Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Lotte In Weimar - Thomas Mann

Continuing my exploration of the works of Thomas Mann, I recently read his novel Lotte In Weimar, originally published in 1939.

This novel tells the story of a visit to Weimar by a woman who was the "muse" and inspiration behind the main female character in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. Charlotte has come to Weimar ostensibly to see her sister, but she becomes an object of fascination for the locals, and she has a reunion with Goethe himself.

The early chapters are very much consistent with some other Mann novels, with their vibrant and engrossing character, and their richness of detail. The passages which explore the closing stages of the Napoleonic Wars and the parallel political developments in Germany, and their effects on Goethe's family and social circle, are riveting. Conversations between Charlotte and a series of visitors serve as a fascinating examination of Goethe's personality, motivations and world-view.

Subsequent chapters were less appealing for me. Some space is taken up with a conversation which Goethe appears to have with himself, and which is delivered in almost a stream-of-consciousness manner. There are some nuggets of interest in there, though.  The narrative and the focus pick up again when the aforementioned Goethe-Charlotte reunion finally occurs.

Throughout Lotte In Weimar we see evidence of Thomas Mann's social and political concerns, largely told through the person of Goethe and others. The author's misgivings about developments in Germany during Mann's own time find echoes in a critique of  the upsurge of German nationalist sentiment during the early nineteenth century. The fact that this book was first published in 1939/40 must have furnished it with a contemporary resonance.  The political points are eloquently and sharply observed and outlined here.

So this is an intriguing and rewarding read, different in content and atmosphere to what I had anticipated.

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