Vision Blurred: Mann’s The Magic Mountain
Thomas Mann wrote this novel at a time when Europe was in the throes of a deep crisis. The crisis was multiple: political, cultural, spiritual. The novel was conceived two years before the First World War began and was completed a dozen years later, appearing in 1924. The original idea was to write a light-hearted counterpart of Death in Venice, but what eventually resulted was a weighty tome dealing with the profound changes which not only Europe but the whole of Western civilisation was undergoing during these fateful years. The novel is a record of what was coming to an end, and projects a glance, an anxiously prophetic glance, into the future. One might describe that record by borrowing a term Mann used to describe the favoured activity of his hero, Hans Castorp: ‘stock-taking’. The author, along with his hero, takes stock of what was going on around Hans, as German, a European, a son of the West. The occasion for such an activity was not only propitious: to a person who saw signs of a convulsive, earth-shaking transformation, it was unavoidable.
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