dies, or goes into abeyance. The third time the symbolic aspect entirely predominates: "perhaps it was his inheritance from his father—the tall, thoughtful, cleanly dressed man, with a wildflower in his buttonhole, which made him suffer so much down there." Is the variant "cleanly" introduced as a kind of contrast to his own feeling of being sullied through his adventures of the flesh? It is as if the same theme were given out by another instrument. The fourth time it is modulated into a minor key. Time, by removing all nonessentials, has brought mellowness. Tonio's understanding of his father is growing, although he has long been dead. With deepened insight he sees through the impassive mask and knows that behind the immaculate gravity there lies something of wistful melancholy: "the tall, correct, rather melancholy and pensive gentleman with a wildflower in his button-hole." Each time the father motif is repeated, it is pointed against that of the mother, for together they symbolize the theoretical formulation of the problem: life—spirit, burgher—artist, North—South. Finally, in the letter to Lisaveta they are no longer used merely as leitmotifs, to evoke associations. Tonio now analyzes the significance of these symbols, thus fusing thought and emotion, idea and image.

But most of the leitmotifs in Tonio Kröger are not descriptive at all. It is fascinating to trace the development of a motif such as "to give form and shape to something, and in serene aloofness to fashion a complete whole out of it," to note how its emotional connotation varies each time it appears. It is first repeated twice within a few lines, so that we know at once that symbolic value is attached to it. Then it is blended with "effectivepointe," thereby establishing the symbolic significance of this alternative motif for shaping and forming. Henceforward they can be used, either separately or together, to call up the same associations. When they are played off against life within Tonio himself, against his love for Inge, for the spring or the walnut tree, these symbols of craftsmanship fall in the scale of values. But when they are contrasted with life outside him, with the slightly ridiculous figure of the blunt policeman, they rise. For then the shaping impulse is not pulling against his own urge to life, and he can note with satisfaction the "effective pointe" he has made. Finally, with increasing harmony, a balance of values is achieved. The sea inspires him to poetry, but he is too much under the stress of emotion to shape it. Yet he accepts this knowledge without impatience, content to wait for the "serenity" which will surely alternate with intensity of living. "It was not complete, not formed and shaped and not serenely fashioned to something whole. His heart was alive.…" These simple, independent statements are free of all the fret, the pull and thrust, of the two dependent clauses in which the motif first made its appearance.

It is no accident that three great influences in Thomas Mann's life were Schopenhauer, Wagner and Nietzsche, all passionate lovers of music. It was the symphonic music of Schopenhauer's thought which appealed to his very depths, and of Nietzsche he wrote: "his language is itself music." His apprehension of things was aural rather than visual, and it is little wonder that he paid such enthusiastic tribute to Schiller's Spontaneous and Sentimentive Poetry, in which the distinction between musical and plastic poetry was first made. This accounts for the criticism so often levelled against his work, that there was no landscape in it. In his defence he urges firstly that his is an urban scenery, to be more precise, the characteristic Gothic setting of his native Lubeck, with its tall towers, pointed gables, arcades and fountains, its grey skies and the damp wind whistling down the narrow streets which wend their crooked way from the harbor to the market square. And then, much more important, the sea beyond, Travemrinde, the town he knew from boyhood. "The sea is no landscape, it is the vivid experience of eternity, of nothingness and death, a metaphysical dream." It is the solace for all who have seen too deep into the complexity of things. Looking at it Tonio experiences "a deep forgetting, a free soaring above space and time," thereby anticipating Mann's absorption with the problem of time in The Magic Mountain. The sea, its rhythms, its musical transcendence, vibrates in the language of all his books, even when there is no talk of it. And no German since Heine, whom he idolized in his youth, has written of it so that we not only hear its rush and roar, but feel the spray and the salt tang on our lips and crush the shells beneath our feet.

Thomas Mann speaks of certain lyric poems by Theodor Storm which, "however old one becomes … cause this tightening of the throat, this being seized by an implacably sweet and sad sense of life; it was for its sake that one was so devoted, at sixteen or seventeen, to this cadence." One can say the same of his own Tonio Krger. If we are young we experience this tightening of the throat because Tonio is part of all of us; as we grow older, because he is what we were and because, like him, we too have to come back to our beginnings and recognize that it could not have been otherwise, that it all had to happen thus. Like him we hope to be able to accept this knowledge.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning.

Henry Hatfield (essay date 1952)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1247

SOURCE: "Narcissus," in Thomas Mann: An Introduction to His Fiction, Peter Owen Ltd., 1952, pp. 52-63.

[An American educator and critic, Hatfield is the author of numerous books on German literature and has served as editor of the Germanic Review. In the following excerpt, he discusses theme, structure, and style in Tonio Kröger.]

Tonlo Kroger is Mann's most lyrical story. As a direct apologia, it is warmer in tone than the earlier stories. Mann is closer to autobiography here than ever before, and sympathy with Tonio, and a pity approaching self-pity, are not restrained.

Tonio Kröger is a writer of great talents, though he finds production a slow, unrelenting torment. But it is primarily the basic condition of his existence from which he suffers: he is doubly isolated. He has escaped from the world of his paternal tradition, but he is no more at home among the Bohemians of Munich than he had been among the burghers, and the latter he had at least respected. Either to resolve his dilemma, or at least to find a means of making it bearable and fruitful, is the "problem" of Tonio's existence. He himself prefers to put it more grandiloquently, in terms of the eternal and irreconcilable conflict between "spirit" and "life."

In part, no doubt, Tonio is the victim of his own ideology. The "spirit" (including of course art and the intellect) is conceived of as dead, while "life" is utterly bourgeois and banal. Once one has escaped from the fascination of Mann's language, one realises that his great antithesis is after all only a very arbitrary one. But to Tonio this extreme dualism reveals the essence of the universe; it is small wonder that he finds his existence "a bit hard," as he says with studied understatement. If one accepts the assumption that "the artist" is necessarily and eternally cut off from all vitality and human warmth, then the masochistic analogies Tonio draws between the artist and the outcast or the eunuch are sound. "And if I, I all alone, had achieved the Nine Symphonies, The World as Will and Idea and the 'Last Judgment,' you would be eternally right in laughing at me," he exclaims (in thought) to a blonde young lady. Any "normal" person is superior to Beethoven, Schopenhauer, and Michelangelo—this is the "treason of the intellectuals" with a vengeance. Coming from Tonio, the sentiment is understandable, and it is a tribute to Mann's skill that one does not immediately realise its enormous absurdity. But even Tonio cannot really believe it.

To turn from these abstractions to the work itself: Tonio Kruger is clearly and symmetrically constructed. The first pages develop Tonio's sense of isolation and inferiority, largely by the vivid account of his unreciprocated feelings for Hans Hansen and Ingeborg Holm, the exemplars of the seductive beauty of normality. (They are blond, he is not; this note is heard again and again.) The growing consciousness of his gifts as a writer only cuts him off the more from the world of "life." He flees from this milieu, though he never completely rejects it psychologically; he is plagued by the sense of apostasy from the traditions of his father. Lisaveta Ivanovna, his confidante, makes him recognise his true position for the first time. He is a bourgeois after all, but a "lost burgher," a "Bohemian with a bad conscience." This insight, strategically placed in the centre of the novella, is its turning point. In search of further self-knowledge, Tonio returns to the North. After an ironic interlude in his native city he experiences, in Denmark, what Joyce would have called an epiphany. Hans Hansen and Ingeborg Holm return, not in person but as types; again he is overwhelmed by their beauty and unproblematic self-sufficiency. But by now he has come to accept his own position: it is precisely his frustrated love for the Nordic-normal-bourgeois which gives him the inner tension that makes him creative. Henceforth he will try neither to identify himself with the Bohemian nor to seduce the burgher into the realm of art. He will stand between, a sympathetic if ironic mediator. In a letter to Lisaveta which forms the ending of the story, he draws the balance of his existence:

I gaze into an unborn and shadowy world, which needs to be given order and form; I see a throng of shadows of human figures, who beckon to me that I weave spells to redeem them: tragic and ridiculous figures, and those that are both at the same time—and to these last I am much devoted. But my deepest and most secret love belongs to the blond and blue-eyed, the clear, vital ones, the happy, lovable, and commonplace.

Do not find fault with this love, Lisaveta; it is good and fruitful. There is a longing in it and melancholy envy and the least trace of scorn and a complete, chaste bliss.

These last lines of Tonio Krbger remind one of the magnificent ending of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Mann's lyrical novella occupies a place in his development similar to that of Joyce's pedagogical novel within his work. Both Tonio and Stephen Dedalus come to accept the role of the artist; each has a sense of mission; each gives a programmatic statement of his ambitions. Yet in Dedalus' words:

Welcome, 0 life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

there is a fanfare of trumpets, a determination which makes one aware of a certain softness and sentimentality in Mann's protagonist. Tonio, no doubt, would have found such youthful exuberance naive. In his most positive affirmation an elegiac note remains. The strength, the sense of activity of Joyce's passage lie beyond the grasp of Mann's gentler and somewhat narcissistic hero. In Gustave von Aschenbach he was to portray an artist of more heroic stamp.

In Tonio Kröger, Mann uses the leitmotif more abundantly and in a more "musical" manner than in any previous work. It has among others a structural function: the whole action is held together by the motifs which bind a late passage to an early one. For example, as a boy Tonio expresses his pride in his family and his middle-class conscience in the words: "We are no gypsies in a green wagon"; when it recurs later, the phrase draws the whole passage associated with it back into close contact with what has gone before; and the entire novella gains in solidity. The sense of recognition and reminiscence is such that Tonio almost literally relives his own past. Repetition is not limited to words and phrases; that Hans and Inge or the dancing of the quadrille "recur" is a natural extension.

Above all, the motifs seem to have been chosen to produce nostalgia and loneliness, almost as if they had been borrowed from lyrics by Heine or Storm. Thus the wildflower in his father's buttonhole, and the "old walnut tree," always linked with a fountain and the sea. The effect of melancholy isolation is increased by weaving in references to Hamlet (whom the Germans generally romanticise), to Schiller's Don Carlos, and to a poem of Storm's. Mann once implied that Tonio KAger was the work most peculiarly his own, and its warm, personal, somehow youthful quality explains in part its vast popular appeal. It is, if the paradox is allowable, a sentimental masterpiece.

Frank Donald Hirschbach (essay date 1955)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1186

SOURCE: "The Coming of the Stranger God," in The Arrow and the Lyre: A Study of the Role of Love in the Works of Thomas Mann, Martinus Nijhoff, 1955, pp. 1-32.

[In the following excerpt, Hirschbach examines Mann's portrayal in Tonio Kröger of the role of the artist in society, particularly focusing on the protagonist's attempt to reconcile nature and the intellect.]

Tonio Kröger combines almost all the ideas and trends of the young Mann; it is typical in every respect for both his thinking and technique during the years preceding the First World War. In spite of the many attempts to stamp this story as merely autobiographical the hero is not just Thomas Mann but rather a type, a symbol for many like him, among whom Mann may have counted himself. At the same time he is an ideal to which Mann may have inspired. Nor is Tonio the only "type" of the story. Such figures as Hans Hansen, Ingeborg Holm, Magdalena Vermehren, or Lisaweta Iwanowna are of an intentionally shadowy quality, and to give them more distinct characteristics or a greater role in the story would have detracted from their chief function, that of being typical. There are other "types" that are described by Tonio in his talk with Lisaweta: Adalbert, the novelist; the lieutenant, an occasional poet; the actor off stage; the prince in a crowd. Finally the author employs the leitmotif here in a manner which stresses certain characteristics in individuals which he considers typical of other individuals (there is, for instance, the case of Magdalena Vermehren, "the girl who always fell down," a motif which is later widened to include a whole audience of "people with awkward bodies and delicate souls, people who always fall down, as it were"). Thus, we can hardly go wrong if we consider Tonio's experiences in the field of love as somewhat typical for the artist.

Tonio Krbger has two erotic experiences in his youth. As a fourteen-year old boy he loves a boy of his age who is his complete opposite in every respect. As a sixteen-year old adolescent he falls in love with a girl in his dancing class who is equally different and who takes little notice of him. In both cases Tonio is disappointed and hurt through lack of understanding and love on the part of the person whom he loves. As in [other early stories by Mann], this youthful love affair (we can well regard Hans and Inge as a single object of Tonio's love) is of great significance, but it does not begin a process of disintegration or engender a permanent hate but rather has somewhat positive consequences.

In the great central chapter of the story Tonio takes account of his state of mind in this particular spring of his life, and he finds a basic split in his personality and artistic existence which for the time being he can only express through a description of its manifestations. He can tell Lisaweta that spring bothers him; that he anxiously searches his audiences in the vain hope that among those present there may be one of those "who do not need the spirit" and for whom his works are written; that he feels highly uncomfortable when a lieutenant, a man of the world, makes a fool of himself by reading mediocre poetry which he has written; that he both envies and detests Adalbert, the novelist, who can refrigerate his feelings in order to preserve them for later literary use. When Tonio travels "home", it is not only to rediscover the springs of his existence but to try and resolve this basic conflict. The "solution" comes to him not in his hometown but in a little Danish sea resort where on the occasion of a dance he sees two young people who remind him greatly of Hans Hansen and Ingeborg Holm. They are not, of course, the two companions of his youth, and only a careless reader could miss the several indications to the contrary. They are "types" again, and as such they aid Tonio to come to certain conclusions which do not only fit a specific case but become generally valid.

What is the solution at which Tonio has arrived, and which he expresses in his letter to Lisaweta? It becomes clear to him, first of all, that he is truly "ein Burger", a bourgeois, an ordinary human being who has strayed so far from the ordinary path that he cannot find the road back even though he is still in sight of the path. And he is convinced now that it is useless for him to even try to get back to the highway on which most of his fellow humans travel, for he is one of those, "who must of necessity go astray because there is no right way for them."

Unlike some of his fellow artists Tonio cannot delight in being different; isolation is far from splendid to him. The decision to leave the group and join the fringe is fraught with perils of which he is fully aware. The acceptance of the spirit, of art involves a receptivity toward a sweet and rewarding disease which may well destroy the recipient. With Hamlet's fate in mind Tonio declares to Lisaweta that he still wishes to stand at the terrace at Kronberg, though he must know that "conscience does make cowards of us all, and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er by the pale cast of thought."

But the very fact that Tonio chooses the more perilous course in full knowledge of its potential consequences, coupled with the resolution, expressed in his letter, to create greater and better works, proves that his decision is not an egotistical one but one taken for the good of his artistry. And his artistry, in turn, is a mission to him rather than a selfish act of gratification.

If the struggle between Natur and Geist, nature and the intellect, the will and the idea would end in a complete triumph for either, it would be a catastrophe. Tonio recognizes this and is convinced that it is the artist's responsibility to reconcile the two through the medium of communication. To assume this responsibility he finds it necessary to be lonely, to stand on a high plane, to renounce certain contacts with the other world of light and love. But the loneliness must never be so complete, the plane never be so high that the artist loses sight of the other world completely. He must forever be within reach of the forbidden fruit.

The picture of the mature Tonio Kröger, pressing his face against the window of the ballroom in which his beloved are dancing but suppressing his desire to go in and join them, is symbolic then of the idea of positive renunciation which is the fruit of Tonio's Northern trip. He is a truly tragic hero because he realizes that his greatness stems from the very tension which makes him suffer and because he is willing to embrace suffering as a permanent sacrifice on the altar of service.

Erich Heller (essay date 1958)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6511

SOURCE: "The Embarrassed Muse," in The Ironic German: A Study of Thomas Mann, Little, Brown and Company, 1958, pp. 68-115.

[Heller was a Bohemian-born English educator and critic who specialized in German literature. In the following excerpt, he examines theme and style in Tonio Kröger within the context of a discussion of the modern conception of the artist.]

Even before Buddenbrooks was accepted for publication Thomas Mann began Tonio Kröger. As early as 29 December 1900, in a letter to his brother Heinrich, he mentions his plan for the 'elegiac Novelle' which six weeks later (13 February 1901) is tentatively given the title 'Literature'; and he adds in brackets: 'Illae lacrimael' In the same letter he says: 'When spring comes, I shall have survived a winter full of inward excitement. This very unliterary and unsophisticated experience has proved one thing to me: there is still something left in me which is not mere irony, something which is straight-forward, warm, and good. No, not everything in me has been distorted, corroded, laid waste by cursed literature. Literature is death, and I shall never understand how one can be enslaved by it without hating it bitterly.' The experience to which he refers is 'not a love affair, at least not in the ordinary sense, but a friendship which is—incredible though it seems to me—understood, reciprocated, rewarded, and yet assumes at times, particularly in hours of depression and solitude, too painful a character.… '(There is little doubt that this friendship is the same that is mentioned in the autobiographical sketch of 1930:'… a kind of resurrection of my feelings for that fair-haired schoolmate'—the Hans Hansen of Tonio Kriger—'but much happier, thanks to far greater intellectual closeness.' Some forty years later, in Doctor Faustus, the memory of this early Munich experience obviously helped to form the relationship between Adrian Leverkiihn and Rudi Schwerdtfeger.)

The main theme of Tonio Kröger was unmistakably engendered by the mood of that letter; for the rest, the Novelle is as close to Buddenbrooks as a fresh shoot to the original plant. Once more we are with a Hanno Buddenbrook who, having survived his music and typhoid fever, struggles with the 'curse' of literature, that ghost from the Flaubertian estate, which has haunted many an artistic dedication and turned writing into the enemy of the 'cceur simple' the heart alive with innocent love and unchilled by irony. Tonlo Kroger is the lyrically delicate vessel of a heavy freight and yet carries its burden with the accomplished sense of balance which is the gift of aesthetic mastery. Again, the plot is a plot of ideas, and the story itself is so slight it is hardly worth recounting. Tonio (for his mother comes from somewhere 'deep down on the map') Kruger (for his father is Consul Kröger, grain merchant in an old German city on the Baltic—Lfibeck again) is a boy chosen, against his will, by the spirit of art. He is bad at his lessons, but good at reading, dreaming, and writing verse. The fountain and the old walnut tree in the garden, the yellow dunes and green waves of the Baltic Sea—these are the things he loves. But he also loves his schoolmate Hans Hansen, fair, blue-eyed, well-built, and 'ruthless', the very boy, it seems, in whom Thomas Buddenbrook yearned to live on after death. Will Tonio ever succeed in winning him over and make him feel, for instance, what he himself feels when reading Schiller's Don Carlos, the scene above all where the courtiers are speechless at the news that in his cabinet the King, the great, hard, and powerful King of Spain, weeps because the man he loved and trusted has deceived him? Or does Tonio even wish to succeed? Is it not just because Schiller and weeping kings mean nothing to Hans Hansen that he loves him so dearly? Just as a little later he loves fair, healthy, and stupid Ingeborg Holm, destined to remain unimpressed by his being a poet—and loves her not least because she will for ever laugh at his clumsiness, and would laugh even 'if he had produced all by himself the nine symphonies, The World as Will and Idea, and the Last Judgment'.

Tonio Kröger grows up to be a successful writer. Having learned early in life, as early as his love for Hans Hansen, that 'he who loves most is the most easily defeated and must suffer', and knowing also that warmth of feeling is not the temperature in which the written word prospers, he sets out to kill his heart in adventures of the flesh and excesses of intellectual detachment. And he works—'not like a man who works that he may live; but as one who is bent on living only in his work' because 'one must die to life in order to be entirely a creator'. Yet his conscience keeps protesting, for he is not, as we have heard already, 'a nihilist'. In Munich, where he now lives, his painter friend Lisaveta, at the end of a long conversation which holds the central place in the story, diagnoses his complaint in words which have become an examination platitude of modern German literature: 'You are a burgher who has lost his way.' Whereupon the burgher decides to have a holiday with the burghers: he goes to a place by the Baltic Sea, stopping on the way in his native town which he has not seen for thirteen years, and where his family mansion now houses a public library. He is in danger of being arrested in LUbeck: the police look for an imposter presumed to be en route for Denmark; and Tonio Kröger is strangely reluctant to clear up the misunderstanding: 'After all, were they not almost right, these guardians of civic order? In a sense he quite agreed with them', just as once upon a time he used inwardly to agree with his father's scolding him for his bad performances at school.

In Denmark, after some early autumn days spent on the beach and bemused by solitude, he finds Hans Hansen and Ingeborg Holm again, or rather their images re-embodied in two young members of a party which has come to his hotel for a night of dancing. Watching them at the dance—through a glass door, as befits this writer's vision of'life'—Tonio Kruger is in a trance of memories and 'his heart is alive once more'. 'But what is it that lies between that past and this present, and has made him what he now is? A waste land, coldness, desolation; and ah, sensibility! And Art!' Next day Tonio writes, as he has promised, to Lisaveta:

… a burgher who has strayed into art, a bohemian homesick for the tidy house of his childhood, an artist with a guilty conscience.… I stand between two worlds. I am at home in neither.… You artists call me a burgher, and the burghers try to arrest me.… For surely it is my burgher conscience which forces me to see in art … something profoundly ambiguous, suspect and dubious, and makes me fall in love … with the blond and blue-eyed … and commonplace.…If anything can turn a littérateur into a poet, then it is this burgher love of mine.…

This is all there is of a story in Tonio Kröger, a work which could hardly be called a Novelle if one insisted upon Goethe's definition of the genre as the narration of a spectacular event. It gently defies all rules worked out for this class of literature, very much in the manner of Chekhov's eluding the orthodox laws of drama. There is no 'event', and what occurs could not be less spectacular. Amazing is merely the literary charm which resolves in lyrical simplicity an exceedingly problematical state of mind, the lucid presentation through incident and reflection of a poetic mood intricately composed of thought and emotion. Tonio Kröger is more in the nature of an extended poem in prose; in a sense, it is even rhymed, with the repetition of certain motifs assuming the unifying function of rhyme.

The leit-motif— Thomas Mann's acknowledged debt to Richard Wagner—already played its part in the composition of Buddenbrooks, either in the form of the Homeric epitheton ornans, an unchanging attribute of a person's appearance, character, or manner of speech, or of identical words to describe significantly similar situations. In Tonio Kröger the same technique is used with even subtler effect. There is not only the rhythmical recurrence of images, sounds, configurations: the wild flower in Consul Krbger's button-hole, the peculiarly inclined attitude of Tonio's head and his habit of softly whistling when he is in a sad or pensive mood, the gypsies in their green wagon opposing with vagrant rootlessness the burgher's respectable domesticity—there is, in fact, all the Buddenbrooks-proven strategy of the story-teller to make his medium Time yield a little to his vain desire to establish the whole story, like a picture or a sculpture, at every moment of its duration. But there are also innovations. For instance: at the beginning of the story the author describes the feelings which Hans Hansen's one gesture of affection inspires in the boy Tonio; and at the end the writer Tonio Kröger uses the very same words, as it were in his own right, to speak of that love of life which may still save his problematical literary existence. By so taking the words out of his author's mouth, Tonio seems to say: 'It is truly my story that has been told', just as the author, on his part, demonstrates in this manner that it is recognizably his world in which the story takes place. Such reassurance is badly needed where the loss of real existence—'dying to life'—is felt to be the condition of artistic creativeness. Thus the leitmotif, tidy symbol of a significantly ordered life, becomes for Thomas Mann the seal of possession secure beyond loss, as well as proof, valid beyond doubt and deprivation, of having mastered reality through knowing the secret of its organization. To make sure that the world makes sense despite all insinuations to the contrary, indeed to make it yield sense if it is unwilling to do so on its own, wholly to possess it on the strength of the created order of the work of art, and yet always to doubt the efficacy of this act of appropriation—it is this kind of creativeness, both possessive and melancholy, which Thomas Mann's style suggests. This style, passionate and pedantic, seeking real certainty through imaginative conquests and ironically bringing their value into question again, has its happiest moments when language, in its unavoidably onesided outspokenness, yet approaches the state of music and carries the echo of those complex harmonies in which the soul, possessed and possessing, is momentarily at rest. Essentially musical, the leit-motif is but the crystallization of an allpervasive element in Thomas Mann's literary mind. In Tonlo Kroger it conveys, more effectively than any explicit utterance, the foremost problem of the hero: how to defend his work, and indeed himself, against the encroachment of non-entity. And entity consists in meaningful organization, visibly vindicated by the leitmotif.

Does Tonio Kröger truly 'love life', the 'ordinary' and 'commonplace', and does he love it with a love which merits the name by which he calls it: BUrgerliebe, burgher love? He is, to judge by his story, manifestly deluded. As is proper for a tale the theme of which is a man's separation from ordinary human existence, no other being, apart from himself, comes to life in it. Hans Hansen is a mere creature of Tonio's youthful Eros, a blond and blue-eyed apparition invoked by an erotic craving the burghers would be anxious to disown. The same is true, within safer conventions, of Ingeborg Holm. Lisaveta, in her turn, is hardly more than his sister-confessor. And the rest of the story's population is made up of amusing caricatures of bourgeois society: Herr Knaak, the ludicrous dancing teacher and master of bourgeois ceremonies, or Herr Seehaase, the embarrassed hotel proprietor in Lilbeck, or the Hamburg business man on the boat whose oceanic observations on the starry universe are sadly interrupted by the oceanic effects of a surfeit of lobster. Certainly, more lovable than these, in the story's own emotional climate, are the fountain and the walnut tree, undemanding instigators of lyrical feeling, and then again the sea, element of infinite fluidity—symbol, for Thomas Mann, of life blissfully halted at the stage of boundless potentiality and not yet subject to the rigorous restriction of finite forms, intimation of the inarticulate, immeasurable, infinite, and closest approximation within the material world to the eternal void and nothingness.

Is such the love of a burgher, or the love for the burgher's world? Clearly, what Thomas Mann calls 'burgher' is simply a name, suggested to him by his social origins, for a certain ethical attitude. It takes the form of a moral protest against all those practitioners of art who, at the beginning of this century, artistically and intellectually throve on the disintegration of their social milieu, mistaking libertinism for liberty, licentiousness for poetic licence, a disorderly soul for the mark of genius, and untrammelled self-expression for the prerequisite of artistic accomplishment. And it is his moral indictment of the artist's 'dwelling in possibility', as Emily Dickinson put it, an expression of the moral discomfort suffered in the inability or unwillingness to commit himself to a definite form of existence which, with the seriousness of an irrevocable choice, would cut off the free play of the imaginative, and reduce to a sadly lingering sense of loss the inexhaustible offerings of the 'fluid element'. Yet the refusal to make the confining choice, to forgo the continuous exploration of 'possibility', involves, so it seems to the moral consciousness of Tonio Kröger and his author, a far greater loss: the loss of 'real life', or, as Kierkegaard put it, the loss of 'existence'.

Tonio Krbger is deeply suspicious of the moral status of the mere aesthetic recorder; it is this suspicion which produces what Thomas Mann later called his 'amorous affirmation' of'the unproblematical and innocent form of existence', of 'everything which is not spirit and art'. And in the Novelle, according to Meditations of A Non-Political Man, 'the name of life … was given, sentimentally enough, to the world of the burgher'. Had Thomas Mann known Kierkegaard at the time he would have discovered that Tonio Kröger lived not so much in a half-way house between burgher and artist as in that border-region between the aesthetic and the ethical state in which Kierkegaard saw the proper home of irony.

The sentimental vagueness of the concept 'burgher' in Thomas Mann's earlier writings is indeed most conspicuous. It seems an elusive but powerful organism capable of absorbing into its indefinitely expansive system a vast variety of incommensurable things: a measure of Christian piety and a measure of Will to Power, Goethe's doctrine of resignation and Nietzsche's dithyrambic excesses, Stifter's untempestuous ideal and Wagner's musical demon, Schopenhauer's will to saintliness and Bismarck's Realpolitik; it seems, in fact, an inexhaustibly magnetic 'And', an 'And in itself', and thus perhaps truly deserving of the name of 'life'. But having eaten the fruits from a whole orchard of trees of knowledge, it certainly no longer has the blue eyes of innocence. 'A burgher gone astray'—if to be a burgher is to walk in such a maze, what else can one do but lose one's way? And Tonio Kröger may be right in reflecting that 'if he went wrong it was because for some people there is no such thing as a right way'. Yet as the right way is nevertheless in some obscurely commanding sense the way of the burgher, the way of the burgher can only mean that 'actuality of commitment' which is immune from the lures of the 'realm of possibility', and acknowledges the moral superiority of life actually lived over all forms of aesthetic reflection.

Tonio Kröger's burgher love, the artistic affection for everything that is not art, is a sentiment akin to that which leads to the 'trahison des clercs' and Thomas Mann is right in saying that in his Novelle Nietzsche's philosophy of Life gains the upper hand over Schopenhauer's denial of it, tilting the scales of Will and Spirit, which stood ironically balanced in Buddenbrooks, in favour of Life. Yet in spite of this, Spirit does not entirely lose in status what Life seems to gain; on the contrary, Tonio Kruger submits to the 'curse' of literature as one accepting a mission. Going to Denmark, he too will 'stand on the platform of Elsinore where the spirit appeared to Hamlet, bringing misery and death to that poor and noble youth'. The spirit which had insidiously crept into the life of the Buddenbrooks, unsteadying, bewildering, corroding it, now seems to issue a clear if tragic commandment: die to 'life' for the sake of 'art'!

Blurred as the image of the burgher remains in Tonio Kriger, the sense of loss and sacrifice in the artist becomes poignantly clear. To Lisaveta it seems that Tonio is devoutly dedicated to his vocation. 'Don't talk about vocation,' he replies, 'literature is not a calling, it is a curse.' And this curse lies in the necessity to be almost

something extra-human, inhuman, to cultivate a strange aloofness, indeed indifference towards human existence in order to be able, or even tempted, to play with it aesthetically, portray it in good taste and to good effect. The very gift of style, form and expression, is nothing but this cool and fastidious attitude towards human life; its very condition is impoverishment, a desperate lack of spontaneity.… The artist is finished as soon as he becomes a man and begins to feel.… I tell you I am often sick to death of having to represent what is human without myself having a share in it.

And Tonio goes still further in his denunciation of the artist's 'inhumanity': 'To see things clearly, if even through tears, to recognise, notice, observe, even at the very moment when hands are clinging and lips meeting, and the eye is blinded with feeling—it is infamous, indecent, outrageous.…' And 'He is mistaken who believes he may pluck a single leaf from the laurel tree of art without paying for it with his life.'

Is Tonio Kruger's vision of life, art, and artists true? The very question is likely to stir up a nest of hornets buzzing with literary criticism. For is it at all a permissible question? Were it not, to speak with Horatio (and Tonio who quotes him), to consider too curiously, to consider so? The organization of the story, the subtle intertwining of motifs, the appropriateness of the idiom, the subjective coherence and plausibility of the hero's mind, be he right or mistaken—these are valid criteria of literary worth. True. Yet after all is said and done, there lingers curiosity concerning the nature of that which is organized, the sense in the intertwining, and what exactly it is to which the idiom is appropriate. In the case of Tonio Kruger these are, as it were, doubly literary considerations. For, firstly, its hero is a questioning mind, and the quality of his questions must determine not only the manner of their literary presentation but also the status of the literary work; and, secondly, the problem he raises is literature itself. And the sense of truth with which, and the level of truth on which, a writer creatively perceives this problem is a measure of his genius. Moreover, our understanding of Tonio Kruger, and of the position this obviously only semi-imaginary young writer holds in the real history of literature, may gain considerably if we realize that our reluctance to ask the question of truth would be due to our belief in the essential correctness of Tonio's diagnosis of literature and life. It is a diagnosis shared, consciously or not, by many a literary critic. For only if 'life' and 'letters' are preordained strangers, only then are questions arising from the business of 'living' out of place if applied to 'writing'. And certainly, if life has to 'die' so that 'literature' can live, then the critic paying attention to anything that is not 'strictly literary' merely busies himself with attending funerals.

There can be little doubt that Tonio Kruger expresses a subjective truth about the relationship of art and life, a truth so intensely felt that the prolonged argument in the middle of the Novelle is not only smoothly absorbed into the lyrical substance of the work, but is also reflected in its atmosphere and embodied in its incident. This would in itself suffice to carry conviction even if we did not know that the Tonio-experience was so compelling that it claimed a large share in almost all the future productions of Thomas Mann. 'A man of character has his typical experience which will recur again and again', said Nietzsche: and the typical experience of Thomas Mann is that which is the sole subject-matter of Tonio Kröger. It is an experience so strong that Mann's last great works, Doctor Faustus and Felix KBull, are in the nature of an apotheosis, the one tragic, the other comic, of the Kroger-theme; and so typical that is insisted, in Lotte in Weimar, upon bending the incommensurable nature of Goethe's genius into some gestures of conformity with the Lilbeck archetype. The immense literary fruitfulness of this subjective truth is, however, due to its coinciding with a vast and weighty historical truth, a coincidence which gives to Thomas Mann's achievement, however it will fare with the incalculable judges of eternal value, its singular historical importance. To see Thomas Mann's work in its historical perspective means to see not only more than it, but also more of it.

We have heard Tonio Kröger curse as 'infamous' and 'outrageous' his fate of having to cultivate a 'strange aloofness' from human existence, of having to see, observe, and represent life without vitally sharing in it. It is a fate which Schopenhauer blessed. The genius of art, he said, consists in the faculty of'pure contemplation', in the power of the mind to conquer the Will and lose itself entirely in the vision of the object to be represented: 'Genius is perfect objectivity.' It is a person's ability

to become immersed in seeing and observing, to recall the mind from that service for which it was originally meant: the service to the Will, that is, to lose sight of his own interest and volition, of all his own aims and purposes, and hence to disown for some time his whole personality and survive alone as a pure subject of knowledge, as a medium of lucid vision.…

It would be interesting and profitable to analyse this grand definition of genius, which ever since Schopenhauer has been used and varied incessantly by artists anxious to describe and justify the 'extraordinary' character of art and their own estrangement from the world. Once more we might ask what precisely it is that the 'pure contemplation' contemplates if it is not, in Schopenhauer's own terms, the spiritually so unrewarding Will objectified as World? For only because the World for him is Will can Schopenhauer proclaim that the original purpose of mind is to be the Will's servant, a thesis almost Marxian in its metaphysical subordination of the spirit to a kind of cosmic greed. However, be it enough here to say that this most radical separation of artistic vision from the 'real person', of aesthetic creativity from 'empirical living', is prompted by the suspicion that world and persons are in a sorry state indeed.

It is, perhaps, the state which Goethe, in a rare apocalyptic mood, prophesied as the 'Prosaic Age' when all poetry would cease, and which Hegel, so vigorously despised by Schopenhauer for turning metaphysics into historicism, declared a historical necessity that in his time had actually come to pass. 'The mode of prose', Hegel wrote, 'absorbs all the concepts of the mind, impressing them with its prosaic stamp', and so much so that 'art is, and will remain, a thing of the past'—unless it miraculously rises above the historical hour, creating in precariously intense isolation, and 'out of its own pure self', a supra-historical thing called 'absolute poetry'. If this diagnosis may be decried as dangerous historicism, it is yet true as a statement of what poets did feel: Schiller, for instance, when in a letter to Herder (4 November 1975) he wrote: 'This supremacy of prose in the whole of our condition is, I believe, so strong and definite that the poetic mind, rather than conquering it, would unavoidably be infected with it and perish. Therefore I know no salvation for the spirit of poetry than to withdraw from the real world, shun the dangerous coalition with reality, and aim at the strictest separation.' It is the classical formula of that which the English genius for understatement (so often merely the overstatement of the slightest touch of banality in a thought or an experience) has termed 'escapism'; the programme too for a poetical departure, as un-Schillerian as can be, which leads to the purest distillation of poetic essences, and defies—in Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Valery—the slightest encroachment of prosaic reality. Theoretically and philosophically, the separation of poetry from the condition of reality is most strictly prepared by Schopenhauer's metaphysics of art, this fountain-head of a current of aesthetic speculation which is at its mightiest in the theory of French symbolism, is still powerful in the thought of Rilke, Valery, and T. S. Eliot, and comes to stagnate in all the more whimsical absurdities of modern criticism.

Empirical reality, as conceived by Schopenhauer, is so thoroughly estranged from all true inspiration that every true inspiration must be sought in a region close to saintliness. And Schopenhauer does not hesitate sublimely to embarrass the artist by making him go to and fro between the world and the ultimate place of lonely distinction: in his creative moments the artist shares, according to the pessimistic philosophy, the vision of the saints, but without gaining their lasting freedom from the Will'. 'Comforted only for a while', he returns to the world, suffering henceforward the pain of deprivation and the embarrassment of knowing better—a Platonic cave-dweller who for a moment stood in the light of the Ideas and lost to them the eyesight meant for finding his way in the darker sphere.

The history of nineteenth-century literature reverberates with the laments of poets and writers at the injuries their 'empirical persons' have received in the exercise of 'pure vision', just as, vice versa, the history of criticism abounds with diagnostic findings of wounds taken to be the real provocations of artistic practice. From Goethe's Tasso, who 'from his inmost being' released the thread of poetry and spun 'the delicious cocoon' in which to enclose himself 'as if in a coffin', through many a romantic agony, through Flaubert, Rimbaud, Ibsen, to Valery, Rilke and indeed Thomas Mann, the feud between art and life has never ceased, demanding great sacrifices of 'real entity' and 'identical self'. 'The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse'—Schopenhauer would have said: creatures of Will—'have about them an unchanging attribute—the poet has none', writes Keats in the celebrated letter to Richard Woodhouse (27 October 1818) and goes on to confess the 'wretched thing' 'that not one word I ever utter can be taken for granted as an opinion growing out of my identical nature—how can it, when I have no nature?' Here a poet experiences dejectedly the 'extinction of personality' which for Schopenhauer is the seal of the glorious brotherhood between artist and saint. Once again we witness the amazingly speedy shift of values attached to the same situation, changing in the twinkling of an eye, an eye now angelic and now evil; and once again it is in Nietzsche, that epochal manipulator of contradictions, that we may watch the volte-face.

In The Birth of Tragedy it is, in youthful obedience to Schopenhauer, the saints and angels who are by the side of the artist: 'In so far as the subject is an artist, he is liberated from his individual will and, as it were, transformed into a mere medium through which the one and only real subject (the Will) is redeemed in pure appearance.' Yet, once again, the 'pure appearance'bodes ill for the stability of the redemption. And indeed, fourteen years later, in Concerning the Origins of Morality, the 'redeeming power' has passed into the hands of mocking demons who cynically seem to receive Keats's wretched confession and turn the 'medium of redemption' into 'manure':

Certainly, one does well to separate artist and work, not taking him as seriously as one takes it. He is, after all, not more than a condition of his work, the womb, the soil, sometimes the mere manure, from which it grows. One must forget him if one wishes to enjoy his work.… Beware of the error … of mistaking him for that which he represents, imagines, and expresses. The truth is that if he were all this, he could not possibly represent, imagine, and express it.… The perfect artist is for ever and ever shut off from all 'reality'.

It might serve as a motto for Tomio Kriger.

Without the slightest change in the philosophical basis of the argument, and with a mere injection of psychology, the Schopenhauerian vessel of the glorious vision has become precisely the 'wretched thing' of Keats. And how well Nietzsche understands Keats's complaint and Tonio Krdger's distress! 'I tell you I am often sick to death of having to represent what is human without having myself a share in it', we have heard Tonio say, and: 'What a fate! That is, if you have enough heart left, enough warmth of affections, to feel how frightful it is!' It might be by Keats; and as if commenting on both their outcries, Nietzsche continues:'… on the other hand, it is understandable that sometimes the artist should tire, to the point of desperation, of this eternal "non-reality" and falseness of his inner existence, and try to venture into the most forbidden territory—the real, try in fact to exist in earnest. How successfully? One may guess …' But there is no need to guess. We know the outcome of the dangerous experiment from Goethe's Torquato Tasso, Grillparzer's Sappho, from the lives of Novalis, Holderlin, Nietzsche himself, indeed from what amounts to a whole library of nineteenth-century literary biographies. And among Thomas Mann's works, Tonio Kruger is only the idyllic prelude to the more violent encounters between the non-reality of the artist and the reality of life, tragically treated in Death in Venice and Doctor Faustus, and outrageously as high comedy in Felix-Krull.

Rilke's 'Anschaun, das nichts begehrt, des grossen Kunstlers Anschaun' his artist's contemplative gaze which desires nothing, Proust's exiling himself from the actuality of life within the insulated cell of memories and words, Valery's Monsieur Teste with his frozen feelings and the mind's crystalline constructions, all this is prompted by the presumed insight, the Tonio-Kroiger-insight, into the aesthetic uselessness of the immediacy of life, and more oftern than not by horribly bungling it.

This state of affairs, with all its refinements and sophisticated eccentricities, has not only the sanction of Nietzsche's psychology of art, but also of Schopenhauer's lofty metaphysics. Naturally, literary criticism had to adjust itself eventually to these persistent revelations of the poet's self-experience, their insistence on the essential 'otherness' of art and life. T. S. Eliot's essay 'Tradition and the Individual Talent' marks the moment of this critical awakening, and it is a little triumph of the Zeitgeist that some of its assertions read like the soberly Anglo-Saxon versions of philosophically and lyrically more exalted Germanisms. Thus Goethe's silkworm spinning himself to death for the sake of the 'delicious fabric' of poetry, and Schopenhauer's artist who 'disowns for some time his whole personality', become T. S. Eliot's 'continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable', namely to Schopenhauer's 'pure subject of knowledge, the medium of pure vision'. And when T. S. Eliot writes: 'The progress of an artist is a continual selfsacrifice, a continual extinction of personality', he means the same 'progress' which for Tonio Kruger lies in the discovery that he may only 'pluck a single leaf from the laurel tree of art by paying for it with his life'. And when Tonio Kröger says: 'It isn't so much a matter of the "redeeming power" of the "Word" as it is of storing your feelings on ice', he uses almost the same metaphor as Eliot [in Selected Essays, 1948]: 'The poet's mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.' Nor is there the slightest difference between Nietzsche's saying that the poet is a 'mere medium', 'mere soil', so that 'one must forget him if one wishes to enjoy his work', and Eliot's 'that the poet has not a "personality" to express, but a particular medium … in which impressions and experiences combine in peculiar and unexpected ways'.

The historical truth of Tonio Krbger's vision of life, art, and artists seems indisputable. Would it also have struck artists of other ages as true? It is hardly thinkable that the builders of Greek temples or medieval cathedrals were haunted by a sense of non-being, or that Homer, or Aeschylus, or Dante, felt that their poetic pursuits entailed a loss of personality. But even much later this manner of interpreting the nature of artistic creation might have met with nothing but blank incomprehension even in the highest ranks: from Bach, for instance, or Mozart. Certainly, there is no doubt that the creation of a work of art has always been something other than the 'artistic' expression of subjective feelings and experiences; no doubt whatever that the vision of the artist must reach beyond the field hemmed in by the wilful purposes of the self. Certainly, genius consists in the gift, rare at all times, to surrender freely to a command issuing from a truth beyond appearances. But only a complete reversal of the order and hierarchy determined by the spiritual tradition of Europe could suggest the name of non-reality and nothingness for that which is comprehended in the saintly vision, and which is equated by Schopenhauer and his followers so liberally with the aesthetic imagination. And what a perverted doctrine of the human person had to be accepted by the world before artists could feel that they ceased to be persons precisely at the point where the real person should begin: in the act of submitting to an objective vision!

This, then, is yet another theme in modern literature, as new and as revealing as that of the demonic boredom and the sickly Eros. It postulates the obscurest of transcendental realms: the aesthetic transcendence. For where exactly grows the straw with which the bricks are made for the aesthetic edifice? Where is the point of vision from which the artist's mind observes the world as if from outside or above? What is the nature of the medium into which the creator 'depersonalizes' himself? And if Heidegger, very much in keeping with the spirit of the prevalent aesthetic theory, says [in Holzwege, 1950] that 'the artist is, in relation to his work, an irrelevancy, hardly more than a passage … for the transit of the work'—whence and whither does the passage lead? It is neither irreverence nor idle curiosity which asks these questions, but an anxiety inspired by the 'transcendent' satanic company which a still more 'depersonalized' Tonio Krbger, in his final incarnation as the composer Doctor Faustus, will one day seek and find. Amid all this aesthetic pother the suspicion grows that there must have been a time when the artist shared the reality of his fellow-men, and was distinguished from them not so much by a unique vision and agony as simply by the power to give surpassing form and shape to the common intimations of meaning. For a world in which the makers of beautiful and meaningful things are barred from 'real' existence is indeed a strangely inhuman and deeply disquieting world—a world immune from that idea of creation which, beside much sorrow and darkness, also knows the reality of grace. The aesthetic transcendence is then, perhaps, nothing but an optical delusion enforced upon the eye by the dark prospect of a historical period, and caused by a pathological narrowing of the common vision—by an insidious deficiency in the concept of what is real. When the sea recedes, many a strange creature of the ocean is left behind on the sands, dazzled and dazzling outcasts from another medium. At high tide they are in their own and need not transcend quite as much.

Schopenhauer's genius of art, transcending all self-centred purposes and coming face to face with the Absolute, Goethe's poet engaged in the self-annihilating service to his demon, Keats's surrender of all individual identity, the young Nietzsche's redemption of the empirical world in the aesthetic phenomenon, Rilke's pure contemplation, T. S. Eliot's doctrine of the continual self-sacrifice of the artist's personality, Thomas Mann's artist who pays with his life for a leaf of the laurel tree—it all appears to be spoken in the idiom of religion, in the language of '… but whosoever shall lose his life …' It is therefore less surprising than may appear at first glance that from Tonfio KAger Thomas Mann turns to Fra Girolamo Savonarola, contrasting and yet linking in Fiorenaz the spirit of art with the spirit of religion—or at least with what at the time, instructed by Nietzsche, he took to be religious genius. This play—or 'dialectical Novelle', as he once called it—is an illuminating failure. What it illumines is the utter precariousness of that extreme spiritualization of art in an age dispossessed of any concrete notion of the 'spirit'. Thomas Mann himself says in a letter to his brother (18 February 1905)—and more or less repeats in Mediations of a Non-Political Mm—that in Tonlo Kdger he had gone too far 'in running into one the concepts of "spirit" and "art"'. .Fforenza was to show the 'hostile opposition' between them. But the opposition, alas, is not maintained. They come together again. Both end in Nietzschean psychology.

Lilian R. Furst (essay date 1961)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3896

SOURCE: "Thomas Mann's Tonio Kröger: A Critical Reconsideration," in Revue Des Langues Vivantes, Vol. 27, 1961, pp. 232-40.

[Furst is an Austrian-born American educator and critic who has written a number of studies on Romanticism. In the following essay, she suggests that reader sentiment has interfered with proper critical assessment of Tonio Kröger.]

'Von allem, was ich schrieb, meinem Herzen am nachsten': this is how Thomas Mann described Tonio Kröger nearly thirty years after its publication. He added too, that this Novelle was 'noch immer von jungen Leuten geliebt'. The words which Mann used to describe the reaction to Tonio KrIger, 'meinem Herzen am nilchsten' and 'geliebt', are highly significant, implying as they do not merely popularity, but a strong emotional response on the part of the reader, as well as an emotional involvement of the author. Another thirty years have now elapsed and today as yet the attraction of Tonio KrEger, particularly for the younger reader, is still as potent as ever. The nature of this attraction is not hard to analyse. Tonio Kröger is first and foremost a poignant tale of adolescence, of the acute problems confronting a sensitive youth as he grows up and learns to come to terms with himself and the world. Since these crises of self-knowledge, disillusionment and adjustment are common to us all, the reader instinctively tends to identify himself with Tonio Kröger, often perhaps without knowing it. Hence the special place of this story in our hearts.

But this tendency to identify ourselves with the hero is not without its dangers. Thus much of the critical writing about Tonio Kröger is coloured by an element of sentiment; sympathy for Tonio Kröger reverberates through it. For instance, critics nearly always refer to the hero by his Christian name (although Tonio Kröger himself was so embarrassed by this name, which seemed to him not only outlandish but really quite ridiculous). Yet surely it is an absolutely essential prerequisite of any fair evaluation, that the critic must have achieved a certain degree of detachment from the work under consideration. In the case of Tonfo Kroger this critical detachment is all the more vital in that it denotes also something of the selfdetachment of maturity. On the other hand, the reader who responds to Tonlo Kroger with his heart alone is lacking in that detachment, and this predominantly emotional reaction can and does blind him to some aspects of the Novelle. Two or three concrete examples will illustrate the way in which an admixture of sentiment can interfere with, and distort our judgement.

In the opening sections of Tonio Kröger, the walk home from school with Hans and the dancing-class, Mann sketches with masterly economy and delicacy archetypal experiences in the adolescence of any sensitive youth. The acute awareness of isolation, of'differentness', the longing to conform to the normal pattern, yet at the same time the nascent pride in individuality, the alternation of confidence and difference, the gawky self-consciousness: how familiar and how ably portrayed these complex and inarticulate states are! In Tonio Kroiger's life, the problems of adolescence are crystallised in his successive encounters with Hans Hansen and Ingeborg Holm, who become the objects of his love and longing. Hans, the son of a wealthy, respected old family, has the good fortune to have been born not only handsome, but also with an uncomplicated disposition; he is the prototype of the healthy extrovert, whose feet are firmly planted on the ground and who will stride through life happily and light-heartedly without reflecting, guided simply by the dictates of instinct and feeling. His feminine counterpart is Inge, a pretty, gay young girl with laughing blue eyes and thick blond hair. These are 'die Blonden, Blauhugigen' on to whom Tonio Krbger, himself dark-haired and sad-eyed, fixes all his intense love and longing—'Zu sein wie du …' Throughout the story Hans and Inge are seen through Tonio Kröger's eyes, with the prejudiced judgement of the lover. Never are we allowed to glimpse the objects of his love and longing as they really are; consequently a detached, sober view of their respective characters provides rather a shock: Are Hans and Inge not in reality banal, intolerably dull and smug, one-sided and complacent? Are they not in fact related to the objectionable KIoterjahn, who is the butt of so much ridicule in Tristan? Hans, with his all-consuming passion for horses and horse-books, certainly has a one-track mind; how bored he is when Tonio Krbger tries to convey to him the pathos of the scene in Don Carlos where it is reported that the king had wept, and how relieved he is when Erwin Jimmerthal appears and the conversation reverts to topics more congenial to him, such as riding! How petty also is his ill-disguised shame of his friendship with a boy as strange as Tonio Kröger and his refusal to address him by his Christian name in the presence of others. Likewise, how insensitive and unperceptive Inge is both in her admiration for that vain fool, the dancing-master, and in her cruel laughter at Tonio Kruger's absurd, absent-minded mistakes. Our attention is never allowed to dwell on these aspects of Tonio Kruger's idols, so much so that it is only with difficulty that Hans and Inge can be seen in this sober light at all. While in Tristan the 'children of life' are subjected to a reducing irony, in Tonlo Kroger, on the contrary, they are illuminated by an elevating idealisation. Yet the reader only too easily fails to realise the full extent of this idealisation because he is so deeply involved in the story that he unconsciously shares the viewpoint of Tonio Kröger. Thus a virtue of the Novelle, the emotional force with which it carries the reader along, can in certain circumstances turn into a danger, if the reader thereby loses his independent judgement.

This danger is not of such great consequence in Mann's oversimplified portrayal of Hans and Inge as in another instance: in his one-sided conception of the artist. At the opposite pole to the loved and lovable world of the simple 'children of life' lies the world of art and of 'Geist'. This is the realm of 'die Stolzen und die Kalten', of those who take refuge from the stirring spring air in the neutral, seasonless shelter of a cafe, of those who cultivate all that is extraordinary and outré in outward appearance as well as in attitude. Moreover, Thomas Mann discerns 'etwas tief Zweideutiges, tief Anrichiges, tief Zweifelhaftes' in this world of art. It is a theme upon which he merely touches in Tonio Kröger, notably in the anecdote concerning the banker who began to write novels while serving a prison sentence, and in the attempted arrest of Tonio Kröger during his visit to his native city. This is, however, only one aspect of the artist's 'dubiousness' and later, in Der Tod in Venedig, Mann develops this notion more fully. The whole force of the antithesis between 'life' and 'art' is most trenchantly expressed in the image in which Mann contrasts 'des Lebens sUsser, trivialer Dreitakt' with 'dem schweren, schweren und gefihrlichen Messertanz der Kunst'.

That this conception of art and of the artist is decadent, has been said often enough; similarly, it is a commonplace that Mann's attitude to the artist is largely determined by his own bourgeois origins and heritage, so that the world of art appears to him profoundly dubious and suspect. He repeatedly portrays artists who are like himself: men of dualistic parentage, who stand between the two worlds, tortured by a feeling of guilt, a bad conscience about their artistic activities. But instead of recognising there isolated, unusual characters as freaks, Mann treats them as typical artists: a most dangerous procedure. Perhaps the crassest example of this distortion occurs in Der Tod in Venedig, where Mann accepts the case of Aschenbach as a proto-type and generalises it to include all artists and art itself in his wholesale rejection. What he says may well be true of Aschenbach, one particular, peculiar, indeed pathological artist, who falls victim to a decadent type of beauty; but it does not follow that it therefore applies to all artists. Mann himself is dimly aware of the one-sidedness of his conception of art and of the artist; witness the words of Lisaweta Iwanowna who points to

die reinigende, heiligende Wirkung der Literatur, die Zerstörung der Leidenschaften durch die Erkenntnis und das Wort, die Literatur als Weg zum Verstehen, zum Vergeben und zur Liebe, die erlösende Macht der Sprache, der literarische Geist als die edelste Erscheinung des Menschengeistes überhaupt, der Literat als voll-kommener Mensch, als Heiliger.

Although Mann is able to formulate this 'other side of the medal', he never depicts artists who fulfil such a positive function. His artists remain 'Reflexionsmenschen', social misfits; it is the 'Schattenseiten des Kiinstlertums' which fill the foreground, to the total exclusion of other aspects. Lisaweta Iwanowna's wise words to Tonio Kröger can well be applied to Thomas Mann himself:

Übrigens wissen Sie sehr wohl, dass Sie die Dinge ansehen, wie sie nicht notwendig angesehen zu werden brauchen.…

But does the reader also share this knowledge or is he not only too prone, under the spell of this poignant narrative, to overlook the fallacies of Mann's antithetical and over-simplified thinking and to accept his one-sided conception of the artist? Herein lies a grave danger.

The third and final example of the way in which emotional prejudice may prevent a realistic judgement of Tonio Kroger is as amenable to proof as is possible in literary criticism. To put it bluntly, the end of Tonmo Kroger is not convincing. Or rather, it appears convincing at the first reading because the reader is personally too involved in the narrative to detach himself for a sober analysis; later, however, when that critical reconsideration does take place, the defects in the logic of the second part of the Novelle become plainly apparent. It is worth examining this point in some detail for it illustrates most clearly the dangers of a purely emotional response.

At the outset, in his adolescence, Tonio Kröger is bitterly conscious of his apartness; he has an exotic mother, an outlandish name and interests which diverge widely from those of his school-fellows. Like every sensitive adolescent, he suffers from his 'differentness'; he rebels against it and longs to be 'normal' and 'ordinary' like Hans Hansen and Erwin Jimmerthal (though already he feels the tiniest grain of contempt for their philistinism). Then, in the course of the Novelle, which spans several years of Tonio Kröger's life, his development is shown, a development along the path of growing awareness ('Erkenntnis' as he would call it) towards a reconciliation with himself and his position in the world. He gradually ceases to rebel and comes to accept what he now recognises as the inevitable. He no longer craves to be only like Hans and Inge and Erwin, for he has finally realised that he will reap nothing but frustration if he forces himself along channels totally alien to his personality. With his growing acceptance of himself and of his apartness, he loses his bitterness and gains a certain new serenity, as is revealed by the calm of his final letter to Lisaweta, which contrasts so sharply with the agitated outbursts in their long conversation earlier on. It is true that at the end Tonio Kröger still has something of his old 'Sehnsucht' and 'Liebe zum Leben'—'meine Birgerliebe zum Menschlichen', which he admits quite candidly. But instead of allowing these feelings to split his personality, to embitter him and to undermine his allegiance to art, he now declares his intention of canalising these emotions into his creative activity. And he is convinced that it will be to the good of his art:

Alle Wärme, alle Güte, aller Humor kommt aus ihr (i.e. aus der Liebe zum Menschlichen) und fast will mir scheinen, als sei sie jene Liebe selbst, von der geschrieben steht, dass einer mit Menschen- und Engelszungen reden könne und ohne sie doch nur ein tonendes Erz und eine klingende Schelle sei.

Through his acceptance of the inevitable Tonio Kröger is able to transform it; what had hitherto been the source of his misery now becomes his greatest asset. The antithesis between 'life' and 'art', between the 'Lebensmensch' and the 'Reflexionsmensch' has not been overcome, nor was it ever to be overcome by Thomas Mann. The artist remains isolated and apart, he will still be watching the dance, but he will no longer necessarily be unhappy in that apartness. The mood of Tonio Kröger's final letter is one of sober joy as he looks forward hopefully to the future ('Ich werde Besseres machen, Lisaweta—dies ist ein Versprechen') and reflects on the peculiar pleasure which he derives from his creative activity, the pleasure he had already felt in his youth whenever he had succeeded in formulating some complex emotion. Moreover, it is not only Tonio Krbger himself who derives joy from his art; for although Hans and Inge and Erwin remain indifferent to his writings, Magdalena Vermehren and the likes of her are certainly responsive, they being the people 'denen die Poesie eine sanfte Rache am Leben ist', a compensation and also a secret source of pleasure. As an artist, therefore, Tonio Krbger does give of himself; he gives to those who need art, and he is thereby released from his introspective narcissism. Tonio Kröger's final position is very similar to that of the prince Klaus Heinrich in K'nigliche Hobeit, in that both are apart from the common herd but no longer unhappy and, above all, both are giving of themselves. The difference is that whereas Klaus Heinrich's happiness is achieved by a touch of a magic wand, Tonio Kröger's is the more sober and potentially the more valuable solution to the problem of the artist for being firmly anchored in the real world.

The word 'potentially' was chosen deliberately, for Tonlo Kroger does not fulfil its own promise. It is not entirely convincing, especially not the ending. The sceptic can legitimately ask whether Tonio Kröger will in fact really do as he promises in his final letter to Lisaweta since, like Konigliche Hoheit, this Novelle too stops at the crucial point, on the brink of a happier future. The positive solution to Tonio Kröger's problems is only foreshadowed, not actually shown in operation. What we are left with is a vague promise which we have good reason to doubt, not only because the abstract hopes expressed in the last section remain theoretical, but also, indeed chiefly, because they are not adequately supported. We are asked to believe that a radical change has taken, or is taking place in Tonio Kruger—but what evidence can we find of this change other than his own contentions? The previous sections, those in which his visit to his native city and his stay in Denmark are depicted, certainly do not prepare for the change in him sufficiently. Some change and development is of course implied. He no longer wishes to convert Hans from his horse-books to Don Carlos:

Hast du nun den Don Carlos gelesen, Hans Hansen, wie du es mir an eurer Gartenpforte versprachst? Tu's nicht! Ich verlange es nicht mehr von dir. Was geht dich der König an, der weint, weil er einsam ist? Du sollst deine hellen Augen nicht trüb und traumblöde machen vom Starren in Verse und Melancholie.

Tonio Kröger is still tortured by the old longing 'zu sein wie du!' but at the same time he is beginning to recognise and, what is more important, to accept the inevitability of his position. He cannot become like Hans, nor vice versa, he admits to himself, bitterly enough; consequently he must progress to a new 'Weltanschauung'—or so we conclude. A clearer example of Tonio Kröger's development is evident in his rejection of the attitude of Adalbert, the novelist of whom he speaks to Lisaweta. Adalbert had sought refuge from the disturbing spring air in the seasonless atmosphere of a cafe and when telling Lisaweta of this encounter, Tonio Kröger had added: 'vielleicht hatte ich mitgehen sollen'. Now on the contrary he rejects this flight from the living and with it the conception of a 'cold', 'dead' art with a contemptuous shrug of the shoulders:

einmal, durch irgendeine Verknüpfung von Vorstellungen erinnerte er sich flüichtig eines fernen Bekannten, Adalberts, des Novellisten, der wusste, was er wollte, und sich ins Kaffeehaus begeben hatte, um der Frühlingsluft zu entgehen. Und er zuckte die Achseln über ihn.…

With what remarkable economy Thomas Mann succeeds in conveying the beginnings of a whole new 'Weltanschauung' in that one slight gesture. The leitmotif technique may be open to criticism on the grounds that it is irritatingly repetitive and mannered, but it does allow such strokes of artistic concentration. From this rejection of Adalbert's attitude it is but a short step to the demand for the interaction of art and life which Tonio Kröger will make at the end.

Nevertheless, in the sections under discussion, more emphasis is placed on the sameness of the situation and of Tonio Kröger's reactions than on the change in him. Firstly, several phrases occur which explicitly draw the parallel with the similar situation and reaction in the earlier part of the Novelle: 'Wie friuher, ganz wie friiher war es gewesen!' or 'Ja, wie damals war es' or again the frequent 'wie immer' which clearly underlines the permanence of Tonio Kröger's attitude. Moreover, many of the earlier happenings and leitmotifs are repeated in their original form: the quadrille is danced again and Tonio Kröger blushes in his hiding-place as he remembers his embarrassing mistake; counterparts to M. Knaak and Magdalena are introduced; the young couple whom Tonio Kröger takes for Hans and Inge, resemble their counterparts of the opening chapters in both dress and gesture; while in his native city Tonio Kröger sees his walnut-tree and experiences the same old painful melancholy; he walks along the very roads along which he had accompanied Hans from school, he swings the rusty gate again and all the time he feels the old longing. That he is less naively adolescent, more awake and aware, with a much deeper insight into the nature of art is revealed when he quotes for the second time the line 'Ich mochte schlafen, aber du musst tanzen', to which he now adds a far more penetrating commentary than that of which he had previously been capable. But this does not alter the fact that basically and substantially his 'Weltanschauung' appears to be the same as it had been. The repetition of situations similar to those at the beginning of the Novelle would have provided an excellent opportunity for showing the change in Tonio Kröger by recording the differences between his former and his present reactions; it is the simplest and most effective literary technique for revealing the development of a character. Thomas Mann, however, does no such thing; on the contrary, as the memories are recalled and the situations unfolded again, the stress is on the similarity, not the contrast to the earlier parallel happenings. Tonio Kröger's attitude and reactions are essentially the same as before, and from this it is not unfair to conclude that he himself has not in fact changed radically. Moreover, this supposition is confirmed by the concluding phrase of the Novelle in which the supposedly mature Tonio Kröger describes his love for the banal bourgeois in exactly the same words as had been used by the fourteen year old in the opening section:

Sehnsucht ist darin und schwermütiger Neid und ein klein wenig Verachtung und eine ganze keusche Seligkeit.

The final section with its confident and grandiose hopes for the future comes as a great surprise. At first reading it seems acceptable enough because the reader is carried along by the high emotional charge of the story: he too feels that painful melancholy when Tonio Kröger returns to the scenes of his childhood and relives his youthful experiences, so that he is in no mood to stop, question and consider. Therein lies perhaps a great merit of the work, that it can hide its own defects, at least for a time. It is, however, only for a time since on closer consideration this ending is found to be unconvincing.

But why is it that the reader allows his rational judgement to be distorted by an emotional response to Tonlo KrDger? Surely the answer cannot lie solely in the poignant subject matter of the Novelle. There are other works which present the dilemmas of youth without, however, evoking a similar reaction. Thus, for instance, Die Leiden desjungen Werther, while generally read as an interesting literary and psychological document, does not issue that direct, essentially personal appeal, that invitation to self-identification with the hero in the same way as Tonio Kröger. Nor does the difference lie in the mere fact that Tonio Kröger is in any sense more topical, more 'up-to-date' than Werther. It lies rather in literary technique. The whole narrative manner of Tonlo Kroger is geared to evoke an emotional response. This is particularly true of Thomas Mann's use of the leitmotif in this Novelle. Whereas in his earlier works, in Buddenbrooks and Tristan, the leitmotif had been largely a vehicle of physical description, in Tonio Kröger it assumes also a moral connotation and, above all, a musical function. As Mann himself commented:

Hier wohl zum ersten Mal wusste ich die Musik stil- und form-bildend in meine Produktion hineinwirken zu lassen. Die epische Prosakom-position war hier zum ersten Mal als ein geistiges Themengewebe, als musikalischer Beziehungskomplex verstanden.

The entire Novelle is built out of the counterpoint of the two antithetically conceived notions of 'life' and 'art'. In the first half of the story Mann creates the leitmotifs ('die Blonden und Blauaugigen', 'die Leute mit ungeschickten Korpern und feinen Seelen'; horse-books and Don Carlos) which subsequently form the fabric of the latter half of the work. It is the repetition of these lietmotifs which provokes an emotional, irrational response on the part of the reader. The repetition itself has an hypnotic effect, under the spell of which the critical faculties are easily lulled and blunted. Moreover, it creates a certain atmosphere of intimacy; on recognising the repeated leitmotifs, the reader feels not only at home within the narrative, but also in secret conspiracy with the author. And having experienced the sensation of'deja vu' in the recurrent leitmotifs, he extends it to Tonio Kröger's problems, which he then correlates to his own. So there arises that emotional involvement which leads in turn to a distorted judgement.

Yet even long after its weaknesses and one-sidedness have been recognised and rationally acknowledged, Tonio Kröger for better or for worse continues to hold a special place in our hearts. Perhaps it is to the good that 'le ccur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point'; for who would dare to judge a work of art by the rational standards of the intellect alone?

Ronald Gray (essay date 1965)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2926

SOURCE: "Tonio Krdger, Death in Venice," in The German Tradition in Literature, 1871-1945, Cambridge at the University Press, 1965, pp. 137-45.

[Gray is an English educator and critic specializing in German literature. In the following excerpt, he maintains that Tonio Kröger dramatizes the artist's attempts to reconcile himself with society.]

The structure of Tonio Kröger divides cleanly into three movements, the argument proceeding almost as though it were a syllogism. First, Tonio's childhood isolation and yearning for acceptance by the 'Burger' is shown; then, as a young writer, he is seen discussing in Munich with his friend Lisaveta Ivanovna the relationships of the artist with society; lastly, he returns north to his home and makes the journey to Elsinore, where his reconciliation is realized. In the course of all this, a good deal of entertainment is provided: the teenagers' dancing-class, the orangehaired American boys who drink hot water, the Romantic vision of Tonio's former loves, his embarrassment in the public library are all vividly and sometimes amusingly drawn, in fact the whole story has a relaxed atmosphere which is certain to please. At the same time, however, it has the air of illustrating a point which can be stated in abstract terms. It attempts to be more than a series of vignettes and caricatures, and it is the total impression gained from it that must concern us here.

The incidents are meant to add towards this whole. The scene in which the Americans appear at Tonio's hotel table is more than an observed moment, it is included for a purpose:

Dann waren nur noch drei grosse amerikanische Jünglinge mit ihrem Gouverneur oder Hauslehrer zugegen, der schweigend an seiner Brille rückte und tagüber mit ihnen Fussball spielte. Sie trugen ihr rotgelbes Haar in der Mitte gescheitelt und hatten lange, unbewegte Gesichter.'Please, give me the wurst-things there!' sagte der eine. 'That's not wurst, that's schinken!' sagte ein anderer, und dies war alles, was sowohl sie als der Hauslehrer zur Unterhaltung beitrugen, denn sonst sassen sie still und tranken heisses Wasser.

Tonio Kröger hätte sich keine andere Art von Tischgesellschaft gewiinscht.

Besides him the company consisted only of three tall American youths with their governor or tutor, who kept adjusting his glasses in unbroken silence. All day long he played football with his charges, who had narrow, taciturn faces and reddish-yellow hair parted in the middle. 'Please give me the wurst-things there', said one. 'That's not wurst, it's schinken', said the other, and this was the extent of their conversation and their tutor's, as the rest of the time they sat there dumb, drinking hot water.

Tonio Kröger could have wished himself no other kind of table-companions.

Tonio is content with this comically dull society not because he finds it comic, but, more pretentiously, in connection with the 'Weltanschauung' he is beginning to formulate. At this point, we have heard him discuss his situation with Lisaveta, and have heard the strange defence he offers of a vaguely defined 'biirgerlich' life: briefly, it is this. For Tonio, humanity divides into two classes, the unreflective, healthy-minded enjoyers of life, among whom those with blue eyes and blond hair are supreme—there is a touch of racialism about his preference—and the critical, mistrusting destroyers whose perceptiveness fills them with a disgust so deep that they become either satanical ironists or helpless misfits. It is a fantastically exaggerated dichotomy: on the one hand, the Army lieutenant, a 'lord of creation' in Tonio's eyes, who demeans himself by reciting verses in public ('Ein Herr der Welt! Er hatte es doch wahrhaftig nicht notig'); on the other hand the artist, a criminal, a eunuch, a charlatan, a fake, doomed to an onanistic excitation ('only the excitations and cold-blooded ecstasies of the artist's corrupted nervous system are artistic'). The Russian woman, Tonio's partner in the conversation, does, it is true, put in amused objections from time to time, but these are thrust aside with renewed outbursts of fanatical assertion: Tonio is allowed to win the last trick, his initial assumptions are allowed to remain unquestioned. 'Everyone knows that artists are "sensitive" and easily wounded, just as everybody knows that ordinary people with a good conscience and a well-founded confidence in themselves are not.' The 'Burger' possesses this good conscience and well-founded self-assurance; that the artist does not is proof of his inferiority. Tonio's argument is as unreasonable as that.

There is a point at which the discussion goes deeper than these sweeping assertions, the point when Lisaveta advances a conception of literature as a 'guide to understanding, forgiveness and love' and of the writer as 'perfect man, a saint'. Tonio's reply, in which he sees such a conception as the basis of the Russian novel, is, however, as irrational and evasive as the rest of his comments. He sees the issue in a way which neither Dostoevsky nor Tolstoy could have recognized as their own. For him, the question is not whether human faults can be forgiven, or humanity loved despite awareness of its imperfection, but rather whether it is possible to feel a moral superiority in oneself: 'Not to let the sadness of the world unman you; to read, mark, learn, and take into account even the most torturing things and to be of perpetual good cheer, in the sublime consciousness of moral superiority over the horrible invention of existence—yes, thank you!' The concession in this 'yes, thank you!'(ja freilich!) indicates that this is how Tonio imagines the Russians to have felt: for him it is a matter of perceiving imperfection and yet continuing to pride himself on his distinctiveness, continuing to be in good spirits. The remainder of his reply then seeks to demonstrate that this, not love or forgiveness, is an impossibility. And, significantly enough, for such obliqueness and irrelevance in argument is typical of all Mann's work, Lisaveta fails to point out that her objection has been disregarded in a flood of words which, by the end of the paragraph, has become completely unintelligible.

The best understanding we can reach of Tonio's attitude, in which he does nevertheless achieve a sense of superiority, comes from a passage a little further on. Having asserted that renewed insights into human nature constantly destroy such peace of mind as he can attain, Tonio comes to his solution. It is, in short, that life continues despite all criticism that may be made of it: 'You see, the literary man does not understand that life may go on living, unashamed, even after it has been expressed and thereby done with. No matter how much it has been redeemed by becoming literature, it keeps right on sinning—for all action is sinning, viewed with the eyes of the Spirit'. That is to say, that although the literary writer may 'express' life and thereby have 'done with' it; although he may point out its faults and thereby (in a sense understandable only in a way peculiar to Mann's thought) 'redeem' it, life will go on 'sinning', for any action is certain to be sinful if regarded from that 'spiritual' position which the artist occupies. With this, Tonio expresses himself in a confusion difficult to unravel. The term 'Literat', or 'literary man', is obviously pejorative: writers in general, we are to understand, fail to realize how pointless their criticisms of life really are. 'Geist', on the other hand, is a term of approval: from the viewpoint of the 'Spirit', which presumably some writers adopt, the criticisms are valid. The validity, however, is limited to the sphere of'Geist', and has no real relevance to life. Thus the criticisms of the artist can be both praiseworthy and damnable (we recall the expression 'godlike-diabolical' used in relation to Goethe) and yet have no consequences for living. 'Life' goes on unashamedly just as did the elder Johann Buddenbrook, or Hugo Weinschenk before he went to prison. It 'sins boldly', to recall Luther's phrase, but not in his sense, that it does so through faith in its redemption, but rather because the sinning is of no importance. It is on these terms that Tonio now goes on to declare that he loves life, not as Nietzsche did, but for the sake of 'the normal, respectable and lovable', 'a little friendship, devotion, familiar human happiness'. The fact that 'the respectable', presumably, is also sinful from the standpoint of the Spirit, that he cannot use these terms at all from the position he has just adopted, does not occur to Tonio, nor does his exclusion of more passionate ways of living seem to him to require any justification. The 'disgust with knowledge', and the capacity of Life to go on sinning despite criticism have nothing to do with this conclusion, which merely reasserts a few values that were, earlier, implicitly supposed to be undermined by the artist's perceptiveness.

This discussion—or rather, assertion, for Tonio's partner does nothing of any consequence to hold him to the point—is the core of the story. The incidents before and after it are presented in such a way as to seem illustrations and confirmations of Tonio's conclusion. At times they please, and may invite us to side with him: a benevolent approval is easily given to the American boys, to Ingeborg Holm and Hans Hansen, even to the tipsy Hamburg businessman who contemplates the stars in sentimental mood after a lobster supper. If that were all the story amounted to, if it were simply a somewhat sentimental, slightly comic description of people in more or less happy circumstances, there would be nothing to complain about, or it would be overdoing things to complain. But the discussion and the conclusion make the story more ambitious. Tonio seems to claim that he has overcome his 'disgust with his perceptions', yet the fact is, we see nothing in the story that might cause him disgust, still less anything that might cause him a disgust so deep that he despairs of living. For all that we see of them, these people simply are 'ordinary, decent citizens', learning to dance, enjoying themselves at a week-end hop, going about their business in a 'normal' way. We know nothing of their motives, nothing even of their circumstances for the most part; we never see below the surface or have a glimpse of their minds.

The 'artist', on the other hand, is cavalierly dismissed. Tonio prefers the simple wonder of the Hamburg businessman to the writings of some unnamed philosopher who also contemplated the stars, but we are not told the reasons for this preference. He concedes, when the hotel authorities take him for a criminal, that they may be in the right to do so, although not on the grounds they allege, and here the justification seems to be simply that they are 'men of the social order', while he is not. Towards the end, seeing the young Danish woman who reminds him of his first love Ingeborg, he demeans himself to the point of declaring that, had he achieved the works of Beethoven, Schopenhauer and Michelangelo together, she would be entitled to laugh him out of court as she did in her childhood. This is mere self-abasement, the counterpart and justification of the self-assertion to come.

Yet it is on such a groundwork that Tonio reaches his final solution, communicated in his letter to Lisaveta:

Ich bewundere die Stolzen und Kalten, die auf den Pfaden der grossen, der dämonischen Schönheit abenteuern und den 'Menschen' verachten—aber ich beneide sie nicht. Denn wenn irgend etwas imstande ist, aus einen Literaten einen Dichter zu machen, so ist es diese meine Liebe zum Menschlichen, Lebendigen und Gewöhnlichen. Alle Wärme, alle Güte, aller Humor kommt aus ihr, und fast will mir scheinen, als sei sie jene Liebe selbst, von der geschrieben steht, dass einer mit Menschen-und Engelszungen reden könne und ohne sie doch nurein tönendes Erz und eine klingende Schelle sei.

I admire those proud, cold beings who adventure upon the paths of great and daemonic beauty and despise 'mankind'; but I do not envy them. For if anything is capable of making a poet of a literary man, it is my bourgeois love of the human, the living and usual. It is the source of all warmth, goodness, and humour; I even almost think it is itself that love of which it stands written that one may speak with the tongues of men and of angels and yet having it not is as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.

This contradicts what Tonio had said earlier: 'the artist is done for, the moment he becomes human and begins to feel at all', and it is not at all clear how Tonio passes from the one view to the other. So much is clear, that this is his reply to Lisaveta's objection on behalf of the Russian novelists, that he means this to be his own achievement of saintly love, embarrassing though it is to hear him claim it on his own behalf. Yet he cannot really mean the Pauline 'agape' to which his words refer, for that was never understood to be restricted to a particular class, or to 'the ordinary' and 'the decent'. He has in mind something more akin to a Nietzschean definition of love, whereby love consists in not reflecting deeply about others, and the grounds for preferring this relationship with them are quite simply, as he himself confesses, that he has a 'fond weakness' for what is simple, loyal, pleasantly normal and decent. Indulging this weakness, if that is what it really amounts to (and what is weak about it, so far as it goes?), liking what is for the most part likable by definition, sounds a far cry from what Lisaveta described as 'the purifying and healing influence of letters'. So far as Tonio is concerned, the 'Biirger' remains stupid (one remembers how this word was used also of the first motif in Hanno's improvisation); he feels a certain contempt for him on this account, as well as a certain envy that the 'Burger' should be 'in agreement with everybody'. But this contempt and envy are the twin effects of his desire to feel morally superior to the world he lives in. He swings from one to the other, as he swings from self-abasement to self-assertion, precisely because he misinterprets Lisaveta's words.

Tonio Kröger confusedly illustrates a confused argument. Being a story, it still remains interpretable as the intentional portrayal of such a confusion, and yet this view is unsatisfying. The reader is put to such pains, sorting out the evasions and the illogicalities, the story has so much the air of presenting a satisfactory solution (and has in fact been taken in that sense), that he can hardly feel the author has given him enough help in penetrating his meaning, supposing the author to have maintained some deeply ironical reservations.… What does emerge much more clearly from Tonio Kröger is Mann's concern to present the case for conformity with the Wilhelmine society of his day. The artist is suspect here because he is opposed to that society in which Army lieutenants generally were regarded as lords of creation, and in which liberal-minded citizens were expected to bow down to the 'men of the social order'—and if this could be justified in the name of established religion, so much the better. More than this, Mann gives a handle to anyone who needs his support in defence of the racial superiority of this society. Tonio, while avowing his affection for tragic and comic figures, confesses, 'But my deepest and secretest love belongs to the blond and blue-eyed, the fair and living, the happy, lovable and commonplace'. This is essentially nothing else than Thomas Buddenbrook's preference for the healthy boy of his vision, whose unreflective happiness drove the unhappy to despair. The boy's cruelty has gone, or at least is not explicitly mentioned; the triumphant egoist has become more clearly identified with the 'Burger'; in other respects the ideal remains the same. We can, then, readily understand the comment of a contemporary newspaper critic who found in Mann 'perhaps the finest German prose-writer of today'. 'His manner', said this contributor to the Rheinisch-Westfdlische Zeitung, 'is absolutely Germanic, or alternatively Nordic. No sign of that Gallic quality, from which our literature suffers so much harm, is to be found in him.' This was what Mann's readers expected, and this was what he gave them. 'What a victory there is here [in the story Trisan] for vital living', the same critic continued; 'how matter-of-course it is, how cruelly it persuades us. Robust concreteness is Life, all else but poetic imaginings, dreams. And men of finer mettle are here but to suffer.' It was not exactly Mann's meaning; it left out of account his perfunctory pretence at a confrontation with moral issues, and his reaffirmation beyond 'disgust with knowledge'. But it was what the normal and decent, simple-hearted and loyal 'Burger', prospering without scruples in the Empire Bismarck had founded, most wanted to hear. To such people Tonio Kröger offered no difficulties at all. To anyone who read it more subtly it still said essentially the same thing, for as always in Mann the end returns to the beginning. Even the conforming phrase with which Tonio concludes in his maturity repeats exactly the phrase used of him in his schooldays. He has done no more than reiterate his condition with awareness.

J. R. McWilliams (essay date 1966)

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SOURCE: "Conflict and Compromise: Tonio Kröger's Paradox," in Revue Des Langues Vivantes, Vol. XXXII, No. 4, 1966, pp. 376-83.

[In the following essay, McWilliams interprets Tonio Kröger's psychological motivations as an artist.]

Central to the interpretation of Thomas Mann's Tonio Kröger is the concept of the "lost bourgeois", or, as Tonio describes himself: "ein Burger, der sich in die Kunst verirrte, ein Bohemien mit Heimweh nach der guten Kinderstube, ein Kiinstler mit schlechtem Gewissen." Critics have taken Tonio's words at face value, disregarding to a great extent that he is primarily a character in a story rather than a spokesman of the author. Although Thomas Mann has called this story "mein Eigentliches", it is first and foremost a work of literature in which the hero speaks for himself. Tonio comes forth as a fallible human being, who, like all of us, utters words which do not always correspond with his innermost feelings. His ambiguous pronouncements and the extent to which he fails to back them up by deeds reveal a breach in his nature which demands careful investigation. Tonio uses words concerning his bourgeois origin obviously to protect himself against certain demands of life and to rationalize away his conflict with his art.

Tonio Krbger is little different from many of Thomas Mann's heroes who are burdened by a sense of guilt which inhibits them from total involvement in an active life. His sense of sin and doubt reach such proportions that he feels like a criminal indelibly branded by the mark on his brow. (A number of critics have equated this sign to that of a murderer: the mark of Cain.) As a result of his pitiless conscience he is preoccupied by death as the promising end to his guilty existence. Tonio thus turns to art, a refuge which enables him to escape the claims of life. In it he finds a substitute for emotions involving people. But because he is a genuine artist whose deepest feelings are linked to his art, he needs to take further precautions. He is acutely aware of the dangers of unrestricted feeling, and, consequently, he conceives of his art as essentially opposed to life, as a sphere from which his emotions must be banned before he can achieve aesthetic excellence. The cold breath of death should still every human sensation, for "das Gefuhl, das warme herzliche Gefuhl ist immer banal und unbrauchbar, und kiinstlerisch sind bloss die Gereiztheiten und kalten Ekstasen unseres verdorbenen, unseres artistischen Nervensystems … Es ist aus mit dem Kiinstler, sobald er Mensch wird und zu empfinden beginnt."

Therefore, the artist's work really exists outside of life. Tonio continues: "Was aber das 'Wort' betrifft, so handelt es sich da vielleicht weniger um eine Erlösung als um ein Kaltstellen und Aufs-Eis-Legen der Empfindung." Tonio leaves no doubt that art should be devoid of the human and the personal. Yet, the credo of "frigid art", of being emotionally dead for the sake of art is a contradiction in that it coincides in time with the hero's statement that he loves life. Tonio's claim of loving life lacks conviction, for one does not try to escape what one loves. He finds in the cold, controlled creativity of art a substitute for the threats and exigencies of life, for in choosing to place his energies in art rather than in life, he avoids the perils of human involvement. In longing for "die Blonden und die Blauaugigen", Tonio rationalizes a desire for active involvement in life while, at the same time, he compulsively maintains the repressive prohibition against the release of these very emotions. As a consequence he must dissemble whenever he claims he loves life. In reality it is a dubious love-affair, for his real inclinations are diametrically opposed to his avowal of passion. The element of doubt which accompanies his affirmation of this point is so strong that Tonio seems hard put to convince himself, much less his companion Lisaweta Iwanowna: "Ich bin am Ziel, Lisaweta. Horen Sie mich an. Ich liebe das Leben,—dies ist ein Gestandnis. Nehmen Sie es und bewahren Sie es,—ich habe es noch keinem gemacht. Man hat gesagt, man hat es sogar geschrieben und drucken lassen, dass ich das Leben hasse oder flirchte oder verachte oder verabscheue. Ich habe dies gem gehort, es hat mir geschmeichelt; aber darum ist es nicht weniger falsch. Ich liebe das Leben… Sie lacheln, Lisaweta.…"

Lisaweta's smile does not seem very reassuring. And at the very end Tonio writes to Lisaweta: "Schelten Sie diese Liebe nicht, Lisaweta; sie ist gut und fruchtbar. Sehnsucht ist darin und schwermiutiger Neid und ein klein wenig Verachtung und eine ganze keusche Seligkeit." He anticipates by "Schelten Sie" the disbelief his words will evoke in Lisaweta. "Neid" and "Verachtung", despite the manner in which they are modified, still contain overtones of resentment and aversion and are not calculated to convince Lisaweta or strengthen his case for an affirmation of life. The very fact that Tonio feels the need to endorse life categorically is perhaps the best proof that he seriously doubts its value. And since he cannot declare his love with unconditional enthusiasm or without qualification, we are forced to conclude that he is another one of Thomas Mann's ambivalent heroes who possesses more hostility against life than love for it, the consequence of which is a latent longing for death. This antipathy towards life, so typical of many of Mann's heroes, is only superficially canceled by Tonio's simple confession. In actuality the deathwish is too deeply ingrained in the artist crippled by guilt and unable to share in the spontaneous enjoyment of living, the artist whose inability to love breeds feelings of hatred. Also implied in Tonio's words is the underlying reason for his ambivalent attitude. In "keusche Seligkeit" we have a hint of the sexual, the primary source of Tonio's guilt. His ideal of chastity is inimical to a genuine love relationship, which demands physical contact and the investment of one's deepest feelings.

Tonio Kröger compares the artist to the papal castrato: "Ist der Kiinstler uberhaupt ein Mann? Man frage 'das Weib' danach! Mir scheint, wir Kunstler teilen alle ein wenig das Schicksal jener praparierten papstlichen Sanger … Wir singen ganz riuhrend schon. Jedoch—." The artist finds it difficult to create in the spring of the year, when, Tonio is told by his artist friend, "es kribbelt Ihnen auf eine unanstandige Weise im Blute und eine Menge von unzugehorigen Sensationen beunruhigt Sie.…" Spring is the time when life stirs; it represents the quickening of those urges which spell uneasiness and which threaten the necessary restrictions Tonio Kröger places on his instincts. He decries pathos and feelings, and with justice, for his are repressed so thoroughly as to become unmanageable if released.

The dire nature of these repressed impulses, criminal in a literal sense, is surmised by Tonio in his opinion of his poet-banker friend, who incidentally achieved his best creations while undergoing the penance of incarceration in a penal institution. Tonio cannot escape the suspicion that the source and essence of his friend's art has less to do with his life in prison than with the reason that brought him there.

Tonio knows that he cannot afford to give way even on a small scale to his dark desires, for it might easily lead to sexual debauchery and self-destruction as in the case of Gustav von Aschenbach in Der Tod in Venedig. He aids the repression by his impeccable dress, highly reminiscent of Thomas Buddenbrook, and by his gentlemanly bearing. That he is quite capable of yielding to his urges comes out in the description of his stay in Italy: "Aber da sein Herz tot und ohne Liebe war, so geriet er in Abenteuer des Fleisches, stieg tief hinab in Wollust und heisse Schuld und litt unsaglich dabei." Indeed, his attitude toward the sexual is of a frantic and obsessive nature. The very intensity of his repressions calls forth all the more readily that which he fears. He is flung to and fro forever between two crass extremes: between icy intellect and scorching passion, and leads an exhausting life under the pressure of his conscience. Having thus compounded his guilt he once more embarks on as ascetic course, abhorring with a vengeance the Bohemian, despite his knowledge that he is to himself a Bohemian. In false protestation he states: "Ich bin doch kein Zigeuner im grunen Wagen." The emphatic tone is indispensable because basically Tonio is a gypsy and feels the need to deny it, out of fear of life as "verfuihrerisch": desire and danger in one. To ward off this threat he finds it necessary to wear proper clothes and behave outwardly like a respectable person. Another target of his repressive outlook is the demonic sensuality of the Italian Renaissance as typified by Caesar Borgia: "Italian ist mir bis zur Verachtung gleichgiltig! Das ist lange her, dass ich mir einbildete, dorthin zu gehoren. Kunst, nicht wahr? Sammetblauer Himmel, heisser Wein und suisse Sinnlichkeit … Kurzum, ich mag das nicht. Ich verzichte. Die ganze bellezza macht mich nervos. Ich mag auch alle diese furchterlich lebhaften Menschen dort unten mit dem schwarzen Tierblick nicht leiden. Diese Romanen haben kein Gewissen in den Augen."

Like Hanno Buddenbrook he too yearns for death: "Es gibt etwas, was ich Erkenntnisekel nenne, Lisaweta: der Zustand, in dem es dem Menschen genuigt, eine Sache zu durchschauen, um sich bereits zum Sterben, angewidert (und durchaus nicht versohnlich gestimmt) zu flihlen.…

By using the lofty word Erkenntnis Tonio Kröger lends an air of respectability to all his groping, searching and resultant disillusionment. But in spite of this subterfuge he is numbed by the awareness of his guilty existence. He knows that behind his dignity and propriety is his own miserable state—"Komik und Elend." He realizes the painful truth, that he is unable to love, that he cannot compete without incurring remorse or increasing his inner travail: "Hellsehen noch durch den Tranenschleier des Gefuhls hindurch, erkennen, merken, beobachten und das Beobachtete lachelnd beiseite legen mussen noch in Augenblicken, wo Hande sich umschlingen, Lippen sich finden, wo des Menschen Blick, erblindet von Empfindung, sich bricht.…" His paralyzing insight is brought home to him at that specific moment when two people commit themselves to passion.

Tonio's own words show that it is necessity which inspires his dictum of "frigid art." A contrived concept of deadness is employed by Tonio to shield himself from the horror of exposure. In this way he suffers chronically from a prevailing feeling of loneliness and of being cut off; but his suffering is not violent, as it might be if he confronted directly uncertainties of life. His gaze is consequently focused on the past, trying nostalgically to recover that period in which his heart once lived. The doctrine of "frigid art" takes on, therefore, a mantle of protection by becoming a rationalization that frees him from the lurking excesses of his inner drives, but it also becomes, paradoxically, the motivation to pursue his artistic calling.

In keeping with his artistic theory is his relation to Lisaweta Iwanowna. He is above reproach in his dealings with her, so much so that she chides him for his excessive propriety as well as for his faultless patrician dehors. She is a woman who is safe for him, one who will not cause him to become emotionally involved. In some respects she is a female counterpart to Tonio Kröger: artistic, reserved, proper, and completely intellectual. Her function in the story is not to live as a character but to perform dialectics, that is, to be an intellectual foil to Tonio's pedagogical opinions on art. As a spokesman Lisaweta helps tone down the stark realization that Tonio Kröger's beliefs rest on a shaky inner foundation. When she tells him that he is a burgher on the wrong path, she helps to dull his awareness about his inner conflict, for he has not strayed off the bourgeois path in becoming an artist. Actually, as an extremely successful author he gains the respect and envy of the bourgeois world. Tonio toils, indeed suffers, to produce masterpieces which give pleasure to his fellow citizens. But by defining his occupation as a guilty offense against middle-class society, he tries to shield himself from the sting of his conscience. His condition therefore goes deeper than the abstract concepts of "Biirgertum" and "frigid art" which are only a screen for an entirely inner personal conflict.

Tonio Kröger feels his art to be a consolation but at the same time a curse. In effect he is a man condemned by an inner voice to suffer in servitude: "Die Literatur ist uberhaupt kein Beruf, sondern ein Fluch,—amit Sie's wissen. Wann beginnt er fiulhlbar zu werden, dieser Fluch? Friih, schrecklich friuh. Zu einer Zeit, da man billig noch in Frieden und Eintracht mit Gott und der Welt leben sollte." And no matter how perfect the artist's clothing or dignity may be, he believes himself perpetually on exhibition. Tonio feels that he would hardly need to give a glance or speak a word before everyone knew that he was not a human being but something else: something queer, different, inimical. An episode on his trip north, when he is nearly arrested by a policeman in his home town, seems to prove Tonio's overwhelming complex of guilt. Interestingly, Tonio is, as Erich Heller points out, strangely reluctant to clear up the misunderstanding with the police. It is as if he wished to bargain for punishment in order to placate his conscience, that is, as if he derived masochistic pleasure from the incident.

Why does Tonio Krbger go north? Is it to rediscover the springs of his existence, as Frank Donald Hirschbach says? Perhaps Tonio travels north for this reason, but in another sense his trip can be attributed to an urge to revisit the scene of his original guilty experiences. Tonio is embarrassed by Lisaweta's shrewd guess that his real reason for the trip is to visit his home and not merely to spend his holidays in Denmark:

"Wie fahren Sie, Tonio, wenn ich fragen darf?
Welche Route nehmen Sie?"

"Die u̧bliche", sagte er achselzuckend und erro̧tete deutlich.
"Ja, ich beru̧hre meine—meinen Ausgangspunkt, Lisaweta…"

The use of inflectional endings is revealing. Tonio substitutes "meinen" for "meine", and in doing so catches himself just in time to avoid saying "meine Heimat."

A moment later Lisaweta knowingly says: "Ich verspreche mir einen erlebnisvollen Brief von Ihrer Reise—nach Danemark.…" In her hesitation there is a hint that Tonio's trip north is incidental to an inner aim which takes precedence over his conspicuously conflicting feelings. He does not seek out people or demonstrate affections. He acts as if he has completely forgotten his confession of love for life. Paradoxically, by his aloofness and even contempt for his fellow men, he takes no steps to lessen his "middle-class guilt." There is actually an element of displeasure in his stay in the North, as if to clinch the argument of "frigid art" that his heart must be dead. Indeed, it is surprising how little Tonio enjoys himself except for his isolated vigil at the sea: his yearning for the final absolution of death. The Danish coast fits his needs in the same way as the Travemiinde beach episode did for Hanno Buddenbrook. Among his experiences in the North it is the mighty power of the sea which has the greatest effect on him and is aesthetically most impressive for him: "In ihm schwang sich ein Jauchzen auf, und ihm war, als sei es machtig genug, um Sturm und Flut zu iibertonen. Ein Sang an das Meer, begeistert von Liebe, tonte in ihm. Du meiner Jugend wilder Freund, so sind wir einmal noch vereint.…" Contrary to what he told Lisaweta, he does not concern himself with ordinary people, the representatives of life, but rather with the natural landscape, the magnificent sunrise, and the immensity of the expanse of the water. Only the powers of an impersonal nature succeed in stirring the deepest sources of his creative energies, despair, and passion.

Tonio Kröger is always the outsider on his journey into the world of the bourgeois; he continually observes and never takes part, unless people intrude on his self-imposed isolation. The verbs "lauschen" and "horchen", as in the early short story "Der kleine Herr Friedemann," keynote his passivity. In fact, his inert behavior makes us wish to question his own severity in regard to his art. Tonio does not consciously distill his exuberant feelings for his art; he coldly subdues his emotions from painful necessity rather than from conscious intention.

Within the story itself Thomas Mann curiously invalidates his own thesis that feelings have no place in art. For no one who has read Tonio Kröger can fail to be moved by the emotional quality of this work. Thomas Mann has drawn a complete portrait of the intellectual artist who, lacking a capacity for direct feeling, can not even endure the sensual in art but rather finds in his calling a cleansing effect and the destruction of passions. Thus, although the intellectual Lisaweta episode with its didactic tendencies is the heart of the story, its appeal to us is meager by comparison to the actual expression of felt sorrow and the veritably passionate nostalgia in the scene of Tonio's childhood. "Damals lebte sein Herz." The warm emotional tones which characterize Tonio Kröger as a young boy and also his dream-like recollection later on of the same situations live in a real, aesthetic sense and are by no means banal and futile for artistic evaluation. In fact, it is the anguished undertone of self-pity and the sentimental yearning of the hero as well as the blurred and mysterious quality of the dream which give this novella its impact. It appeals poignantly to our own nostalgic attempts to escape into the past and to recapture the dream of youth. Tonio's ambivalence, plaintive and lyrical, touches a chord in all of us that echoes our own loneliness.

Benjanmin Bennett (essay date 1976)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8363

SOURCE: "Casting Out Nines: Structure, Parody and Myth in Tonio Kroiger," in Revue Des Langues Vivantes, Vol. XLII, No. 2, 1976, pp. 126-46.

[In the following essay, Bennett explores the ways in which Tonio Kröger parodies several other works of German literature concerned with the role and development of the artist in society.]


One consequence of that leaning toward the autobiographical which Thomas Mann so frequently indulges, is that when he speaks of his own works he tends to concentrate more upon their spirit than upon their structure. The remarks about Tomio Krger in the Lebensabriss of 1930, however, form somewhat of an exception to this rule: "Die epische Prosakomposition war hier zum erstenmal als ein geistiges Themengewebe, als musikalischer Beziehungskomplex verstanden, wie es spliter, in grosserem Masstabe, beim 'Zauberberg' geschah." But although Mann's emphasis in this case has led one or two critics at least to glance at the structure of Tonio Kröger, it does not seem to me that the very simplest and most obvious points have yet been made.

In particular, eight of the novella's nine chapters are arranged in pairs, Chinese-box fashion (i.e. 1-9, 2-8, 3-7, 4-6), with Chapter 5 serving as the pivot on which the whole is balanced. Or to express it differently, the story represents first a descent and then an ascent through the same four stages. Chapter 1 corresponds to Chapter 9 in that both deal generally with Tonio's ambivalent, melancholy love for the bourgeois, which love is characterized at the end of both chapters in exactly the same words. Chapters 2 and 8 both treat the dance of life, from which the poet is excluded. Chapter 3 describes Tonio's extravagant existence with its violent oscillations between the sensual and the intellectual, which is then refigured by the storm in Chapter 7, along with the symbols of tiger and polar bear. Chapters 4 and 6 both focus directly upon the problem of self-consciousness and self-definition; in Chapter 4 Tonio is "erledigt" by Lisaweta with the words "Sie sind ein Burger," and in Chapter 6, though he had experienced a certain superior satisfaction at the hotel manager's inability "ihn hierarchisch und bUrgerlich unterzubringen," still, at the end, by using his printer's proofs to legitimize himself, Tonio must admit in effect that his is a perfectly respectable bourgeois profession. Chapters 4 and 6 are the chapters where Tonio walks through a door and is confronted by a mirror to his true being, in Lisaweta's unfinished painting ("in meinem Kopf sieht es genau aus wie auf dieser Leinwand" and in the spectacle of men writing against a background of nothing but books ("Literatur") in what had been the home of his childhood. The self-complicating emptiness of self-consciousness, which had been revealed discursively in Tonio's speeches to Lisaweta, now appears in visual form:

Das Geschoss war drei Stuben tief, deren Verbindungstüren offenstanden. Die Wände waren fast in ihrer ganzen Höhe mit gleichfdörmig gebundenen Bülchern bedeckt, die auf dunklen Gestellen in langen Reihen standen. In jedem Zimmer sass hinter einer Art von Ladentisch ein dürftiger Mensch und schrieb.

These three men sitting one behind the other are clearly meant to remind us of the repeated image one sees when positioned between two mirrors, a phenomenon familiar to everyone who has ever sat in a barber-chair: hence the idea of Tonio's self-consciousness, as "ein diirftiger Mensch" among nothing but books, mirroring itself in endless hopelessness. And Chapter 5, finally, the central chapter, contains Tonio's decision to return to his "Ausgangspunkt," which he then in a sense does, by passing in reverse order through the stages represented by Chapters 1-4.

Not only is this structure clear in itself, but it also embodies an allusion to the completed first part of Novalis' Heinrich von Ofterdingen, which treats exactly the same theme, the development of a young poet, and is constructed on exactly the same pattern. Chapters 1 and 9 of Ofterdingen present the vision of universal salvation, first in the form of Heinrich's interrupted dream, then in the full development of Klingsohr's "Mairchen." Chapters 2 and 8 both center on discussions of the nature of poetry, first by way of the merchants' vague admiration for this art, then in the form of Klingsohr's clear, craftsmanlike advice. Chapter 3 is the story of the young man who wins his princess by singing, which prefigures the betrothal of Heinrich and Mathilde in Chapter 7. Chapters 4 and 6 are the two festivities, first that of the Crusaders, at which Heinrich feels somewhat out of place, then his grandfather's in which he can participate wholeheartedly, and Zulima of course corresponds to Mathilde. And Chapter 5 is the descent into the earth, symbolically into the self, the beginning of Heinrich's more explicit selfconsciousness and awareness of his fate (which is depicted in the Provencal book), thus the nadir and turning-point at which a more fully realized re-enactment of the novel's first four stages becomes possible.

But if Tonio Kröger and Heinrich von Ofterdingen are similar in structure and theme, the meaning of the two works is entirely different. Whereas self-consciousness is the very principle of Heinrich's development, equivalent in its increase to increasing self-realization—the better Heinrich knows himself, the more fully he is himself—self-consciousness for Tonio is a snare in which he becomes entangled (Chapters 1-4) and from which he must then extricate himself by a kind of half-deliberate regression (Chapters 6-9). Far from promoting self-development, self-consciousness in Tonio Kroger, especially as Tonio practices it in Chapter 4, is a mere aimless whirling upon itself of the intellect when it can seize no external object, and is thus symbolized later by the racing of the ship's propeller when it comes out of the water, which phenomenon, significantly, causes Tonio "arge Ubelkeit." This implied criticism of Novalis' idea of the artist's development is made still clearer by a specific parallel between the pivotal Chapters 5: like Heinrich, who here reads his actual destiny in a book, though he does not yet understand it, Tonio in this chapter imagines himself able to read his destiny in Hamlet, intends to enact that destiny on location in Elsinore—and turns out to be completely mistaken, for he is not a tragic figure after all. The references to Hamlet, incidentally, also remind us of Goethe's Meister, and this, together with the parody of Novalis, perhaps supplies a key to Tonio's apology in Chapter 1: "ich mochte, weiss Gott, lieber Heinrich oder Wilhelm heissen." But Tonio is neither Wilhelm Meister, who renounces art, nor Heinrich von Ofterdingen, for whom artistic development is an unimpeded progress of self-discovery.

In its details the parody of Novalis is really quite bitter. There is a fairly clear relation in the Chapters 6 between Heinrich's arrival in Augsburg, where he is welcomed into a happy family, and Tonio's in Lubeck, where he is suspected of being a swindler; but the more specific object of parody here is the following passage from the introduction to Chapter 6 of Ofterdingen:

Es sind die Dichter, diese seltenen Zugmenschen, die zuweilen durch unsere Wohnsitze wan-deln , und überall den alten ehrwiirdigen Dienst der Menschheit und ihrer ersten Götter, der Gestirne, des Frühlings, der Liebe, des Glücks, der Fruchtbarkeit, der Gesundheit, und des Frohsinns erneuern; sie, die schon hier im Besitz der himmlischen Ruhe sind, und von keinen törichten Begierden umhergetrieben, nur den Duft der irdischen Früchte einatmen, ohne sie zu verzehren und dann unwiderruflich an die Unterwelt gekettet zu sein. Freie Gäste sind sie, deren goldener Fuss nur leise auftritt, und deren Gegenwart in allen unwillkürlich die Flügel ausbreitet.

Tonio Krdger—especially in Chapter 6 where Tonio the wanderer delicately sniffs the atmosphere of Luibeck—includes a parody of practically every word here, but most particularly of the idea that our "inner wings" open instinctively in the poet's presence, which is burlesqued in the more or less aggressive suspiciousness of the librarian, the hotel manager and the policeman. There may even be a more specific reference to Novalis, suggested via the idea of "Nasenflulgel," when we are told that the policeman, upon hearing Tonio's name, "reckte sich auf und bffnete plbtzlich seine Nasenlocher, so weit er konnte." This, in reality, is the way our "wings" open when the poet introduces himself to us.

And in Chapter 7 the parody becomes, if anything, even bitterer, in that Heinrich, who has himself had poetic thoughts about "Der Chor der Gestirne" at the end of Chapter 6, is now made to take the rôle of the freshly scrubbed merchant from Hamburg. In particular, Klingsohr's advice to an overenthusiastic Heinrich in Chapter 7—"Begeisterung ohne Verstand ist unnutz und gefahrlich, und der Dichter wird wenig Wunder tun konnen, wenn er selbst uiber Wunder erstaunt"—reflects exactly that idea of poetry upon which Tonio bases his conclusion about the young Hamburger: "Au… nein, der hat keine Literatur im Leibe!" It is true that some of Klingsohr's advice can be applied to Tonio himself: for example, "Glaubt nicht… dass ich das letztere ['jenes uiberfliessende Gefihil einer unbegreiflichen, iuberschwenglichen Herrlichkeit'] tadle; aber es muss von selbst kommen, und nicht gesucht werden. Seine sparsame Erscheinung ist wohltaltig; ofterer wird sie ermuidend und schwachend." But in Chapter 7 of Tonio Kröger, Tonio, who in Luibeck had deliberately sought a rebirth of feeling, has already learned this lesson and is now about to experience an unsought enthusiasm ("es muss von selbst kommen") in the storm, whereas the position of the emotion-hunting amateur, Henrich's position in Chapter 7 of Ofterdingen, is occupied by the ridiculous young businessman.


We have not really accomplished anything, however, until we go further into the question of what this element of parody implies about the meaning of Tonio Kröger, and we can begin by noting that there is also a specific parallel between the Chapters 1 in Mann and Novalis. Heinrich's father, we recall, during his stay in Rome, had actually had a chance to achieve the blue flower but had failed to commit himself to that quest, and this idea is repeated in the figure of Tonio's father, a man "mit sinnenden blauen Augen" who always wears "eine Feldblume" and who has imported his wife from even further south. The point of this parallel is to suggest, as is also suggested by Hans's flash of interest in Don Carlos, by the figure of the lieutenant reading his poetry, and by the Romantic merchant on shipboard, that even in normal bourgeois life there is an inherent poetic tendency, a desire for salvation through the intellect. Tonio and Heinrich are both the realization of a repressed or confused tendency in their own fathers. The poet merely realizes a power which is latent in all men, or as Klingsohr says, "Es ist recht ilbel… dass die Poesie einen besondern Namen hat, und die Dichter eine besondere Zunft ausmachen. Es ist gar nichts Besonderes. Es ist die eigentiumliche Handlungsweise des menschlichen Geistes. Dichtet und trachtet nicht jeder Mensch in jeder Minute?"

In Tonio Kröger, in fact, despite Tonio's attempt to understand art as a kind of crime against bourgeois order, there is a suggestion of direct kinship between the blond, blue-eyed ones and precisely those artists who are most fully committed to their art. "Iwanowna" is of course the patronymic derived from the Russian equivalent of "Johann" or "Hans," so that it means essentially "Hansen," and Lisaweta is thus a kind of sister to Tonio's childhood friend; and when we hear of the "aggressive style" in which Tonio's colleague Adalbert exclaims "Gott verdamme den Frihling!" we are inclined to recall Hans's "verwohnte und selbstbewusste Art, seine Sympathien und Abneigungen kundzugeben." These touches, together with Tonio's use of his art as bourgeois self-legitimization in Liibeck, make clear that the basis for the parody of Novalis is a recognition that art, as practiced by those whom Tonio calls "ihr Anbeter der Schonheit," is nothing but bourgeois existence all over again. Tonio may be "ein verirrter Buirger," but Lisaweta, Adalbert and Heinrich von Ofterdingen are "Burger" without even being "verirrt." They have all found a niche in society with which they are satisfied. The atmosphere in Lisaweta's studio may contain that "Konflikt und Gegensatz" which torments Tonio, but Lisaweta herself is not at all bothered by it; she divides her life, like her room, into two distinct compartments, and does not let one interfere with the other. Her art is not a problem to her, and it is precisely the feeling of art as a problem that makes Tonio consider himself unique in his "Kiinstlertum … so tief, so von Anbeginn und Schicksals wegen, dass keine Sehnsucht ihm suisser und empfindenswerter erscheint als die nach den Wonnen der Gewöhnlichkeit."

The idea of a close kinship between the fully committed artist and the simple burgher is developed by yet another parody woven into the novella's structure, the parody of yet another well-known nine-part work in German literature, Goethe's Hermann und Dorothea. This poem as a whole of course bears less relation to Tonio Kröger than Ofterdingen does, but the section-by-section parallels are obvious enough to make the parody unmistakeable. It is not entirely clear why Canto II of Hermann und Dorothea should be entitled "Terpsichore," but it is perfectly clear that this muse presides over Chapter 2 of Tonio Kröger, the dance-chapter, and Tonio's faux pas in dancing mouli- net des dames corresponds to Hermann's at the neighbor's house when he asks about "Pamina" and "Tamino." Then Tonio's going forth into the world in Chapter 3 recalls the father's wish in Goethe, "es solle sich Hermann auf Reisen / Bald begeben," and when we hear that "Die alte Familie der Krdger war nach und nach in einen Zustand des Abbrockelns und der Zersetzung geraten," we think of the whole of the father's long speech about degenerate modern youth and Hermann in particular. But the most striking parody is Tonio's conversation with Lisaweta in Chapter 4, which corresponds to Hermann's conversation with his mother in Canto IV; both conversations arrive at exactly the same conclusion: that the young man in question has been Romanticizing his situation—Tonio in his self-image as doomed artist, Hermann in his as a soldier—and really ought to be content as "ein Burger." And then, finally, at the end of Chapter 8, Tonio's assistance to the fallen Danish girl is a comic re-enactment of Hermann's catching of Dorothea at the end of Canto VIII, when she stumbles.

The pattern of parody in Tonio Kruger, then, is the following: Chapter 1, Ofterdingen; Chapters 2, 3, 4, Hermann; Chapters 5, 6, 7, Ofterdingen; Chapter 8, Hermann. The parody of Novalis is thus interwoven with that of Goethe, and the suggestion, clearly, is that the development of the quintessential artist, leading toward a metaphysical marriage by which the whole world is redeemed, is not basically different from the development of the quintessential bourgeois, which culminates in a thoroughly mundane marriage. In both cases the central character finds "the right way" to his destiny, and from the perspective of Tonio Kruger this is a bit of an oversimplification, "weil es fir etliche einen richtigen Weg uberhaupt nicht gibt." The parodies thus elaborate the idea of Tonio's position "zwischen zwei Welten," but with the added suggestion that these "two worlds" are not really different from one another.


There is, however, more to be said about this suggestion. We have already pointed out that despite Tonio's references to the blue-eyed ones "die den Geist nicht notig haben," a number of incidents in the story clearly reflect the existence of an ingrained intellectual tendency or desire in precisely these people. The main incidents we have in mind, moreover, are three in number and serve by their disposition to mark off yet another manifestation of the story's structure, a division into three phases of three chapters each. The first phase is introduced in Chapter 1 by Hans's interest in Tonio and in Don Carlos; the second in Chapter 4 by the story of the lieutenant with his poetry; and the third in Chapter 7 by the star-struck Hamburger. There is, moreover, a clear progression from phase to phase. At first, in the case of Hans, Tonio encourages this inchoate bourgeois intellectuality, hoping thereby to establish a bond between himself and society at large. In the second phase, Tonio specifically rejects the idea of such encouragement ("man sollte nicht Leute, die viel lieber in Pferdebuchern mit Momentaufnahmen lesen, zur Poesie verfuhren wollen!" and had been mortally embarrassed at the lieutenant's making a spectacle of himself, for it now somehow gratifies him to think of art as a kind of shameful offense against life. But by the time Tonio encounters the young man on shipboard, he has clearly passed beyond this stage, since he is not embarrassed at all; he simply discounts the notion that such forced cosmological humility has anything to do with literature ("nein, der hat keine Literatur im Leibe!") and continues listening to the man's chatter "mit einem heimlichen und freundschaftlichen Gefuihl."

By chapter 7, therefore, Tonio has achieved a new equilibrium; he no longer reacts emotionally, as he had earlier, to signs of an intellectual stirring in the bourgeois. And what this at least ought to mean, as we have already suggested in connection with the structural similarity and philosophical contrast to Ofterdingen, is that Tonio is now somehow managing to extricate himself from the confusions of self-consciousness. We shall begin to understand more fully how this works if we note that each of at least the first two phases in the novella (Chapters 1-3 and 4-6) focuses upon a specific question.

The question Tonio finds himself asking in Chapter 1 is the fundamental question of self-consciousness, "What am II"—"Was aber ist mit mir, und wie wird dies alles ablaufen?" In reality, however, even at this early point, Tonio has already begun writing and so already knows, or at least suspects, that his destiny has to do with "[die] Macht des Geistes und Wortes, die lachelnd uiber dem unbewussten und stummen Leben thront." The attempt to draw Hans Hansen over to his side is merely an attempt to avoid, or at least postpone the uncomfortable consequences of this knowledge by establishing a direct link with human normality; and even as a child Tonio senses that this attempt is self-contradictory and futile, in the same way that later he knows there is no chance of Inge Holm's coming to him in the corridor. By Chapter 3, therefore, he at last seems to be facing the facts squarely, "Denn er war gross und klug geworden, hatte begriffen, was fir eine Bewandtnis es mit ihm hatte."

But in the final analysis, even Tonio's commitment to literature is only another way of avoiding the question "What am I?"

Er arbeitete nicht wie jemand, der arbeitet, um zu leben, sondern wie einer, der nichts will als arbeiten, weil er sich als lebendigen Menschen für nichts achtet, nur als Schaffender in Betracht zu kommen wünscht und im übrigen grau und unauffallig umhergeht, wie ein abgeschminkter Schauspieler, der nichts ist, solange er nichts darzustellen hat.

Tonio thus attempts to resolve the question of the self by the simple expedient of eliminating the self, which cannot possibly work. The idea "dass man gestorben sein muss, um ganz ein Schaffender zu sein" contains an obvious logical contradiction, and Chapter 4, accordingly, opens with the question "Store ich?" The answer to this question is of course yes; Tonio's "ich" is still there, as a "disturbing" element in his calculations.

In Chapter 4, then, at the beginning of the story's second phase, Tonio formulates his still unanswered question more generally, "Aber was ist der Kiunstler?" And like the question in Chapter 1, this question is basically rhetorical, for Tonio thinks he already knows the answer. The artist, as opposed to the conventional, instinctive bourgeois, is that man who has committed himself wholly to the practice of intellectual consciousness and thus, by consequence, to a kind of self-destruction.

Ist Ihnen das Herz zu voll, fühlien Sie sich von einem süissen oder erhabenen Erlebnis allzusehr ergriffen: nichts einfacher! Sie gehen zum Literaten, und alles wird in kürzester Frist geregelt sein. Er wird Ihnen Ihre Angelegenheit analysieren und formulieren, bei Namen nennen, aussprechen und zum Reden bringen, wird Ihnen das Ganze für alle Zeit erledigen und gleichgültig machen … Was ausgesprochen ist, so lautet sein Glaubensbekenntnis, ist erledigt. Ist die ganze Welt ausgesprochen, so ist sie erledigt, erlöst, abgetan …

Explicit, articulable consciousness is the death of experience, and if we cease to experience, do we not cease to exist? Can the artist, therefore, even be said to exist in the first place? "Ist der Kunstler iuberhaupt ein Mann? Man frage 'das Weib' danach! Mir scheint, wir Kiinstler teilen alle ein wenig das Schicksal jener praparierten papstlichen Singer." Not only is the artist not "ein Mann," he is not even "ein Mensch": "Sie [you, the artist] werden kaum die Augen aufzuschlagen und ein Wort zu sprechen brauchen, und jedermann wird wissen, dass Sie kein Mensch sind, sondern irgend etwas Fremdes, Befremdendes, anderes."

This at least is what Tonio thinks, but it still does not answer his question because he himself after all still does exist. His own feeling refutes his definition of the artist as a mere intellectual, and it is for this reason that he decides to return to his native city, in the hope of penetrating beyond the domain of self-consciousness and rediscovering the true organic roots of his personal destiny. As we have already seen, however, he is unsuccessful in this. His search for his own origin is only a potentiation of self-consciousness, it is a self-consciousness now critically applied to self-consciousness itself, and this is revealed to Tonio when, on opening the door of his own house, he is confronted by that image of mirror-mirroring-mirror which we have discussed above. What Tonio learns here is that self-consciousness does in truth lead toward nonexistence, that when developed to a sufficient degree it becomes not art but rather a useless, hopeless and above all unproductive vortex of self-preoccupation comparable to the racing of a ship's propeller when it leaves the water. This lesson, combined with the enforced recognition (when he legitimizes himself to the policeman) that his own art is not a daredevil teetering on the brink of nonentity so much as a perfectly acceptable bourgeois pursuit, implies for Tonio the very simple but very important conclusion that there is no such thing as the quintessential artist. There is no such thing as an artist totally committed to the conscious analysis and articulation of all reality, for such a man would be, even in relation to himself, nothing but a mirror, which is impossible, and even if he managed somehow to exist, he would certainly not produce.

As a corollary to this proposition, moreover, it follows that Tonio's distinction between those who live and those who sacrifice life to art is not in reality nearly so strict as he had wanted it to be, and his recognition of this now makes him receptive to a truth which is expressed throughout the story via the thematic appearance of intellectual tendencies in otherwise normal people: the truth that there is no such thing as the quintessential bourgeois. Hence Tonio's reaction, or lack of it, to the sentiments of the young man on deck. Earlier, he had felt the lieutenant's poetry as a kind of personal attack and had concluded his relation of the incident by saying, with perfect illogic but with a serious if strained tragic pride, "Da stand er und bUsste in grosser Verlegenheit den Irrtum, dass man ein Blittchen pfiuicken diirfe, ein einziges, vom Lorbeerbaume der Kunst, ohne mit seinem Leben daflir zu zahlen." But now, confronted with the melancholy speculations of his fellow-passenger, Tonio simply thinks, "nein, der hat keine Literatur im Leibe," and expresses thereby the recognition that what he is being regaled with is a perfectly normal manifestation of bourgeois existence, having no special relation to his own profession or self-esteem. The pure bliss of a bourgeois existence wholly contained within its narrow horizons simply never happens in reality, any more than does the pure, horizonless universality of an artistic existence. Hence the two interwoven parodies we have spoken of, for the works parodied represent things and states that do not really exist. In reality there is not a world of art opposed to a world of life. There is only one world, which includes all men with their various degrees and modes of self-consciousness, the world where Hans and Lisaweta are brother and sister, and although this is a world in which Tonio can feel rather more at ease than he had before, it is also a world in which the question of the nature and the rôle and the specific necessity of art seems further than ever from being answered.


But this is not the only problem. For if Tonio, by the end of Chapter 6, has achieved emotional equilibrium with respect to his profession, then we must also ask why he goes through with his trip to Denmark anyway, and we can begin by discussing the irony in a passage we have already mentioned:

Die Bürger sind dumm; ihr Anbeter der Schönheit aber, die ihr mich phlegmatisch und ohne Sehnsucht heisst, solltet bedenken, dass es ein Künstlertum gibt, so tief, so von Anbeginn und Schicksals wegen, dass keine Sehnsucht ihm süsser und empfindenswerter erscheint als die nach den Wonnen der Gewöhnlichkeit.

What kind of a "Sehnsucht" is it that one can judge according to how "empfindenswert" it is? Clearly there is an intellectual distance here between the writer and the experience he is describing; what this passage actually expresses is only a yearningfor the yearning it speaks of, and this is precisely as it must be, for Tonio now knows perfectly well that the "ecstasies of being ordinary" simply do not exist in reality.

Tonio is thus in the situation of yearning for something he knows does not exist, which is not essentially different from his situation in Chapter 1—where he had made no attempt "zu werden wie Hans Hansen"—except that now he appears to have maneuvered himself into it deliberately. This is the reason for the trip to Denmark. The advantage of Denmark is that its people are similar to those North Germans Tonio dreams of, except that they speak a different language, a language Tonio does not understand. In Chapter 2 the words "seine Sprache war nicht ihre Sprache" describe a situation in which Tonio involuntarily finds himself; but as applied more literally to Chapter 8("Denn ihre Sprache war nicht seine Sprache"), these words describe a situation Tonio deliberately creates for himself. The language barrier denies Tonio all intellectual contact with the Danes, thus all direct perception of that intellectual tendency which, even in the bourgeois, keeps perfect ordinariness from ever actually happening. In Denmark, therefore, Tonio can at least experience the illusion that those "ecstasies of being ordinary" do exist after all.

But what possible importance can Tonio attach to such a deliberate and necessarily fleeting self-delusion? We can approach this question by recognizing first that the novella embodies yet one further section-by-section parody of a nine-part work from earlier German literature, Hölderlin's elegy "Brod und Wein." In section 1 of this poem we hear:

Aber das Saitenspiel tbnt fern aus Girten; vieleicht, dass
  Dort ein Liebendes spielt oder ein einsamer Mann
Ferner Freunde gedenkt und der Jugendzeit; und die Brunnen
  Immerquillend und frisch rauschen an duftendem Beet.

This awakens all sorts of associations with Tonio Kröger, but especially with Chapter 1 where we are told of those times "wenn er [Tonio] mit seiner Geige (denn er spielte die Geige) in seinem Zimmer umherging und die Tone, so weich, wie er sie nur hervorzubringen vermochte, in das Platschern des Springstrahles hinein erklingen liess, der drunten im Garten unter den Zweigen des alten Walnussbaumes tanzelnd emporstieg."

Then, in Chapter 2, we hear:

Aber obgleich er [Tonio] genau wusste, dass die Liebe ihm viel Schmerz, Drangsal und Demütigung bringen müsse, dass sie überdies den Frieden zerstöre und das Herz mit Melodien üiberfüllle, ohne dass man Ruhe fand, eine Sache rund zu formen und in Gelassenheit etwas Ganzes daraus zu schmieden, so nahm er sie doch mit Freuden auf, üiberliess sich ihr ganz und pflegte sie mit den Kräften seines Gemütes, denn er wusste, dass sie reich und lebendig mache, und er sehnte sich, reich und lebendig zu sein, statt in Gelassenheit etwas Ganzes zu schmieden.…

And this recalls the deliberate affirmation, in "Brod und Wein," section 2, of an irrational nocturnal existence as opposed to "der besonnene Tag." Indeed, the words "reich und lebendig" suggest a more specific echo of the idea that "[die Nacht] muss uns auch … vollern Pokal und kuhneres Leben [gonnen]." And Tonio's departure southward in Chapter 3 then clearly corresponds to the departure for Greece in section 3 of the elegy: "Gottliches Feuer auch treibet, bei Tag und bei Nacht, / Aufzubrechen."

Chapters 4, 5 and 6 do not correspond in quite the same detail to Holderlin, but their general movement is similar. In section 4 of "Brod und Wein" the initial mood of despair at the idea of a still physically existing Greece now emptied of its essential spirit ("wo die Gefasse, / Wo mit Nectar gefuillt, Gottern zu Lust der Gesang?") is transformed, by the mere shift from interrogative to declarative, into an ecstatic if still preterite vision of that spirit's greatness, in much the same way that the inherent nihilism in Tonio's intellectual attack on the intellect is transformed into its opposite ("Jedoch ich bin kein Nihilist") by the idea of a love for life; and Lisaweta's "answer," that Tonio is not really the solitary tragic hero he imagines himself but rather still in essence belongs to communal bourgeois existence, is a kind of reminder that "es ertrug keiner das Leben allein." Then, in Chapter 5, Tonio comes to the full recognition that "fast ward ihm Unheiliges heilig," that his pursuit of artistic existence in the form of extravagant intellectual adventures and complexities has been misguided, and it is for this reason that he now decides to face his destiny directly, as it were "zu schaun die Offenbaren," to bring to light the true source and nature of his artistic "Gabe" by returning to the city of his origin; it can even be said of him that "nun aber nennt er sein Liebstes," in that he speaks to Lisaweta of the name "'Ingeborg,' ein Harfenschlag makellossester Poesie." And now, accordingly, Tonio goes home, to a seaport, one of those "Stadte… sie gehn uber Gestaden empor," and just as these words in the elegy are the signal for a return to the despairing interrogatives of section 4, so Tonio, in the public library at Lubeck, discovers that he has not yet really progressed beyond the essentially nihilistic self-consciousness of his conversation with Lisaweta earlier. Or we think more specifically of the lines:

Warum zeichnet, wie sonst, die Stirne des Mannes ein Gott nicht,
  Drükt den Stempel, wie sonst, nicht dem Getroffenen auf?

Tonio, we recall, has returned to Lilbeck in order to reexperience the original meaning of "das Mal an seiner Stirn," and discovers instead that he does not really bear the mark of Cain after all, but that his art in fact serves as a bourgeois passport.

The closest parallels with Holderlin, however, are those between the respective seventh parts. "Aber wenn wir da hinaufsehen," says the Hamburger, "so miissen wir doch erkennen und versdehen, dass wir im Grunde Gewuirm sind, elendes Gewuirm und nichts weiter," which is a burlesque exaggeration of the idea that the gods have departed, leaving us alone in immensity: "Zwar leben die Götter, / Aber uiber dem Haupt droben in anderer Welt… und scheinens wenig zu achten, / Ob wir leben." Then, the idea that "Nur zu Zeiten ertrigt gbttliche Fulle der Mensch," and that we who desire the gods' return must wait "Biss dass Helden genug in der ehernen Wiege gewachsen," is symbolized in Tonio's being able, unlike the young merchant, not only to endure but to rejoice in that divine elemental fury which now re-awakens and fills his heart; and the idea of a "brazen cradle" then corresponds to the rocking metal steamer on board which this rebirth takes place. Indeed, before the storm, when Tonio and that interlocutor with whom he has so little in common had decided to retire, Tonio had fulfilled almost literally the lines, "Indessen dunket mir öfters / Besser zu schlafen, wie so ohne Genossen zu seyn." And his Dionysian rebirth now reveals that Tonio, himself a "Dichter in durftiger Zeit" and on a nocturnal voyage, is also comparable, like Hölderlin's poet, to "des Weingotts heilige Priester, / Welche von Lande zu Land zogen in heiliger Nacht."

The parody of "Brod und Wein," however, unlike the other two we have talked about, involves a wholly positive attitude toward its object. Both the elegy and the novella deal with the problem of the poet's isolation in an uncongenial world, the impossibility nowadays of "Freude, mit Geist," and in both works, though neither claims to solve this problem, the poet at least makes peace with his situation and achieves a viable idea of his immediate task. In fact, Holderlin's consolation for the disorder of our world, that a messenger of the highest god still comes "unter die Schatten herab," is to an extent echoed in Tonio's formulation, "ich sehe in eih Gewimmel von Schatten menschlicher Gestalten, die mir winken, dass ich sie banne und erlose." And the last line of the elegy, "Selbst der neidische, selbst Cerberus trinket und schlaft," suggests the possibility that those shades, with their guard asleep, may now somehow be released from their shadowy realm, which is apparently also something like what Tonio has in mind.

But the most important feature, for our purposes, of this affirmative parody of Hölderlin, is what it suggests about Chapter 8 of Tonio Kröger. Section 8 of the elegy deals with the gods' departure and their leaving behind of bread and wine as pledges of an eventual return:

Nemlich, als vor einiger Zeit, uns dünket sie lange,
  Aufwärts stiegen sie all, welche das Leben beglükt,

Liess zum Zeichen, dass einst er da gewesen und wieder
  Käme, der himmlische Chor einige Gaaben zurük,
Derer menschlich, wie sonst, wir uns zu freuen vermöchten.

And at least tentatively, we are fairly safe in concluding that Tonio, on his trip to Denmark, is seeking just such a sign, a pledge that will restore his confidence in "das Leben," at least as a meaningful ideal if not a real possibility. On the one hand, Tonio has been forced to recognize that "das Leben" in its pure form simply does not occur in reality, but on the other hand, the specific existence of art, or of the analytic, anti-vital intellect, logically implies at least the ideal existence of something that is its opposite—"Fixativ und Friuhlingsarom, nicht wahr? Kunst und—ja, was ist das andere?" By going to Denmark, where the language barrier denies him any perception of intellect in the people he encounters, Tonio is deliberately staging for himself a situation in which he will be able to see, or at least envision "das Leben" in an entirely unsullied form, for without such a vision his "Kunst" has no validity either.

Or to return to another of the approaches we have initiated above: if the thematic question of the story's first phase (Chapters 1-3) is Tonio's "What am I?" and if the second phase (Chapters 4-6) is characterized by the question "What is the artist?" then it ought to be clear by now that the corresponding question in the third phase (Chapters 7-9) is, "What is man?" That the explicit statement of this question in Chapter 7 is made not by Tonio but rather by the young Hamburger, in his absurd comparison of man's meager achievements with the hugeness of the stars, does not reduce the importance of the question in the story's structure. The question "What am I?" arises from Tonio's wonder at his own unusually intense self-consciousness; the question "What is the artist?" arises from Tonio's idea of art as a unique excess of intellect; and accordingly, when at the beginning of the story's third phase Tonio has recognized that all men (not only himself and not only the artist) partake of intellect in essentially the same way, if in different degrees, then by analogy with the first two phases the question that must arise is the question, "What is man?"

And an answer to this question is suggested at the very end of the story:

Ich schaue in eine ungeborene und schemenhafte Welt hinein, die geordnet und gebildet sein will, ich sehe in ein Gewimmel von Schatten menschlicher Gestalten, die mir winken, dass ich sie banne und erlöse: tragische und lächerliche und solche, die beides zugleich sind,—und diesen bin ich sehr zugetan.

Or in Holderlin's words, "wir sind herzlos, Schatten." Intellect, which tends to destroy the emotional life of the heart, is an ineradicable quality not only of the artist but of all men, whence it follows that the whole of the human world has the tendency to become a realm of heartless wraiths. As Tonio himself has said earlier, "Das Reich der Kunst nimmt zu, und das der Gesundheit und Unschuld nimmt ab auf Erden." The difference is that Tonio's strict distinction between art and life has now been replaced by a less drastic distinction between "tragische und lacherliche [Gestalten]," between people who are tormented by the intellect and people who are made ridiculous by it, and this new form of the distinction reflects the recognition that it is simply impossible for a man to live unaffected by the intellect.

Thus, in view of what we have said above about the nihilistic tendency of self-consciousness, it now follows that not only Tonio himself (as in the first phase, where he concludes by attempting to eliminate his own person) and not only the artist (as in the second phase, where Tonio's artistic self-image is in the end revealed as nothing but mirror mirroring mirror) but man in general has an ingrained bent toward non-existence. It is because of his understanding of this truth that Tonio goes through with his trip to Denmark, for this truth in itself—the truth that human nature gravitates toward the void—is useless and potentially deadly; it leads nowhere but to despair ("so liesse sich ein Mensch denken, der … durch psychologische Hellsicht ganz einfach aufgerieben und zugrunde gerichtet wiirde," since thinking or reasoning about it merely plays into the hands of intellect. Therefore Tonio must create for himself, as Hölderlin does in "Brod und Wein," a myth of divinely fulfilled humanity and of the possibility of an eventual return of such humanity; therefore Tonio goes to Denmark and waits for the sign, the pledge which eventually appears in his vision of Hans and Inge reincarnate. It does not matter if this vision is merely an illusion created by Tonio's linguistic ignorance; the only question that matters, as also for Nietzsche, is whether the vision is useful for life, life as opposed to deadly despair; perhaps, as Nietzsche suggests, any idea that is useful for life must be an illusion. But it does not matter.

Of course, as we have already indicated in connection with his use of the word "empfindenswert," Tonio has an ironic perspective upon his submission to an illusion; he knows it is an illusion. But even this does not matter. He still does submit to the illusion, and the love he speaks of is strictly genuine: "Aber meine tiefste und verstohlenste Liebe gehört den Blonden und Blauaugigen, den hellen Lebendigen, den Glicklichen, LiebenswUrdigen und Gewohnlichen." This love is genuine for the simple reason that there is absolutely no alternative to it. The only conceivable alternative, for someone who understands what Tonio understands, would be sheer non-existence, utterly empty despair, and this is not really an alternative one could choose.


The real subject matter of Tonlo Kroger, then, is the artist's creation of a private myth as protection against the despair which must follow from exposure to sheer truth, and this leaves us only with the question of why: of what use is such a myth to the artist? What does Tonio mean when he promises Lisaweta, "Ich werde Besseres machen"? And how does he propose to release those human "shades" he speaks of from their shadowiness? Given the recognition that all human existence is an intellectual teetering on the brink of nonentity, the artist's job is clearly to counteract this, somehow to endow mankind with more shape and substance; or as Mann says specifically in the Betrachbtugen eines Unpolitischen, the "Dichter" is by nature a "Menschenbildner," as opposed to the "Literat" who merely passes judgment. But again, how shall Tonio Kröger's "Biirgerliebe zum Menschlichen, Lebendigen und Gewohnlichen" transform him from a "Literat" into a "Dichter"?

I think there is only one possible answer to this, and that it is an obvious one. The poet's job, first of all, is to achieve existential stability for man by resolving into clear form that flux of human experience which, because of its ingrained intellectualness, gravitates toward the void; this is what is meant by the idea of rescuing human shades from their vague shadowiness. The trouble with this definition is that it does not seem at all different from the idea Tonio has criticized bitterly in Chapter 4: "Was aber das 'Wort' betrifft, so handelt es sich da vielleicht weniger um eine Erlosung als um ein Kaltstellen und Aufs-Eis-Legen der Empfindung?" Tonio, it seems, is simply going to go on doing what he has hated himself for doing before, and this raises the question of whether there is really any development in the story.

But there is a development. The difference between the poet and the man of letters ("Literat") lies not in what they do but in how they do it. Like charity for St. Paul ("jene Liebe selbst, von der geschrieben steht, dass einer mit Menschen-und Engelszungen reden konne und ohne sie doch nur ein tonendes Erz und eine klingende Schelle sei," the difference between the poet and the man of letters is an utterly vital but invisible difference. A poet is a writer who, while reducing human experience to verbal form, still always keeps in view, as his goal, that admittedly illusory but absolutely necessary vision of "das Leben" which Tonio has deliberately contrived for himself in Denmark. The man of letters operates on the assumption that humanity simply exists, as the object of his cognitive and pictorial endeavors, while the poet, on the other hand, in that his work is silently dedicated to an unrealized and perhaps ultimately unrealizable vision, knows constantly that it is his responsibility to bring man into being, that otherwise human existence, because of the contradictions inherent in self-conscious intellect, tends inexorably toward the void. Man for the "Literat" is an object; man for the "Dichter" is an unrealized ideal.

In actual practice, once again, this difference is infinitesimal. In practice the poet and the man of letters both do exactly the same thing; they resolve the flux of human experience into verbal form, and it is by no means certain that the reader will always be able to tell one from the other by their works. But once again, this does not matter. One of the things Mann has learned from Nietzsche is to regard the work of art as an act, not a fact, to regard art from the point of view of the creator, not the recipient, and from this point of view there is all the difference in the world. The "Literat" is passive (even the word is grammatically a passive participle); he is nothing but the object of his own consciousness, and so must always entangle himself in the sort of confusion Tonio experiences in Chapter 4. The "Dichter," on the other hand, is active (again, the form of the word suggests this). Even if he is a "Dichter in durftiger Zeit," even if the world is set up in such a fashion that there is no "right way" for him, still he knows, "Aber das Irrsaal / Hilft, wie SchIummer und stark machet die Noth und die Nacht"; his work, from his own personal point of view, is an ethical activity that itself justifies his existence, an activity in the service of man, whether or not actual men appreciate it as such.

But surely we cannot conclude with the idea that poetry is poetry, as opposed to "literature," only by virtue of the poet's own subjective notion of what he is doing. Surely true poetry must enter into a specifically poetic relation with the reader as well. Or in particular, there must be a way for the reader at least to sense that the work is the product of a poetic mentality; otherwise the work is bound to affect him merely as "literature," as an intellectually detached "Kaltstellen" of human experience, thus ultimately nihilistic, rather than a self-affirmative human activity by which our existence is shaped and held fast.

And the key idea for understanding the relation of poetry to its reader is an idea we have already introduced, the idea of myth, which we must now go into a bit more deeply, especially in its Nietzschean sense. In the first place, a myth is not something one believes in objectively:

Denn dies ist die Art, wie Religionen abzusterben pflegen: wenn nämlich die mythischen Voraussetzungen einer Religion unter den strengen, verstandesmässigen Augen eines rechtgläubigen Dogmatismus als eine fertige Summe von historischen Ereignissen systematisirt werden und man anfängt, ängstlich die Glaubwürdigkeit der Mythen zu vertheidigen.

The Greek did not believe in his gods, but rather he knew, in the very act of worshipping, that those gods represented an illusion—"Es ist ein Traum! Ich will ihn weiter traumen!"—just as Tonio knows full well that his Danish vision of "das Leben" is illusory. A myth is not an object of belief but rather a continuing mental activity, an artistic, illusion-creating activity, on the part of the celebrant. The utter horror of existence on the brink of the nameless void, says Nietzsche, that horror which the Greeks experienced more deeply than anyone else, "wurde von den Griechen durch jene kiinstlerische Mittelwelt der Olympier fortwahrend von Neuem uiberwunden, jedenfalls verhiillt und dem Anblick entzogen." Especially important here are the words "fortwahrend von Neuem"; a myth is not a fact that exists once and for all, but rather exists only by virtue of the continuing activity that brings it forth.

The importance of these considerations becomes clear as soon as we recognize that the myth with which we are presented, as readers, in Tonio Kröger, is not Tonio's own personal myth of the blond, blue-eyed ones. The vision experienced by Tonio, after all, depends precisely upon his exclusion from verbal intercourse, whereas we, as readers, are confronted with language and nothing but. Clearly, from the point of view of the reader, the central myth of Tonio KrIoger is the myth of the poet—again, as in Holderlin—and that we are in fact meant to approach this idea as a myth is made clear to us by the analogy with Tonio's vision of "das Leben." Just as Tonio knows perfectly well that his Danish vision is illusory, so also we, for our part, know that objectively speaking there is no difference whatever between "poetry" and "literature." What we learn from Tonio's insistence upon his "Buirgerliebe," however, is that we have an ethical duty to insist upon the differentness of poetry, regardless of what we "know" objectively. There must be such a thing as poetry; otherwise mankind is utterly abandoned to its intellectual penchant for nothingness. And to the extent, then, that we do carry out that ethical duty, to the extent that we realize the story as poetry by our insistence upon taking it as such, to precisely that extent Tonio Kröger is poetry in its own definition.

The deepest intention of the story, therefore, is not to explain or demonstrate an objective difference between poetry and literature, but rather to maneuver the reader into a position of understanding the absolute need for poetry, a position in which he has no choice but to affirm the poetic as opposed to the literary, whereupon such affirmation, as a continuing creative attitude, becomes poetry's existence. The brilliance of Tonio Kröger is thus contained less in what it does say than in what it does not say. Tonio's concluding letter does not in any concrete particular reflect an advance beyond his position in Chapter 4; his mood is more reconciled but his position is still the same. And the decisive event in Chapter 8 ("Dann aber kam einer [ein Tag], an welchem etwas geschah") derives its eventfulness entirely from Tonio's imagination, from the way he insists on seeing it. Considered objectively, therefore, the story is unconvincing; it does not convince us that either Tonio or we ourselves have really learned anything about the nature of poetry. But again, precisely this is the intention. What we are meant to learn is that poetry exists, as distinct from literature, only by virtue of our continuing insistence upon it, not as a demonstrable quality of this or that text, and a more convincing demonstration of the nature of poetry would only have clouded this truth. Holderlin's Great Night of the World does not pass over automatically; it requires of us, rather, that spirit of thanksgiving (at least "einiger Dank"), that poetically affirmative attitude which sees even in the most common and trivial things, like bread and wine or Hans and Inge, not their superficial objective nature but rather symbols of unchanging humanity, of that higher human state which was and will be and at the same time always is, by virtue of our own visionary energy.

T. J. Reed (essay date 1988)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6229

SOURCE: "Text and History: Tonio Kröger and the Politics of Four Decades," in Publications of the English Goethe Society, n.s., Vol. LVII, 1988, pp. 39-54.

[In the following essay, Reed examines Tonio Krioger within the political and cultural contexts of early twentieth-century Germany.]

No one who knew Ida Herz will have been surprised by her wish that we should 'spread the word and work of Thomas Mann'. From 1925 on, when she catalogued Thomas Mann's increasingly unmanageable library for him and became part of his entourage, he was the central experience of her life. Later, the value of his writings for her, and for many Germans like her, was intensified by the horrors of twentieth-century German history. As Nazism engulfed Germany and then Europe, Thomas Mann became for them a light in the darkness. His work was comfortingly sane: in a world of vicious distortion and brutal propaganda, it elaborated humane values with honesty and ironic moderation, and yet ultimately also with passionate commitment. His declared opposition to fascism, both before and after Hitler came to power, was a singlehanded rehabilitation of the conservative cultural background he came from, which had always tended to let political matters go by default. Besides its sanity, Mann's work was comfortingly monumental: the massive novels and the interlocking essays were a world in themselves, and a spiritual rallying-point—after Mann's exile in 1933, an internationally visible one. So it is not surprising to find in the document that deprived Ida Herz of her German citizenship after she emigrated to England that one of the sources of outrage to the Nazis was the way she had gone on voicing her enthusiasm for the exiled writer Thomas Mann under the new order that had driven him into exile.

Miss Herz's phrase 'to spread the word' of Thomas Mann has distinct religious associations. Remembering the parable of the sower and the various kinds of ground on which the seed may fall, I take Tonio Kiger as my startingpoint, so as to have at least some well-prepared ground.

It may seem a surprising notion to link the story with the politics of four decades. Tonio Kruger seems to have nothing to do with politics: it is about the sufferings of a sensitive literary soul over his exclusion from normal life. The question 'Who did Tonio Kröger vote for?' would seem even more irrelevant to this novella than the question 'How many children had Lady Macbeth?' to Shakespeare's play. Mann's text simply doesn't acknowledge that area—that kind—of reality. And in not doing so, it is true to its author's vision, and limitations of vision, at the time he wrote it: that is, in 1902, when political life in Germany was relatively inert and uninteresting to the great majority of writers, who were content to see it remain so.

That in a sense is already a political fact, and there is a type of critical approach which would make something out of precisely what the work of literature excludes. Certainly the apolitical character of much German writing has had consequences both political and literary. But I am not going to argue from what isn 't there in the story, but from what everyone knows is there, namely the problem and attitudes of the hero and their thinly-veiled autobiographical character; because these have a political potential which is realized later when the right circumstances (or perhaps one should say the wrong circumstances) arise. In other words, Tonio Kriger, which Thomas Mann once agreed contained the essential Thomas Mann, offers us a structural model for understanding tensions, temptations, and resolutions that are found in his subsequent career. What is more, these things prove to be not peculiar to him. They help us to see him as part of a larger pattern, so that in studying the individual case, even the single work, we are already looking at history.

The central theme of Tonio Kruger is usually said to be the opposition of 'Geist' and 'Leben'—that is of literary sensitivity and detachment on the one hand, and ordinary harmonious vitality on the other. Tonio Krbger certainly uses these ambitiously general terms himself in the conversation scene. But (as emerges from a careful reading of the story) it isn't simply a matter of Mind against Life, each element pitting itself without reservation against the other. For one thing, Life hardly seems to notice Mind—that is part of the trouble. And more importantly, Mind itself, as represented by Tonio Kröger, is inwardly divided, suffers from contradictory loyalties. The normality (as it seems to him) of socially integrated people, their naturalness and beauty—at least when they happen to be young and blonde and blue-eyed—are a reproach to what he does and always has instinctively done: to literary observation, analysis, and the recording of human behaviour. He suffers not just from being excluded from something he would like to have and enjoy, but from the fact that he accepts it is normal and he isn't. Far from being at daggers drawn with Life, he takes its side against himself, he suffers from an inferiority complex. It becomes the defining characteristic of 'Geist' as he embodies it that it tends to self-betrayal. Mann later describes this as 'irony'; but in practice it means that the status and value of literature and everything it stands for—reflection as against thoughtless action, breadth of human sympathy as against the uncritical will to power—is highly precarious.

Of course, the case for literature is put too. As a fated writer—and in various ways it is made clear that Tonio Krbger has only fulfilled a destiny that there were no two ways about—he knows what literature can do and has apparently given himself wholeheartedly to his profession:

Er ergab sich ganz der Macht, die ihm als die erhabenste auf Erden erschien, zu deren Dienst er sich berufen fühlte, und die ihm Hoheit und Ehren versprach, der Macht des Geistes und Wortes, die lächelnd üiber dem unbewussten und stummen Leben thront.

No sign of an inferiority complex there, quite the reverse; and there are a number of contexts in which Mann and his characters express their irritation at that un-consciousness of Life, the 'unbewusster Typus' dominant in society, from the viewpoint of the superior knowledge and understanding that literature gives. Literature (as the passage just quoted goes on to say) penetrates the facade of pretentious phrases—'die grossen Wörter'—reveals men's souls, and opens up the realities of the world that lie beneath the surface.

But all this is surveyed in narrative retrospect as an earlier stage of Tonio Krbger's outwardly successful career; and by the time he comes to talk his problems over with Lisaweta Iwanowna in the central conversation-piece, it is unease and the price of success that dominate. Literature comes to seem almost a Faustian pact, giving him knowledge but making him pay for it inexorably. Knowledge, 'Erkenntnis', both the process and the results it produces, now make him sick ('Erkenntnisekel'). Yet the literary consciousness is a thing which, once acquired, can't easily be got rid of or switched off. Tonio Krbger's situation parallels the biblical Fall of Man—which was also a matter of'Erkenntnis'—and is thus, of course, part of a notorious German tradition going back to Kleist and Schiller. Tonio Kröger is unable to return to the preconscious Garden of Eden, or a state of grace. He can only resolve (and this is the conclusion in his letter to Lisaweta that ends the novella) to moderate his critical consciousness with love, the bourgeois love for ordinary humanity which he compares to the Christian charity (in German, straightforwardly 'Liebe') of I Corinthians xiii. He also, significantly, hopes that a form of writing inspired by this love will somehow transform him from a mere 'Literat' into a 'Dichter'—that is, from a practising man of letters into a writer of recognized importance. The German word 'Dichter' is rich not just in aesthetic but in social meanings, ranging from 'not being a critical intellectual of the kind who probes into customs and assumptions in a disturbing way' to 'being a household word among those who have no interest in literature'. In a number of respects, then, for Tonio Kruger to become a recognized 'Dichter' would be very nearly a return to the fold after the exclusion which his literary career seemed necessarily to entail.

Other details from the conversation with Lisaweta point up the issues: the absolute requirement (so Tonio Kriger sees it at this stage of the story, in obedience to the modernist poetics of the turn of the century) that the writer should be 'etwas Aussermenschliches': the motif of exclusion. Then again, literature as a curse which is felt very early, at a time when you ought to be living 'in Frieden und Eintracht mit Gott und der Welt': the motif of a desired harmony with the world you live in. And the contrast too with 'den Gewöhnlichen, den Ordentlichen': the motif of ordinariness as the thing that is right and proper, confirmed in the now more emotional utterance that 'das Normale, Wohlanstindige und Liebenswiirdige ist das Reich unserer Sehnsucht', culminating in the lyrical paradoxes of 'das Leben in seiner verflihrerischen Banalitit' and the 'Wonnen der Gewohnlichkeit'. The images of a kingdom, and of the joys of ordinariness, stay close to the quasi-religious notion of a lost paradise or state of grace. And then, most alarming for Tonio Kruger, there is the realization that he is not just cut off from that kingdom, but is actually doing his bit to undermine it; and he tells himself, like some ecological protester against the acid rain of literature, that healthy innocent Life is losing ground, and art and its melancholy refinements are taking over more and more: why should one try to get innocent people who only like horses and books about horses (Hans Hansen of course becomes in his mind a symbol) to read high literature instead?

That echo of the first episode in the story is typical of Mann's delicate craftsmanship and the way he links the larger problem to his character's intimate experience. There is a great deal of abstract discussion in modern German fiction, quite a lot of it in Thomas Mann's other works, and rarely is it done so deftly as here and with such a marrying of general theme and enlivening detail. Everything is rooted in what Tonio Krbger (and behind him, his author) has gone through emotionally in order to reach this point intellectually. In biographical terms, we now know what private attachments made Thomas Mann present this picture of the writer as a sufferer from his art, as a man whose capacity for human feeling had survived the effects of his work, or had come alive again as he matured to new insights. And it has long been commonplace to read Tonio Kröger's discomforts with literature in the light of Mann's Lubeck background, the commercial patriciate, the decline of the family as narrated in Buddenbrooks, and the escape into art as a necessary stage in the progress of decadence. Tomio KrUger, then, seems rooted in a wholly private history.

But there is also a broader scene than the biographical, with pressures that were as real for the writer—the literary and cultural scene in Wilhelmine Germany which we can reconstruct very much as Thomas Mann saw it. 'The literary scene' is a difficult concept to use with precision, yet it is also indispensable, and it becomes the more indispensable as we get into the complexities of modern societies, with their multiple streams of opinion, ideals, fashions, fads and so on which are swirling about the (in this respect) anything but detached writer. He could hardly ignore them if he wanted to—among other things, they are his public and his market, and he will find himself willynilly responding to them in some way. We shall see that the conflict of 'Geist' and 'Leben' was not just limited to the private history and wistful conscience of Tonio Kröger.

To generalize first: Thomas Mann's lifetime had seen the rise of what was called (and self-consciously called itself) the Modern Movement, 'die literarische Moderne'. That vague phrase embraced more than one sub-style—Naturalism, Impressionism. But overall, contemporary serious literature was widely perceived as subversive of conventional values. It analysed and dissected, whether psychological or social phenomena. Sometimes, as in the social dramas of Naturalism—at the extreme, Gerhart Hauptmann's Die Weber—it was sharply critical, if only by implication. Such analysis and criticism were not always welcome, and by a strange transference they were sometimes themselves declared unhealthy and degenerate. Works of compassion that documented a social problem, like Hauptmann's Hanneles Himmelfahrt with its death of a poor child in a workhouse, were felt to be a social evil. A member of the Berlin court strayed into a performance of the play, and was so revolted that he had to resort to an expensive restaurant and a bottle of champagne in order to restore (as he said) a 'menschliche Stimmung'. The Kaiser himself was, of course, quick to give his view on these questions, as on all other matters. The greatest task of culture, he said, was the fostering of ideals. Analytical literature, clearly, could only undermine them.

But there were writers too who preached a literature of health and normality against the advanced modernity of specialized literary circles sitting in literary cafes in the big cities—the kind of cafes that the writer Adalbert in Tonio Krger takes refuge in from the uncomfortable tingling in his blood that the spring has brought on. The Heimatkunst movement, a kind of 'back-to-the-land' group, spoke up for the clear air of the country and the provinces as against the corruption of the cities which were out of touch with what ordinary people thought and felt. A healthy affirmation of life, not analytical criticism, emotions rather than cerebrality—these were the terms of the confrontation. And there was more than a whiff of antiintellectualism about some more way-out movements yet which preached vitalism and a nationalistic primitivism. If we discount this lunatic fringe, it is possible to hear echoes of such criticisms of modern literature and such demands for cultural regeneration and a healthier literature in the prickings of conscience and the attempted return to simpler feelings to which Tonio Kröger gives voice.

We can be the more sure that these impinged on Thomas Mann's thinking because a lot of detail about them is contained in a set of notes he built up during the early years of the century, out of which he tried in 1908-09 to make an authoritative non-fictional statement about the role of 'Geist' in culture. It was to be an essay entitled 'Geist und Kunst'.

Notice the terms of the title: no longer 'Geist' and 'Leben', but 'Geist' and 'Kunst'. The reader of Tonlio Kroger would expect to find those two used interchangeably, certainly not occurring on opposite sides of an argument. But as Mann looks at the culture of the day, he sees that it has set its face against literature as an art too much dominated by 'Geist'—and yet that it values other kinds of art, visual art and music, especially Wagnerian opera. It only has time for literature if it somehow approximates to the condition of visual art, creating beauty and adornment rather than probing and analysing: in short, 'Dichtung' rather than 'Literatur'. These preferred forms of art, if not wholly devoid of'Geist' (they can scarcely be produced without any operation of the mind) have no commitment to the assumed subversiveness of intellectuality. Rather than criticizing life, they offer a protective facade against the prying gaze. They hinder 'Erkenntnis'. (Nietzsche once said that nothing expressed such mortal hatred of 'Erkenntnis' as Wagner's music.) 'Kunst' in this sense can well be an agent more of'Leben' than of'Geist'; 'Geist' and 'Kunst' can be as much an opposition as 'Geist' and 'Leben' ever were.

Faced with this situation, Thomas Mann sets out, especially in what seem to be the earlier notes for his project, to defend and preach the values of a literature that enlarges understanding, undoes prejudice, improves society through analysis. He argues for literature as something especially needed in Germany; he notes that the word 'Literat'—the practitioner of 'Literatur'—is currently used as a term of abuse. He reflects that hostility to literature is a deeply German characteristic; he draws on his local experience of anti-literary feeling in Munich (where he had spent the whole of his writing career) and contrasts it with Berlin, where literary culture has some tradition, largely thanks to the Jewish element in the population.

There is a good deal more in this vein—the notes for 'Geist und Kunst' are extensive. But as they proceed, there is a perceptible veering away from the course that seemed set at the start. Doubt creeps in, and so—frankly—does a kind of self-interest, an attempt to read the cultural signs in order to adapt and keep on top:

Das Interesse, das, au fond, die Generation beherrscht, zu der Hauptmann, Hofmannsthal und ich gehören, ist das Interesse am Pathologischen. Die Zwanzigjährigen sind weiter, Hauptmann sucht eifrig Anschluss. Jemand solIte zählen, wie oft im Griechischen Frühling 'gesund' vorkommt. Auch Hofmannsthal wird sich auf seine Art zu arrangieren suchen. Die Forderung der Zeit ist, alles, was irgend gesund ist in uns, zu kultivieren.

This is a somewhat cynical view of literary opportunism: of the three leading writers (one can say) of his generation, one is apparently busy adjusting to the demand for a renewed 'healthy' culture; another is expected to make his adjustments soon; and as for Thomas Mann himself, far from watching all this with a purist's critical eye, he merely recognizes that the 'requirement of the times' is to make the most of anything healthy that he too may have in him (which, for such a self-avowedly pathological author with pathological interests, is a problem). But then: does he really have an obligation to keep to the rigorous requirements of'Geist'? Is culture—to which literature must ultimately belong—not perhaps also a matter of deeper, darker, more 'natural' forces than simply 'Geist'? That, at any rate, is what we find him asking himself, in a very tentative ruminating way (the tentative tone is important for what comes later):

Der Geist ist zwar solidarisch und identisch mit der Kultur, sofern Kultur der Gegensatz von Natur ist. Aber das ist sie ja nur in einem gewissen Sinne, und es gilt hier, sich üiber die Begriffe der Kultur und der Zivilisation zu verständigen …

Yet he has been aware from the first that the things he criticizes are not just part of the culture about him but are in him too. In the act of criticizing them, he has been criticizing himself, and exposing them doesn't (he says) necessarily mean that he is denying or rejecting them. 'Damit, dass ich sie klarstelle, verneine ich sie noch nicht'. In fact, the sharp and polemical tone he has used on them may only mean that he is shouting down inner doubts—that is, doubts about the basis from which he polemicizes against them, doubts about whether his old, simple 'Geist' position is justifiable.

But then, was his old 'Geist' position ever really simple? We saw that in Tonjo Kroger it already wasn't; and so the planned essay 'Geist und Kunst' is really a non-fictional replay of the issues of the early novella; the uncertainties of the fictional character's conscience are restated now as a much larger cultural dialectic, and with a distinct direction of change which draws Thomas Mann along with it. The principal difference, in the evolution we are watching, between the novella and the essay-project is that Mann was able to round off the story and finish it, by turning Tonio Kröger's unease into a positive creative principle, a promise for his poetic and perhaps social future; but the essay, having to work wholly in intellectual terms and not being able to end with a gesture towards the future, has no clear resolution. It duly never gets finished at all. Thomas Mann is unable to make up his mind because it is still as ever a divided mind, divided between the radical intellectuality of 'Geist' and the compromise that all 'Kunst' is tempted to enter into with 'life'. 'Geist und Kunst' is then passed, in Der Tod in Venedig, to Gustav von Aschenbach, who in the fiction has managed to finish the essay—with consequences that become clear in his fate.

You may feel that it is a bit much for a writer to go on being so indecisively poised for so long—but that is the nature of the beast. The ruminating, tentative tone that I drew attention to, like the emotional dividedness between Tonio Kröger's own values of 'Geist' and the infiltrating ones of 'Leben', may be very uncomfortable for the inner life, but in a sense it is also a luxury of the inner life. There may be pressures and tensions to respond to, but there is no deadline set for a final resolution: indeed, the absence of final resolutions makes it possible to produce a large body of work on a constant theme, with multiple variations.

But then comes a deadline that suddenly does resolve everything: the outbreak of war in 1914. For the last time in European history there was a massive enthusiasm for war in all the combatant countries, a kind of festive mood that overrode almost all criticism and carried even formerly cool and detached people away. Partly this can be explained politically, by the increased tensions and expectations of war as one international crisis followed another in the years before 1914; yet there is also evidence of a different kind of expectation, a feeling that war or revolution—some major cataclysm—was needed as a cure for the present state of civilization. 'If only there could be a war, I should be healthy again'—'Gab es nur Krieg, gesund ware ich'—reads an entry in the poet Georg Heym's diary in May 1907. The idea that war brings purification and regeneration may go back to the images of war we find in Nietzsche, whom practically every writer in the generations preceding 1914 read and was deeply affected by. At all events, Thomas Mann too experienced the war, when it came, as morally purifying and simplifying; above all, it resolved old conflicts and divisions. That was what was supposed to have happened in the outside world, in politics: the Kaiser, in a famous phrase, said he saw before him no longer parties, only Germans. The same was true of individuals' inner conflicts and divisions. There are any number of examples, from French and English as well as German and Austrian sources; but the first of Rilke's FUnf Gesinge, written in August 1914, puts things with ideal clarity. It describes a young man about to go off to fight, and sets the uncertainties of peace, when a pluralistic society surrounded him with many conflicting voices, against the simplifying effect of the one great necessity. The emergency of war, paradoxically, is something to rejoice at, because you can be sure what you must do, and anything else must seem, in comparison, merely arbitrary:

                         ihm, der noch eben
hundert Stimmen vernahm, unwissend, welche im Recht sei,
wie erleichtert ihn jetzt der einige Ruf: denn was
wäre nicht Willkür neben der frohen, neben der sicheren Not?

And the next phrase is: 'Endlich ein Gott'. A quasireligious certainty has replaced the puzzling complexities of life with a simple duty.

Much the same is true of Thomas Mann. Instead of wavering any longer between alternative values, suddenly and dramatically he becomes a public spokesman for his country, adopts a nationalist, even a militarist position, defends Germany's right to march through neutral Belgium in execution of the Schlieflfen plan. That brings him into headon conflict with his brother, the writer Heinrich Mann, who was one of the few to speak out within Germany against German actions (indeed, his was one of the few voices raised in any of the belligerent countries against the war generally). Thomas's intervention was a shock not only to Heinrich Mann; even those who were not critics of German policy were surprised to see him play this public role. But the path we have been tracing shows the history and inner logic of that seemingly sudden change; and the 'Geist und Kunst' notes allow us to watch the change in preparation in precise detail.

What Thomas Mann did in his first wartime essay, Gedanmken n Kriege, was to defend Germany against the line taken by Western propagandists, that the violation of Belgian neutrality and the atrocities committed by the army along the way proved Germany was not a civilized nation: the war was a fight between (Western) civilization and (German) barbarism. The German answer, not invented by Thomas Mann but exploited in his article, was to reject civilization as the ultimate value, and to claim for Germany something more profound and more precious. 'Civilization' was only a matter of rational arrangements in society, technical achievements, things that the human mind at its most superficial could achieve. There was a much higher value, and that was culture. 'Culture', great art, architecture, style in the forms of life, coherence in national ethos—history showed that these were entirely compatible with atrocities of all kinds which no merely 'civilized' country would countenance. So what price civilization? And what price peace too, which (Mann says) had not been a very desirable condition. It 'swarmed with the vermin of Mind' ('dem Ungeziefer des Geistes'), it stank with the 'corrosive substances of civilization'—by which he means of course not substances that corrode civilization, but civilization as itself a source of corrosion, destroying things of greater value. To all of this, he argues, there has now been a moral reaction, an end to moral laxity. The reaction was ready and waiting for just such an event; war consequently came as a purification and liberation.

The whole of the essay Gedanken im Kriege embodies this dubious 'purification'. Once again we can see the mechanism of change in precise stylistic and syntactical shifts in Mann's use of formulations we have met before. That tentative sentence from the 'Geist und Kunst' notes is taken over in substance, but the emphases are transformed:

Zivilisation und Kultur sind nicht nur nicht ein und dasselbe, sondern sie sind Gegensätze, sie bilden eine der vielfältigen Erscheinungsformen des ewigen Weltgegensatzes und Widerspieles von Geist und Natur …

Autumn 1914 was no time for the earlier 'zwar' and 'aber', but for flat denial and firm assertion. What follows in both texts is a list of the things that history shows can be compatible with culture—oracles, magic, pederasty, human sacrifice, orgiastic cults, the Inquisition and so forth; and both texts contrast with these the values of mere civilization—reason, enlightenment, scepticism, subversion, and ultimately 'Geist' itself. Such things, already beginning to show up in a less favourable light in the later 'Geist und Kunst' notes, are now rejected altogether. 'Geist' itself is called 'civilian'—enough to damn it in time of war. The Germany that once seemed to need enlightening and civilizing through literature now appears as heroic precisely in its unliterary innocence. Where the Western Entente has literature as its weapon in the struggle for world opinion, Germany is the 'unliterary land' (thus one of the chapter-headings early in the Betrebhtwgen eines Unpolitischen). And Heinrich Mann, the champion of the Entente and critic of his own country, is pilloried as the 'Zivilisationsliterat'—two scorned concepts in one compound.

What had happened? For most observers, it was a shock that Thomas Mann, the detached, ironic intellectual writer had simplified all issues, simplified himself, and taken a stance which appeared to contradict everything he had once been devoted to. Yet Mann himself knew that the simplification wasn't that simple: that there had always been the element in him that doubted what he was doing as a writer, even while he did it; that hated observing even while he observed, that was sick of analysis even while he analysed, and that thought wistfully of living instead 'in Frieden und Eintracht mit Gott und der Welt'. Much of the wartime book of this 'Unpolitical Man' is taken up with explaining and justifying his apparent volte-face, admitting that he was implicated in all those 'enlightened', civilizing tendencies he now rejects, but saying that there was always another side. Yes of course, he says, I was part of the radical process of decadence and civilizationthrough-literature; but I also had contrary, conservative tendencies in me, even if I didn't then see them as political. And where does he see them now but in Tonfo Kroger?

Nur dass ich von jeher, im Gegensatz zum radikalen Literaten, auch erhaltende Gegentendenzen in mir hegte und, ohne mich politisch selbst zu verstehen, frühzeitig zum Ausdruck brachte. Das machte der Begriff des Lebens, den ich von Nietzsche hatte, und mein Verhältnis zu diesem Begriff, das ironisch sein mochte, aber nicht ironischer war als mein Verhältnis zum 'Geist'. Dieser Begriff des Lebens bekommt nationale Aktualität umns Jahr 1900, als der Fruchtbarkeitssturz einsetzt. Er ist ein konservativer Begriff, und kaum ist der Verfallsroman fertig, als konservativer Gegenwille in Form von Ironie sich anmeldet, als diese Worter 'Leben' und 'konservieren' in meiner Produktion eine Rolle zu spielen beginnen. Ich schrieb: 'Das Reich der Kunst nimmt zu, und das der Gesundheit und Unschuld nimmt ab auf Erden. Man soilte, was noch davon übrig ist, aufs sorgfältigste konservieren, und man sollte nicht Leute, die viel lieber in Pferdebüchern mit Momentaufnahmen lesen, zur Poesie verführen wollen! … Es ist widersinning, das Leben zu lieben und dennoch mitallen Küinsten bestrebt zu sein, es auf seine Seite zu ziehen, es für die Finessen und Melancholien, den ganzen kranken Adel der Literatur zu gewinnen' ('Tonio Kröger'). Man sieht, ich wandte jene Begriffe und Wörter auf rein moralisch-geistige Dinge an, aber unbewusst war ganz ohne Zweifel dabei politischer Wille in mir lebendig, und noch einmal zeigt sich, dass man nicht den politischen Aktivisten und Manifestanten zu machen braucht, dass man ein 'Asthet' sein und dennoch mit dem Politischen tiefe Fiuhlung besitzen kann.

So Thomas Mann's own view matches and confirms the argument I have been putting forward: namely, that what seemed a private confession by a troubled writer had a political potential. But we needn't see it in every respect through his eyes. The question is, whether what the Thomas Mann of 1914-18 wanted to conserve—the simple, noble land attacked on all sides by literature and intellectuality—was the real Germany of the Kaiser and the generals that was fighting the real war. Was this Germany really the idyll of blonde hair and blue eyes that Tonio Kröger loved and wanted to protect from the undermining influence of such as himself ? And, beyond that, was Tonio Kröger's blonde-haired, blue-eyed society not already in 1902 itself a gross over-simplification, very little to do with human and social realities—in short, a myth?

The incongruity of equating those idealized figures and their innocence with social realities is brought out sharply by a chance wording in one of Karl Kraus's attacks on the conformist intellectuals of autumn 1914. The Austrian satirist, reviewing the warlike enthusiasms of Gerhart Hauptmann, Richard Dehmel, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and a whole train of dilettantes, is appalled by the mismatch between their high poetic mood and the paltry reality they have sold out to: 'Noch nie vorher hat es einen so stuirmischen Anschluss an die Banalitat gegeben'. For Tonio Kröger, 'banality' was a bewitching thing, a seductive ordinariness, 'die verfiihrerische Banalitat'. Karl Kraus undoes that paradoxical combination and restores the true nature of 'banality'. It is not a seductive, but (when you look at it soberly) a very unideal reality.

What gave banality its fascination and the myth of ordinariness its power was, of course, Tonio Kröger's and Thomas Mann's subjective sense of exclusion, self-doubt and guilt about what they were and did. These feelings are the things which I said at the outset were not peculiar to them among the writers of their day. A sense of their own abnormality, and of the decadence of literature, is a common thread in the painfully self-aware writing of many early twentieth-century figures—Rilke, Hofmannsthal, Kafka and others. Any road to regeneration was bound to look tempting, any invitation by circumstances to rejoin the 'normal' community must be compelling. A wholesale abandoning of literary detachment under the guise of a necessary new 'morality' was an obvious possibility. Literature was precarious. If we look at what literary intellectuals wrote in the opening months of the war as they swung into line with the jubilant majority, the motive often lies very plainly in the relief at being able, at last, to abandon their allegiance to mere literature and 'Geist' and come in from the cold. Heinrich Mann hit it exactly when he spoke of 'Orgien einer komplizierten Naivitit, Ausbriche einer tiefen und alten Widervernunft…'. The enthusiasm for war was an orgy of some primitive irrational religion, in which the sophisticated modern mind perversely chose to be absorbed into the collective.

My title promised the 'politics of four decades', and here we are only a decade-and-a-half on from Tonio Kröger, with not much time left. It may also seem that Tonio Kröger has sent us off down a road that doesn't lead to anything remotely like that clear-sighted opposition of Thomas Mann's to Nazism which meant so much to Ida Herz and her generation. How can we cover the remaining historical span, and also find out how Thomas Mann's politics changed from what we might call the conformism of cultural nostalgia into something more realistic and more rational?

In detail, we can't: his conversion after the war from a committed nationalist into a supporter of the Weimar Republic (which all good nationalists hated) and into a prophet warning against a yet more terrible orgy of nationalist irrationalism is a long story. But there is time to suggest the general shape of that development, and to show it is still understandable in the old Tonio Kröger terms. Under a thin disguise, the elements and responses we have been looking at remain at root unchanged. The quest for regeneration in German culture from the early years of the century reappears in the Nazi propaganda conception of a nation with restored health, throwing off the disintegrative ways of modern society and starting afresh: 'Deutschland erwache!' as the motto on Nazi banners read. The criticism of intellectual literature, and ultimately of intellect itself, as decadent recurs in the Nazi campaign against the 'asphalt literature' of the cities. The 'Heimatkunst' movement, reasserting the ways of the healthy provinces against the bloodless avant-grade, becomes the literature of blood and soil, 'Blut and Boden'. The witch-hunting of degenerate art, 'entartete Kunst', is a near neighbour. The vitalism of earlier decades leads into racial theory, which often links Jewishness with intellectuality as if they were two sides of the same coin. In sum, the pressures that helped to shape Tonio Kröger at the start of the century turn out to have had, just like Tonio Krbger's and Thomas Mann's responses to them, a political potential, and of a very unpleasant kind.

And there is one more thing that stays the same: these increasingly evil forms of banality continue to have a seductive power over writers who hanker after cultural regeneration and are still longing, as Tonio Kröger did, to be at one with an idealized collective—writers who include not just minor fellow-travellers and opportunists of the right, but a poet and essayist as sophisticated as Gottfried Benn. For him Nazism seemed a benign turning-point in history, the birth of a new evolutionary type of human being, not just a political but almost a transcendent phenomenon.

Benn's case is the measure of Thomas Mann's transformation. Mann had by now begun to look about him at the realities of his society and to react to what was actually going on in it. He was no longer to be taken in by myths and illusions about ideal types. Above all, the old doubts about the status and value of 'Geist' had been resolved in a new way: what the intelligent observer owed his community, especially in times of extremism, was not a secret worship of its vital energies and thoughtless actions, but a detached answer to the question: whether its actions were right. It was no longer the function of 'Geist' to indulge in the lyrical masochism of self-betrayal, no longer permissible to accept that 'Geist' was itself merely a decadent and inferior offshoot of 'Leben'. The critical mind had to have the courage of its own independence. In achieving that insight, Thomas Mann liberated himself from his oldest compulsions. It is the real ending to the story of Tonio Kröger.

Steven Millhauser (essay date 1994)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10519

SOURCE: "Some Thoughts on Tonio Krdger," in Antaeus, Nos. 73-4, Spring, 1994, pp. 199-223.

[Millhauser is an American novelist and critic. In the following essay, he examines the structure and major themes of Tonio Kröger.]


An immediately striking fact about Tonio Kröger (1903), Mann's second novella, is that it covers a large amount of time: some seventeen years. There is no law of fiction, no principle of imagination, that requires a short narrative to take place in a short span of time, but it remains true that the physical shortness of a story or novella invites concentrated effects. Mann's own practice in his four other major novellas is instructive. The action of Tristan (1903), his first novella, begins in January, reaches its climax in February, and ends in the spring. Death in Venice (1913) begins in the spring and ends in the summer; the past is briskly disposed of in the short second chapter, which serves as a summarizing flashback. Disorder and Early Sorrow (1926) takes place in one afternoon and evening. Mario and the Mgician (1930) begins with an introductory movement that covers several summer weeks and continues with the long narration of the events of a single evening. The lengthy temporal span of Tonio Xwger sets it radically apart from these other novellas and immediately raises the question of structure. A fifty-page story that covers nearly twenty years and is arranged chronologically risks a dissipation of its effects, risks, that is, becoming scattered or diffuse; and a writer committed to such a scheme must continually strive to overcome the dispersive tendency of his narrative. What the writer needs is a method of binding together the various parts of his tale—a method that cuts across chronology, that serves to halt or defeat the relentless advance of fictional time. It is precisely as such a method that the technique of repetition—the famous technique of the leitmotif—finds its central justification.


The deliberate repetition of phrases and sentences in widely separated portions of a narrative constitutes the device known as leitmotif. The device serves a number of purposes, such as simple emphasis: a repeated phrase, like any repeated element in a work of art, draws attention to itself—among the vast number of details that compose even a short work of literature, this one is thrust upon our awareness. But the deepest purpose of the leitmotif is that of uniting one part of a narrative to another. By the device of repetition, which Mann in his climax broadens to include an entire episode, the past is summoned into the present: as we read forward, we are also reading backward. At the moment of repetition, past and present become one, or rather are held in the mind separately but concurrently. For an instant, confluence abolishes chronology. Time is deceived, outwitted, overcome.


But let us look more closely at the chronological development of Tonio Kager against which the technique of the leitmotif is used as a counter-weight. In doing so, it will be useful to keep in mind that the story is divided into nine parts or chapters; the divisions are numbered in the Fischer Verlag edition of Mann's collected works, but erroneously left unnumbered by H. T. Lowe-Porter in what is still the most widely read translation. The first chapter is a fully rendered scene in which fourteen-year-old Tonio is shown during a significant afternoon meeting with Hans Hansen, whom Tonio loves but who does not love him in return. In the second chapter, Tonio Kröger is sixteen years old; Hans Hansen has vanished from the action and has been replaced in Tonio's affections by pretty Ingeborg Holm, who does not return his love. The structure of the chapter differs from the structure of the first chapter in one important respect: although it contains another fully rendered scene, this time at Herr Knaak's dancing class, the chapter begins and ends with several paragraphs of temporal summary. We learn of Tonio's love for Ingeborg Holm, are led gradually and almost imperceptibly into the fully rendered scene, and are ushered out of the scene into unspecific time by means of the word "often" ("Often after that he stood thus, with burning cheeks in lonely corners … "). The short third chapter summarizes Tonio Kröger's life in Italy and covers what we feel to be a great many years. (Later we are told that he has been away from home for thirteen years, but we never learn how many of those years were spent in Italy and how many in Munich.) Chapter 4 takes place on a single spring day in Munich; it opens when Tonio Kröger is "slightly past thirty" and consists of a long conversation with Tonio's friend Lisabeta Ivanovna. Chapter 5 opens in the autumn of the same year and records Tonio Kriger's decision to travel to Denmark. From this point on, the narration is continuous. In chapter 6 he spends two days in his native town (the scene of the opening chapter); in chapter 7, which begins on the evening of the second day, he crosses to Denmark, where he arrives the next morning and spends three days; in chapter 8, "some days pass" in Denmark before he has a decisive experience; and the brief final chapter consists of a letter that he writes to his friend Lisabeta.

From this sketch of Mann's temporal scheme, a curious fact emerges. Whereas the action of the first five chapters covers some seventeen years, the action of the last four chapters covers roughly two weeks. The two uneven temporal divisions are nearly equal in reading time: the first five chapters span pages 77-106 of the Vintage International edition, and the last four chapters span pages 106-132. The scheme is this:

1/2 novella chapters 1-5 (age 14-31) about 17 years 1/2 novella chapter 6: 2 days chapter 7: same night; 3 following days about 2 weeks chapter 8: "some days" and "several days" chapter 9: the letter

The effect of such an arrangement is to throw the weight of the story onto the second half, when the story for the first time becomes continuous, without odd leaps of time in the white spaces between chapters; our attention is focused on a series of closely connected actions that swell to a climax in chapter 8. The temporal continuity of the second half has the effect of changing our experience of the first half: the early chapters settle into place as preparatory (the long speech of chapter 4 is a special case, which will be considered later). In fact it begins to seem as if the first half of the story exists solely in order to be summoned back in changed form in the second half. In short, although the temporal span of the novella is seventeen years, and although the order of events is chronologically straightforward, the actual temporal arrangement is in significant imbalance—an imbalance that works fruitfully against the incohesiveness of a drawn-out chronological scheme.


Leitmotif and flashback are both devices by which a work of art condemned to move forward in time can break the habit of progression and evoke, in the present, time past. But there is a crucial difference. The flashback, however vivid it may be, and however artfully it may be introduced into the flow of later time, always has the effect of introducing a pause in the narrative. The present comes to a heavy halt as the past replaces it. This is true of both major kinds of flashback: the summarizing flashback, used by Mann in the second chapter of Death in Venice and the second chapter of The Magic Mountin, and the scenic or dramatic flashback, used by Mann in chapter 4 of The Magic Mountain, when Hans Castorp is cast back to a vivid memory of Pribislav Hippe ("Quite suddenly he found himself in the far distant past… "). The interruptive quality of the flashback may find its justification in the annihilating power of memory, but the flashback is always accompanied by a certain creaking of machinery in its entrances and exits, while the poor reader stops short, coughs into his fist, and perhaps out of sheer kindness averts his eyes. The leitmotif, though no less a contrivance, is never interruptive. If the reader failed to notice the fact of repetition, the narrative would proceed without the chronological wrenchings required by flashbacks. But of course the leitmotif wishes to be noticed, and the result is curious: the reader experiences simultaneously the present and the past. In this respect the leitmotif is psychologically superior to the flashback, for, except in cases of hallucination or insanity, the uprushing of the past is always accompanied by a sense of the present. The summoning of the past is itself of interest, for the leitmotif, in evoking past instances of itself, will also summon forth past settings or situations or even entire scenes—a whole cluster of pasts.

In this way the past of the text is continually carried forward into the present. It remains true that the leitmotif is narrower in range than the flashback, because the leitmotif can never go outside the text itself. But in a text that covers a long span of time it is not necessary to seek a past outside the text, since the past evoked by flashback in a temporally concentrated narrative will in a temporally drawn-out narrative be represented directly as part of the unfolding temporal scheme. The flashback encourages effects of temporal concentration; its flaw is its interruptive nature, which undermines the very concentration that is being sought. The leitmotif is suited to narratives with a long time span; it is an attempt to overcome a diffuseness that it perhaps secretly encourages.


The last sentence of Tonio Kröger, in the Lowe-Porter translation, reads:

There is longing in it, and a gentle envy; a touch of contempt and no little innocent bliss.

The sentence is very close to the final sentence of chapter I:

His heart beat richly: longing was awake in it, and a gentle envy; a faint contempt, and no little innocent bliss.

We are unquestionably meant to connect the two passages, and the repetition brings about an interesting effect: a sentence that in the first instance applies to a particular person, Hans Hansen, has suddenly widened its meaning to include all the blond and blue-eyed, that is, all of everyday, healthy, unproblematic life. But Mann's German makes it clear that the relation between the two passages is even closer than the one indicated by Lowe-Porter. Mann's final sentence reads:

Sehnsucht ist darin und schwermiitiger Neid und ein klein wenig Verachtung und eine ganze keusche Seligkeit.

The last sentence of chapter I reads:

Damals lebte sein Herze; Sehnsucht war darin und schwermiitiger Neid und ein klein wenig Verachtung und eine ganze keusche Seligkeit.

The two German passages beginning with "Sehnsucht" are identical, with a single exception: the final sentence of the novella is in the present, whereas the final clause of chapter I is in the past (this identity is preserved in the recent translation by David Luke). The effect is disarming: as Erich Heller has said, Tonio Krbger here takes the words out of the author's mouth. In fact, it isn't easy to explain the precise effect of this apparent plagiarism of Mann by his own character. Mann probably intended us to feel that the mature Tonio Kröger has become fully conscious of an emotion that he recalls having had at the age of fourteen, and which only now is he able to express. But there remains the nagging sense that in this instance Tonio Krbger has quoted a sentence by Thomas Mann, as if at the moment the story ends the fictional author becomes the actual author.


As if to refuse geographical as well as temporal concision, the novella moves restlessly from place to place. It opens in Tonio Kröger's native northern town (unnamed, but clearly the Liubeck of Mann's youth), shifts to Italy in chapter 3, moves to Munich in chapter 4, returns to the native town in chapter 6, crosses the Baltic to Copenhagen in chapter 7, and ends in Aalsgaard, a resort on the Øresund in north Zealand. The motion from place to place is of course a sign of the hero's restlessness and dissatisfaction, but gradually a deeper pattern emerges: like smaller details in this intricately organized work, cities and countries themselves form a system of significant antitheses. The decisive opposition here is north and south: Tonio Kröger's native town lies in the north, he becomes an artist in the south (Italy), as a grown man he lives in southern Germany (Munich), and at a moment of spiritual crisis he travels to the far north (Denmark). The north/south scheme of the nine chapters is this:

1-2 North (Lubeck)
3-5 South (Italy and Munich)
6-9 North (Liibeck and Denmark)

The geographical structure reflects a division in the name of the protagonist of which he himself is conscious: Tonio (south) and Kroger (north). To put it another way, Tonio Kröger in his travels is entering opposed regions of himself, the Tonio region and the Kroger region. Travel in Mann is always a form of spiritual voyage; Death in Venice and the opening pages of The Magic Mountain are famous examples, but movement here is no less burdened with meaning. Geography keeps turning into psychology.


Unlike Tonio's native northern town, which is portrayed in careful and tender detail, Munich is little more than a word, an element in the geographical structure. Nevertheless, its role is crucial and complex. Although Munich is in south Germany, and is opposed in specific ways to the unnamed northern birthplace, it is at the same time opposed to Italy: Tonio Kröger dislikes Italy and chooses to live in Munich. Munich is in the south, which in Mann's scheme is always the place where art is possible, but it is not as far south as the Italian south. It is as if, by traveling to Italy, Tonio Kröger explores the deepest or most extreme region of the southern half of his divided nature, and then pulls back: in Munich he is still in the artistic south, but he is not all the way south. In this sense, Munich represents a middle place between south and north. It is the place in which Tonio Kröger is able to articulate his crisis, and it is also, significantly, the place to which he will return after his northern journey—there is never any question of actually living in the north, as the letter that ends the novella makes clear. If, then, the southernness of Munich is essential to the geographical and spiritual structure of the story, its function as a midpoint between the extremes of north and south is no less important. In this respect it is interesting to recall the use Mann makes of Munich in Death in Venice. There, Munich represents not the south but the Germanic north, to which Venice is opposed: Aschenbach is making the classic voyage from northern Europe to the Mediterranean south.

But in a brilliant passage in chapter 4, where Mann describes Aschenbach's summer home in the mountains, Munich changes for an instant to the middle place between the sensuous, death-ridden Latin south and the stormy Teutonic north, now represented by Aschenbach's mountain home where violent storms extinguish the lights of the house at night, and ravens—birds associated with Friedrich Barbarossa asleep in the Kyfflhiuser and with Odin—swing in the tops of fir trees. Munich remains a fluid place in Mann's imagination, attracting to itself opposite and even contradictory qualities that in turn depend on the precise use to which the city is put in a particular work.


If Italy is the far south, the south that is south of Munich, then Denmark is the far north: it is north of Tonio Krdger's native northern town, it is north of north. The decision to stage the climax of the novella in Denmark was a brilliant one. It must have seemed tempting to arrange the climactic dance in Tonio's childhood town and thereby to complete the circle perfectly, but to have done so would have been to commit the one esthetic crime for which there is no forgiveness: not sentimentality, but banality. A first-rate instinct warned Mann to take his story farther north. In a sense, he has it both ways: he has his hero return to his native town and visit his childhood home, but only as part of a longer journey, and the real return takes place in a country he has never visited before. By going north of north, the divided hero enters the deepest part of his Krbger nature: he passes beyond his childhood home into his spiritual home, he passes beyond nostalgia and its attendant ironies to a more intense place, where rebirth becomes possible.

But long before the climactic day in the hotel at Aalsgaard, the theme of return is clearly sounded. In Copenhagen, where Tonio Krbger studies the sights in the manner of a conventional tourist, he sees not exactly the Frauenkirch, or Thorwaldsen's statues, or the Tivoli, all of which are carefully named, but rather something else: he sees the familiar baroque gables of his native town, he sees the familiar names on the house doors, he sees nothing less than his childhood; and when he draws "deep, lingering draughts of moist sea air" it is as though he were entering, in a foreign place, a deeper layer of his own past. But even this is not enough for him, he longs to be farther north, close to the sea; and he takes a ship northward, along the coast of Zealand. At Aalsgaard he spends his mornings and afternoons on the beach, and, like Aschenbach in the lyrical-mythological fourth chapter of Death in Venice, he loses the sense of time: we hear of "some days" passing and then of "several days." And there is a nice touch: he likes to sit (Lowe-Porter unaccountably makes him stand) so that "he had before his eyes not the Swedish coast but the open horizon." That is, he is so far north on the island of Zealand that instead of looking only at the Øresund, the body of water separating Zealand from Sweden, he can look north to the broad waters of the Kattegat. It is as if, at the end of his northern journey, he wishes to take in as much sea as possible, to immerse himself utterly in the "wild friend" of his youth. The mornings and afternoons on the beach at Aalsgaard are themselves a return to the summer vacations of his childhood and boyhood, summoned briefly in chapter I, when he liked to sit dreaming on another beach, on the Baltic shore not far from his native home. It is in this carefully composed atmosphere of sand and sea, in a foreign hotel whose veranda leads directly down to the beach ("druch die Veranda wieder an Strand hinuntergehen"), that the climax of the story takes place—a climax that is above all a climax of memory.


When Tonio Krbger leaves Copenhangen and travels by ship northward along the coast of Zealand, he is said to be headed "towards Helsingør"; from the seaport of Helsingør he takes a carriage to Aalsgaard. The final scene therefore takes place in the vicinity of Helsingør; indeed, the guests who will later dance are specifically said to be tourists from Helsingør. When, in A Sketch of My Life, Mann speaks of his actual visit to Aalsgaard before the writing of Tonio Kriger, he notes that it was "near Helsingør." The emphasis on Helsingor is deliberate: Helsingor, Englished, is Elsinore, the site of Hamlet's castle. In chapter 5, when Tonio Krbger tells Lisabeta Ivanovna of his plan to travel north, he says that he wants to stand on the terrace at Kronborg (i.e., Kronborg Castle), where the ghost appeared to Hamlet. With his usual tact, Mann omits Hamlet's castle from his hero's itinerary, but it is no accident that the climactic scene takes place in the vicinity of Elsinore.

Mann has taken pains to sound the Hamlet theme throughout his composition. In the attack on art delivered to Lisabeta Ivanovna in chapter 4, Tonio Krbger speaks of being "sick of knowledge" and adds: "Such was the case of Hamlet the Dane, that typical literary man." Hamlet is a literary man because it was enough for him "to see through a thing in order to be sick to death of it"—a reading of Hamlet's nature that is not far from Nietzsche's bold formulation in the seventh chapter of The Birth of Tragedy: "Dionysiac man might be said to resemble Hamlet: both have looked deeply into the true nature of things, they have understood and are now loath to act." When Tonio Kröger voyages to Denmark, he is therefore embarking on a double voyage: a voyage to the spiritual center of his childhood, and a voyage to the realm of Hamlet, that is, the realm of bitter knowledge. His heart has died in Italy, in the carefree south; his heart's awakening takes place in the shadow of Elsinore. At the very end, when Tonio Krbger writes to Lisabeta Ivanovna that "if anything is capable of making a poet of a literary man, it is my bourgeois love of the human, the living and usual," he is asserting his separation from Hamlet, that typical literary man, just as earlier he had asserted his separation from Adalbert the novelist, that other literary man. Tonio Kruger remains part Hamlet, for he cannot unknow what he knows, but he is a Hamlet who tempers knowledgesickness with love. Hamlet is a fate that he flees. Hamlet is the dark side of the north, the side of the north that lies on the other side of blond and blue-eyed innocence. And is it possible that Tonio Kruger's father, that melancholy northern gentleman with his thoughtful blue eyes, has a touch of Hamlet in him? Is he a Hans Hansen with some bitter draft of northness in his being? Hamlet is the place where the stern, melancholy north coincides with the knowledge-heavy darkness of the south. Is it a wonder that Tonio Kröger is drawn to Hamlet's home?


In the seventh paragraph of chapter I Mann pauses, in the leisurely and scrupulous manner of a good nineteenth-century storyteller, to describe the clothes and features of Tonio Kröger and Hans Hansen. A reader new to the story is struck by the clear, swiftly established system of contrasts, which extends even to the hats of both boys: Hans Hansen is wearing "a Danish sailor cap with black ribbons" and Tonio Kröger is wearing a "round fur cap." Among the carefully, perhaps too carefully, arranged contrasts, we experience this one as particularly apt: Tonio's cap is less boyish that his friend's, darker, more formal, less lively. But for a reader familiar with the story—for a re-reader—Hans Hansen's cap takes on the kind of sudden, spacious significance that details in Mann often do: the Danish sailor cap seems to contain within itself the entire voyage to Denmark, the strong salt wind of the Baltic, the long mornings and afternoons on the beach in Zealand, the vision of the Danish Hans Hansen in the hotel at Aalsgaard, the Danish dance, the Hamlet theme, the ocean theme, the whole array of motifs associated with the far north; and one seems to see, in this minor detail sketched in with a naturalist's light but careful touch, the long, inescapable shadow cast backward by the story's future.


Sometimes in a story about an artist Mann will insert a minor character who is also an artist of sorts and whose role is to form an ironic commentary on the central artist. In Death in Venice the secondary artist is the barber who dyes Aschenbach's hair black and colors his cheeks and lips; Mann calls him an "artist in cosmetic." The barberartist is a parody of Aschenbach. Instead of plumbing the depths of souls, he attends only to appearances; his sole interest is deception and illusion. Since the genuine artist also has what Nietzsche calls a will to illusion, the comic barber has a touch of the sinister: he is that aspect of art which is indifferent to everything except illusion. He is Aschenbach stripped of belief. It is no accident that Aschenbach succumbs to him only after his obscene, shattering dream.

In Tonio Kröger the secondary artist is Herr Knaak, the dancing master from Hamburg who instructs the sons and daughters of leading families. Herr Knaak is an artist of dance, of social grace, and despite his grotesquerie he is no less self-assured in the practice of his public art than Tonio Kröger is of his private art. The resemblance between them is driven home by Herr Knaak's dark eyes, for the story emphasizes a distinction between blue, bourgeois eyes and dark, artistic eyes. But there is another resemblance as well. Herr Knaak's full name is Frangois Knaak; the violent, comic contrast between the smoothflowing French syllables of the first name and the harsh German gutturals of the last name echoes the division in Tonio Kröger's name. The art of which Herr Knaak is a master is significant: dancing is a social art, and it is fitting that Tonio Kröger should dance badly.


During the quadrille conducted by Herr Knaak, a small mishap occurs. Herr Knaak announces the moulinet des dames, a division of the dance for women only; Tonio Krbger, brooding over Ingeborg Holm and the poetry of Storm, dreamily joins the girls. Knaak assumes a ballet pose "conventionally expressive of horror" and cries:

Stop! Stop! Kröger among the ladies! En arriére,
Fräulein Kröger, step back, fi donc!

Everyone laughs; the episode is soon forgotten. Fifteen years later Tonio Kröger delivers an attack on art to a painter friend in Munich. In a burst of bitterness he asks:

Is an artist a male, anyhow? Ask the females! It seems to me we artists are all of us something like those unsexed papal singers … we sing like angels; but—

The outburst grows out of his angry and frustrated sense that the artist stands apart from life, observing it coldly, but the nature of the outburst remains startling and extreme. Is it possible to imagine Stephen Dedalus asking such a question?—to say nothing of Paul Morel. Tonio Krbger's scornful questioning of the artist's masculinity is not peculiar to his character, for in several stories of the same period Mann presents satirical portraits of artists whose masculinity is dubious. In "The Infant Prodigy," published in the same year as Tonlo Kroger, the child prodigy wears a silk bow in his hair and greets the crowd with a shy, charming gesture, "like a little girl"; in Tristan, written in 1902 and published in the same collection as Tonio Korger (Tristan. Sechs Novellen, 1903), Detlev Spinell, the grotesque writer who lives in a sanatorium because he likes its Empire furnishings, is in his early thirties, like Tonio Kröger, and has a face "without a vestige of a beard. Not that it was shaven—you would have told; it was soft, smooth, boyish, with at most downy hair here and there." Mann in his own way can be as self-punishing as Kafka; this is the bourgeois in him, sneering at the artist. It is perhaps also a man raging at his own uncertain or undefined sexuality, for Mann much later confessed in a diary entry to what he called his "sexual inversion." But is it also more than that? May it not be the artist's own savage recoil against art, his protest against the price exacted by the harsh, monastic discipline of art? If the practice of art is by necessity solitary and austere, if beauty itself, in Baudelaire's phrase, has a heart of snow ("La Beaute"), is there not something in the very nature of art that is inimical to life? Stephen Dedalus's discovery of his vocation as artist is at the same time a welcoming of life, represented by the birdlike girl in the stream. Mann's view of art is always more ambiguous than Joyce's, at once more doubting and more probing. For Mann, art is always on the verge of moving in either of two directions: that of the sickly, the decadent, the precious, the unhealthy; or that of the criminal, the forbidden, the demonic. It is precisely his bourgeois distrust of art that leads Mann down dark paths of insight; it is his conservative temperament that drives him to his most radical questionings.


In the dialectic of the story, art and life are in opposition. The meaning of the antithesis seems to me clear enough, but it is worth considering for a moment what it means for an artist to feel that he is in any sense opposed to life. After all, the artist is alive, he is part of life. For him to feel opposed to life is for him to experience himself as a contradiction—to experience himself, that is, as a problem. And it is only when the artist experiences himself as a problem that there arises a literature with an artist as a central figure. Artists as human beings are of little interest to Renaissance dramatists; an occasional artist appears as a minor character, like the sycophantic Poet and Painter in Timon of Athens, and when an artist very infrequently appears as a protagonist it is always satirically (witness Ben Jonson's attack on Marston and Dekker in The Poetaster and Dekker's counterattack in Satiromastix, or Buckingham's brutal attack on Dryden in The Rehearsal). The artist as a serious figure first becomes interesting to the European imagination in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—precisely at a time when artists begin to experience themselves as problematical. German Romantic literature is filled with disturbed artist figures, of whom E. T. A. Hoffman's crazed composer is only the most famous; and it is significant in this respect that one of the earliest treatments of an artist is Goethe's Torquato Tasso (1790), a play that explicitly presents the artist as a problem. In this sense Tonfo Kroger is directly in the line of German Romanticism. Like Death in Venice ten years later, it is German Romanticism carried into the twentieth century, but made sharper and drier and more rigorous—it is Romanticism that has passed through the discipline of Flaubert and Chekhov.

But there is a further consideration. A writer such as Mann, producing an early-twentieth-century work of art in which the artist is presented as a problem, is writing for a largely bourgeois audience that is ready and indeed eager to read about the problem of the artist. In the second chapter of Death in Venice Mann writes: "Men do not know why they award fame to one work of art rather than another. Without being in the faintest connoisseurs, they think to justify the warmth of their commendations by discovering in it a hundred virtues, whereas the real ground of their applause is inexplicable—it is sympathy." The fame of Tonio Kröger in its own time suggests that the problem of the artist was not the peculiar obsession of a particular writer but the expression of a malaise in the society for which he wrote. Looked at in one way, the problem of the artist, at least as formulated by Mann, is also the problem of the burgher: the real problem is the relation between the two. Is it possible that Mann was wrong, and that the artist is not the only one with a bad conscience? Is is possible that at a certain moment of history, the burgher also has a bad conscience—that he longs, not for the bliss of the commonplace, but for the uncommon, the exotic, the morally dubious, in short, for the artist?


The antithesis is not original with Mann, although he plays with it and extends its range in ways that are entirely his own. The most immediate and likely precedent is Ibsen's When We Dead Awaken (1899), in which art, in the person of the sculptor Rubek, is presented as a betrayer or destroyer of life. Mann was an early and lifelong admirer of Ibsen. He used four lines of verse by Ibsen as the motto for the Tristan volume, which contained Tonio Kröger—lines that insist on a distinction between living and writing—and when, in a bravura passage in the essay Sufferings and Greatness of Richard Wagner, Mann compares Wagner with Ibsen, those two "northern wizards," those "crafty old weavers of spells," he says of When We Dead Awaken that it is "the awesome whispered confession of the production-man bemoaning his late, too late declaration of love of life." But even apart from Ibsen, European literature in the last quarter of the nineteenth century provided innumerable pairings of life and art (or the imagination)—usually to the disadvantage of life. A wellknown example is Villier de l'Isle Adam's symbolist drama Axel (1890), with its notorious line: "Living? Our servants can do that for us"; while in England the witty disparagement of life in relation to art became for Wilde a fashionable habit. But even these late-nineteenth-century dichotomies are only a specialized development of a much broader debate waged in Europe since the Renaissance, in which the active terms were Art and Nature and which had its roots in the classical world (see Nature and Art in Renaissance Literature by Edward Tayler for countless classical, medieval, and Renaissance examples). What is new, late in the nineteenth century, is not the antithesis itself but the sense that art and life have become hostile to each other, that they have no connection, that an abyss separates them. It is precisely this sense of separation that Tonio Kröger experiences and attempts to overcome. Detlev Spinell experiences an identical separation and glories in it—it is as if Mann would distinguish the genuine artist from the decadent by the degree of his refusal to succumb to the feeling that life and art are hopelessly separated. But even for Tonio Kröger the gulf remains: art continues to be experienced as a deviation from life. In this sense, is he really so different from Adalbert the novelist?


"God damn the spring!" says Adalbert the novelist—and goes into the "neutral territory" of a cafe to work. The difference between Tonio Krdger and Adalbert the novelist is that Tonio Kröger doesn't follow him into the cafe. His decision to be disturbed, which is also a decision not to work, is a judgment passed on Adalbert the novelist: the cafe becomes an evasion rather than a solution. With a witty speech and a shrug of his spiritual shoulders, Adalbert the novelist dismisses the crisis that torments Tonio Krbger, dismisses the very possibility of crisis. We all know him, Adalbert the novelist: nothing can stem the tide of his copious and mediocre prose.

But are we really so certain we know him, Adalbert the novelist? May there not be another way of looking at him, a way that releases him from caricature? If we shift our standpoint ever so slightly, if for a moment we remove our sympathy from Tonio Kröger and cast a skeptical eye on his assumptions, it becomes possible to think of Adalbert the novelist as someone akin to Lisabeta Ivanovna: the artist who goes about his business without fuss or melodrama, the artist who refuses the invitation to suffer. For looked at in a certain way, doesn't Tonio Kröger's judgment of Adalbert the novelist amount to disdain for his failure to be tormented? It is the hatred of the romantic for the craftsman—and the banning of the craftsman from the brotherhood of artist-saints whose motto is loneliness and whose sign is suffering.


As a schoolboy, Tonio Kröger is no Stephen Dedalus: he is absent-minded in class and receives poor grades. His school idleness is specifically connected with his habit of brooding over his intuitions and writing poems. Hans Hansen, who prefers horse books to Don Carlos, is described as a "capital scholar" ("ein vortrefflicher Schiller"—an excellent student). Hans Hansen, that is to say, is the industrious student who always gets good grades. He is in no sense an intellectual, but neither is he stupid or slow; rather, he is the diligent, obedient, and proper son of a prominent businessman (his father owns a big lumberyard), and his diligence and good grades are part of his middle-class nature. Tonio's idleness is precisely a sign of apartness, of class betrayal—for he too is the son of a prominent businessman (a grain merchant, like the Buddenbrooks) and is said to live in the finest house in town. But he flees the fine house for Italy, where he learns to be an artist. And it is then that his name—"that good middle-class name with the exotic twist to it"—becomes a synonym for, among other things, "persistent industry." It is very interesting: the indolent schoolboy now works "not like a man who works that he may live; but as one who is bent on doing nothing but work." Idle as a student, he is industrious as an artist: it's as if, having cast off a bourgeois calling, he assumes almost ferociously all the bourgeois virtues, turned, however, in the opposite direction—the direction of art. Tonio Kröger is never more middle-class than when he is going against the grain of the middle class; only in the act of disloyalty can he permit himself to display his loyalty.


But the relation between idleness and industry does not stop at the contrast between schoolwork and art, adolescence and maturity. Industry is the opposite of idleness, but it is also a cure for idleness; in this sense, the industry of the artist is a continual overcoming of a tendency toward indolence and dream that is also part of the artist's nature. The mature Mann recognized this truth in A Sketch of My Life in a passage describing his love of the carefree summer vacations at Travemiinde on the Baltic: the idyllic life at the seashore "encouraged my native tendency to idleness and dreams—corrected much later and with difficulty." One suspects that native tendencies are stubborn and that correction does not imply eradication. Indeed, one might argue that idleness and dreams are as essential to the creation of art as industry itself. But idleness and dreams, which are anathema to the burgher, are no less disturbing to the disciplined artist, since they threaten his way of life even as they nourish it. The theme of the seductiveness of relaxation, of the temptation of idleness, sounds throughout Mann's mature work, most movingly in The Magic Mountain and Death in Venice; and his early stories are filled with idle, dilettantish characters whom he sometimes treats with a savagery that suggests a secret fear.


Tonio/Krbger, art/life, south/north, mother/father, artist/burgher, idleness/industry, dark eyes/blue eyes, dreamy eyes/keen eyes, idle and uneven walk/elastic, rhythmic tread, Don Carlos/horse books, exotic/commonplace, fixative/the breath of spring, the perilous knifedance of art/life's lulling, trivial waltz-rhythm—the antitheses are so abundant and alluring that one begins to long for an escape from the habit of opposition, which desires to account for every detail by drawing it into a system that is both wide-ranging and constrictive. The deep attraction of antithesis is the prevention of randomness and irresponsible profusion; its danger is the exclusion of the mysterious, the unaccountable, the inexplicable.


Eye color, like hair color, has long been the occasion of significant contrast in fiction, usually serving as the outward sign of an inward difference. In the literature of north European countries, such as England, Germany, and France, blue or grey eyes are the standard against which dark eyes are measured and in contrast to which dark eyes are felt to be disturbing, exotic, passionate, foreign, vital, evil, or even ugly; hence, for example, the repeated attention given by Sidney to Stella's dark eyes, an attention carried over by Shakespeare to dark-eyed ladies such as Rosaline in Love's Labour's Lost and the dark lady of the sonnets. By the nineteenth century, contrasts between blue and dark eyes have become a novelistic cliche: consider blue-eyed Rowena and dark-eyed Rebecca in Ivanhoe, blue-eyed Alice and dark-eyed Cora in The Last of the Mohicans, the blue-eyed Lintons and the dark-eyed Earnshaws in Wuthering Heights. But it is not until Tonoi Krger, at the beginning of the next century, that a work of literature raises eye color to a central place in the symbolic structure.

The crucial contrast is that between dark eyes (artist eyes) and blue eyes (burgher eyes), but Mann complicates the antithesis in ways that prevent it from remaining merely mechanical. Tonio Kruger's eyes are dreamy as well as dark; they stand in contrast to Hans Hansen's blue eyes, which are both "keen" and "clear." But the simple opposition is complicated by the first statement of the fatherleitmotif: "A tall, fastidiously dressed man, with thoughtful blue eyes, and always a wild flower in his buttonhole." The eyes of the father are blue, but thoughtful; there is a touch of introspection and melancholy in these eyes (the father is called "slightly melancholy" in the last appearance of the leitmotif) that is not present in Hans Hansen's eyes and that corresponds to something in Tonio himself—the father here betrays a kinship to Thomas Buddenbrook, the grain merchant who reads Schopenhauer. Ingeborg Holm's laughing blue eyes are merely another version of Hans Hansen's eyes, but there are four additional pairs of dark eyes, all of which belong to artists or artisttypes.

There are first of all the eyes of Tonio Kröger's piano-playing mother, eyes that are never mentioned but that we infer are dark, for she has black hair and is from "the south"; since she is characterized by blitheness and moral indifference, we imagine her eyes as having less depth than her son's eyes. Frangois Knaak, the artist of dance, has "beautiful brown eyes" that "did not plumb the depths of things to the place where life becomes complex and melancholy"; his eyes, like his art, are superficial. But immediately a secondary antithesis is established between the depthless dark eyes of Herr Knaak and the thoughtful blue eyes of Herr Kroger, almost as if Mann wished to insist that the initial contrast between dark and blue should not be taken literally, but only symbolically. Among the dancers in Herr Knaak's class is Magdalena Vermehren, who has "great, dark, brilliant eyes, so serious and adoring"; she is interested in Tonio's verses, she is artistic, but she is also clumsy—she falls down in the dance. Her brilliant, dark, serious eyes are the eyes not of an artist but of an artist-adorer: the adult Tonio Kröger cruelly describes her as the kind of person for whom poetry serves as a mild revenge on life. The friend to whom he offers this description is Lisabeta Ivanovna, a painter, who also has dark eyes: "little bright black eyes." She is a genuine artist, who works even as she listens to the opening of Tonio Kröger's tirade against art ("I will just finish this little place—work out this little effect"), but she is an artist for whom art is not a problem: in this respect she stands midway between Herr Knaak and Tonio Kröger. Thus without ever losing the central opposition between dark eyes and blue eyes, Mann manages to cover a wide and almost contradictory range, extending all the way to thoughtful blue and superficial dark.


The temporal and geographical schemes that I have suggested for Tonio KrAger overlap in certain respects but are by no means identical; and neither fully accounts for the elusive and perhaps not finally explicable experience that we call the structure of a work of fiction. If we try once again to fathom the plan of the novella, with the sense that something has remained unaccounted for, we may be struck by the peculiar nature of the fourth chapter, which stands out from the other chapters almost in the manner of an essay inserted into a dramatic tale. Almost: for the chapter isn't an essay, and the story into which it is inserted is not notably dramatic. But the fourth chapter does have the effect of standing out from the surrounding material, of stopping the flow of narrative, of presenting itself as an exception, even as an obstacle. In this sense the novella breaks into three parts: the first three chapters, which recount Tonio Krbger's youth; the essayistic fourth chapter; and the last five chapters, which recount his northern voyage and deliberately recapitulate elements of the first three chapters.

Mann confessed to having had great difficulty with the fourth chapter. For months the story wouldn't budge; he was unable to write a word. His decision to write what he calls, in A Sketch of My Life, the "lyric-essayistic middle part" ("das lyrisch-essayistische Mittlestiick"—LowePorter translates the concise phrase as "the middle part, lyric and prose essay in one"), was a bold one, but the chapter nevertheless remains a problem. In it the central conflict of the story is brought to precise articulation, and the effect can seem to be a deliberate abandonment of drama, a flirtation with esthetic collapse. Mann is aware of the dangers and, having gone out of his way to violate the conventional dramatic development of his story, makes every effort to draw the chapter back into the realm of the dramatic. His main technique for doing so is to have Tonio Kröger allude obliquely to experiences that are familiar to us from earlier chapters. When he speaks of people who are always falling down in the dance, we remember Magdalena Vermehren and the dancing lesson; when he says that one ought not to tempt people to read poetry who would rather read books about the instantaneous photography of horses, we are invited to recall not only a particular moment in chapter I but the entire incident concerning Don Carlos and Hans Hansen's betrayal, indeed the entire chapter in all its meanings as they radiate out from the image of horse books. In addition to drawing on earlier moments of drama, Mann repeatedly attempts to overcome the essayistic tendency of the chapter by reminding us of the speech's occasion. That occasion is nothing less than a crisis in the hero's spiritual life: things have reached such a pass that, unlike Adalbert the novelist, who seeks out the neutral territory of a cafe when confronted with the distractions of spring, Tonio Kröger can no longer work. We are urged to experience the speech as the long revelation of a problem—as part of the plot. It is the tormented though orderly outpouring of a man in deep spiritual trouble; and the orderly, logical nature of the outburst is entirely in keeping with Tonio Kröger's character. But if so much is granted, it nevertheless remains true that the chapter radically refuses to behave like other chapters. It tends to sit like a lump in the middle of the story—even if it is a lump that the story can digest. Despite its air of redeeming boldness, the chapter cannot entirely evade the suspicion that important material has simply failed to be incorporated dramatically in the story.


How shall a work of fiction, with its continual urge toward particularization as it attempts to create and sustain the illusion of a world, handle the passing of time? Events in the fictional world that are presented as the temporal equivalent of events in the reader's world invite specification—invite, that is, the careful and abundant accumulation of significant detail. But what of the passing of days, of weeks, of entire years? Here, by the very nature of the case, accumulation is discouraged. One method of over-coming the hampering effects of swiftly passing fictional time is to arrange the material of the fiction so as to permit the greatest number of detailed scenes, which are then joined by brisk passages that report the passing of time. This is essentially the method of Tonio Kriger, although it would be a mistake to think of it as the only one. It would be a mistake, in particular, to think of the passages in Tonfo Kriger in which days or years pass as efficient, workmanlike segments that exist solely to convey information before permitting the real story to continue. There are passages of this kind, but there are also episodes of passing time that are meant to be experienced in their own right—are meant to have a flavor distinct from the flavor of a fully rendered scene.

Two such passages are the opening movement of chapter 8, in which Tonio Kröger passes "some days" and then "several" more days at Aalsgaard before arriving at the particular day on which the climactic dance takes place, and all of chapter 3, which recounts his Italian years. A difference between the passages immediately presents itself—a difference that may partially be explained as the difference between treating the passing of days on the one hand and years on the other, but that is not exhausted by this first and rather too easy explanation. For it is important to notice that the Danish passage, which covers an unknown number of days in six paragraphs, is characterized by an abundance of precise and evocative details. The sea that Tonio Kröger watches in the long mornings and afternoons sometimes lay "idle and smooth, in stripes of blue and russet and bottle-green." The jellyfish lying on the sunny beach are captured in a single memorable detail: "the jellyfish lay steaming." In an inspired simile, the sound of the surf is a noise "like boards collapsing at a distance." The guests in the dining room, who play no part in the story, are as sharply seen as minor characters in Dickens: an old fish dealer from Copenhagen "kept putting his beringed first finger to one nostril, and snorting violently to get a passage of air through the other." There is, very deliberately, no scene in these six paragraphs, for the experience being described is habitual: it is important that we lose the sense of precise moments in order to bathe in an atmosphere, to gain a sense of significantly repeated sights and gestures and sounds. But the absence of a closeup scene does not mean the loss of precise detail: it is merely that the detail comes at us in a different manner.

The effect of the ten paragraphs of the Italian chapter is distinctly different. Here there is a sudden and striking loss of detail:

He lived in large cities and in the south, promising himself a luxuriant ripening of his art by southern suns.…

he fell into adventures of the flesh, descended into the depths of lust and searing sin.…

And then, with knowledge, its torments and its arrogance, came solitude.…

It isn't that large, general statements are impermissible in a work of literature; it is, rather, that large, general statements need to grow out of sharply rendered details, require a precise habitat. Such details as in fact are present in the Italian chapter are all details of leitmotif, which connect Tonio Kröger to his past. But Italy itself remains strikingly unrendered; it is an abstract space in which certain mental events take place. My point is that the failure to render Italy cannot be explained away as a necessary consequence of treating a large span of time; the absence of a specific scene, as the Denmark passage shows, does not require the absence of the kind of precise detail we usually associate with a specific scene. Mann, who completed the story at the still youthful age of twenty-seven, has simply made an error here: he has treated the passing of time as if it were independent of things. His sentences in this section retain a firm thematic relation to the novella—there is never any loss of structural clarity—but they tend to sound curiously abstract, rhetorical, disconnected from the stuff of experience, and this at the very moment when they are making large assertions about experience. The cause of the failure may be psychological—Mann's inability to speak of his Italian years, or of sexuality—but the result is technical: an absence of detail, a vacuity.


Sixteen-year-old Tonio Kröger stands brooding in the corridor outside the room where Ingeborg Holm is dancing and thinks, "So lovely and laughing as you are one can only be if one does not read Immensee and never tries to write things like it." That Immensee was a cherished book of his own adolescence is confirmed by Mann in his affectionate essay on Theodor Storm, whom he names as one of the two "spiritual fathers" of Tonlo Kröger—the other being Turgenev.

Did Mann have Immensee in mind when composing Tomio Krger? In Immensee he would have found an arrangement of nine short chapters, often separated by large gaps of time; a chapter of childhood love; a broad time span, ranging from an experience of the protagonist at ten years old to his experiences as a young man of unstated age, who appears to be in his middle or late twenties (as well as a hoary frame-device that shows him in old age); the theme of unrequited love; an emphasis on love-sorrow, loneliness, and nostalgia. Above all, he might have received a hint for his own recapitulative scheme, for in the penultimate chapter Reinhard has two experiences that repeat moments in earlier chapters: he watches Elisabeth sitting in the shade of an overhanging branch and has the sense that it has all happened before, while the reader recalls a similar moment when Reinhard watched her seated in the shade of a tree when he was seventeen; and he sees a beggar girl who looks at him wildly and sings a song he remembers being sung by a gypsy girl in his university days. The similarities between the novellas are real but slight, and should not be exaggerated; perhaps what connects them most closely is what is most questionable in Tonio Krger: a certain heaviness of feeling, a tendency toward the lyricism of sorrow, toward the dubious pleasures of nostalgia.


Mann completed Tonfo Kruger in December 1902—it appeared in the February 1903 issue of the Neue Deutsche Rundschau, and again in the volume of stories called Tristan that appeared later in the same year—but precisely when he began it is unclear. The first evidence of actual composition occurs in a letter to Heinrich Mann of 8 January 1901, in which he complains that what he is writing is too long for Simplicissimus, the journal in which several of his earlier stories had appeared. A month later he complains to Heinrich that the artist theme has so thrust itself forward that the long-planned story ought to be called "Literature." But in this same letter he reports that he is at work on Tristan, which he calls a burlesque and which he appears to have completed in the spring of 1901. A question immediately presents itself: was it only by creating the satiric and even cruel portrait of the artist found in Tristan that Mann was able to release himself into Tonio Kru'ger? Was it only by mocking the pretensions and affectations of the artist that he could feel free to treat the artist seriously in a work of fiction? Detlev Spinell is a decadent Tonio Kröger, a Tonio Kröger corrupted by preciousness; his sinister kinship is suggested by the fact that he shares not only Tonio Kruger's age but his habit of holding his head to one side (a trait later given to Hans Castorp when he listens to music). In any case, the release, if it was one, was by no means immediate, for Mann later complains to a friend that he has made no progress on Tonio Kruger during the entire winter (the winter of 1901-1902); only in the spring of 1902 does he report that he is at work, but the work is torment: he speaks of doubts, hesitations, dissatisfaction. He is still at work when the proofs of the five other stories of the Tristan collection arrive in October, and he finishes only in mid-December.

But even this checkered history of composition, extending over nearly two years, is only part of the story. In A Sketch of My Life (1930), Mann claims that he conceived the idea for Tonio Kruger while still working on Buddenbrooks: "I spent a two weeks' holiday in that excursion via Lubeck to Denmark which is described in the tale; and the impressions of my visit to Aalsgaard am Sund, near Helsingor, were the nucleus round which the elements of the allusive little composition shot together." Just when the elements shot together is by no means clear, for in an address called Lubeck als geistige Lebensform, delivered on the occasion of Lubeck's 700th anniversary in 1926, he says somewhat enigmatically that Tonio Kruger was "unconsciously sketched" at Aalsgaard ("der Tonio Kruger unbewusst entworfen wurde"), the "unconsciously" suggesting that the story had not yet even been imagined. The trip to Liibeck and Aalsgaard took place in September 1899 (Buddenbrooks was completed in July 1900, a month after his twenty-fifth birthday), and the timing of the trip is worth noting. In Thomas Mann: The Making of an Artist, Richard Winston points out that, in the writing of Buddenbrooks, Mann had arrived at the death of Senator Buddenbrook's mother and the sale of the house, and suggests that Mann might have wanted to pay a visit to his old house in order to set the scene. But Hans Rudolf Vaget in his Kommentar zu sämtlichen Erzählungen (Commentary on the Complete Stories) makes what seems to me a more pregnant suggestion: "TM stand vor der Aufgabe, die Jugend Hanno Buddenbrooks zu gestalten und verspurte wohl das Bedurfnis, seine Erinnerungen aufzufrischen und noch einmal seinen 'Ausgangspunkt' zu beriihren." ("TM faced the task of shaping the youth of Hanno Buddenbrook, and probably felt the need to refresh his memories and touch his 'point of origin' again.") That is, Mann was about to plunge into a detailed evocation of a childhood very much like his own. The composition of Tonio Kröger therefore attaches itself spiritually to the last movement of Buddenbrooks, and it surrounds, so to speak, the composition of Tristan. To put it another way, it has its origin in the sickly artist-figure of Hanno Buddenbrook, and surrounds the decadent artist-figure of Detlev Spinell, who writes with excruciating slowness and who lives in a sanatorium because he likes the decor. It is as if Tonio Kröger represents an overcoming of both Hanno Buddenbrook and Detlev Spinell—as if Tonio's bad conscience is a knowledge of the disease and decadence that might have been his own, had Mann not lavished them on other characters instead.


The harshest thing one can say about Tonio Kröger is that it is not Death in Venice. Exactly what it is, however, has proved more difficult to say. Far more than Death in Venice, it carries with it the distinct and somewhat faded flavor of its time, without begging the indulgence accorded to the mere period piece. The oppositions have a disturbing clarity that make them seem more suitable to comedy, and history has complicated our response to the blond and blue-eyed Hans Hansens of the North in a way that interferes seriously with Mann's intellectual scheme. The image of the lonely artist at odds with the world takes its place more clearly than ever as part of the history of European Romanticism, but the attempted resolution lacks the fine daring and bravado of romantic rebellion. The energy of narrative is in a significant degree recollective, and does not always resist the perilous enticements of nostalgia.

It must nevertheless also be said that the problem which the story painstakingly examines—the problem of the artist in his relation to the world, which is also the problem of the artist in relation to his art—is one that has not only not vanished in the twentieth century but has increased in urgency even as the conditions of the problem have changed. The artist in exile, the artist at odds with the state—those quintessential artists of the century—may put the problem differently, but the choices they make are forms of spiritual allegiance that are kin to the crucial antitheses of Tonio Kröger. In a bitter attack on literature called "A Poet Between East and West," Czeslaw Milosz, who even manages to sound like Mann when he calls poetry "morally suspect," says that he now accepts a dark premise of Tonio Kröger (the unhealthy origin of art) that he had rejected in his youth. But the issue of relevance is itself highly equivocal, since a work of art may be vital in ways bearing little relation to the questions it may seem to raise. Formally, the recapitulative method of Tonio Kru'ger remains impressive: the final chapters draw on earlier chapters in a precise, subtle, and exhaustive way that is unprecedented in the history of fiction. The story is bold in its extensive use of a device, the leitmotif, that goes against the grain of narrative cause and effect and introduces a different principle of organization, and it is no less bold in its use of a large essayistic chapter that knowingly takes the risk of violating the forward movement of the story. And in a work that in many ways looks back to the nineteenth century, Mann strikes a peculiarly modern note by treating art itself, that holy of holies, as problematic. From the very beginning, Mann's fascination as a writer lay in his peculiar combination of the cautious and the daring, the conservative and the destructive—a combination that separates him, for example, from his near-contemporary, Kafka, who was all daring and destruction—and the tension of that division in his temperament gave rise to Tonio Kröger, which Kafka is known to have admired, as well as to later and darker works. For it must never be forgotten that Tonio Kröger is a youthful story, written by a young man of twenty-six and twenty-seven, who, it is true, had already written Buddenbrooks—a young man, in short, whose youthfulness is itself complex and problematic, with its fruitful mixture of indolence and almost soldierly discipline, of pessimism and ambition, its habit of questioning the whole enterprise of art while practicing that art with unalterable devotion.

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