Wednesday, February 18, 2009


She would have declared with equal composure that she was flighty, quick-tempered, and vindictive. Given her pronounced sense of family, any notion of free will or self-determination was alien to her, so that she knew and could acknowledge the traits of her character with almost fatalistic equanimity, even her faults, and had no intention of correcting any of them. She believed, without knowing it, that absolutely every character trait was a family heirloom, a piece of tradition, and therefore something venerable and worthy of her respect, no matter what.


"Yes," Tom said, "I know exactly what you mean, Tony. Christian is terribly indiscreet--it's hard to put it in words. He lacks what one could call balance, personal balance. On the one hand, he is incapable of keeping his composure when other people are tactless and naive. He is no match for them, doesn't understand how to gloss over things, and completely loses self-control. But, on the other hand, it's the way he loses self-control--suddenly starts chatting away, blurting out to all the world the most unpleasant and intimate things. It sometimes borders on the uncanny. It's almost like someone delirious with fever, isn't it? They fantasize in exactly the same way, regardless of the consequences. Oh, it is merely a matter of Christian's worrying too much about himself, about what is going on inside him. He has a regular mania sometimes for dragging up the most insignificant things from deep within him and talking about them--things that a reasonable man doesn't even think about, doesn't want to know about, for the very simple reason that he is too embarrassed to share them with anyone else. There's something so shameless about that sort of unrestrained talk, Tony. You see, someone else might say that he loves the theater, too; but he would do it with a different emphasis, offhandedly, more modestly, in fact. But Christian proclaims it in a tone of voice that says: 'Isn't my obsession with the theater something terribly strange and interesting?' He struggles to find the right words, he acts as if he were wrestling with himself to express something unusually obscure or supremely refined."


But little Johann saw more than he was meant to see, and his eyes, those shy, golden brown eyes ringed with bluish shadows, observed things only too well. Not only did he see his father's poise and charm and their effect on everyone, but his strange, stinging, perceptive glance also saw how terribly difficult it was for his father to bring it off, how after each visit he grew more silent and pale, leaning back in one corner of the carriage, closing his eyes, now rimmed with red; as they crossed the threshold of the next house, Hanno watched in horror as a mask slipped down over that same face and a spring suddenly returned to the stride of that same weary body. First the entrance, then small-talk, fine manners, and persuasive charm--but what little Johann saw was not a naive, natural, almost unconscious expression of shared practical concerns that could be used to one's advantage; instead of being an honest and simple interest in the affairs of others, all this appeared to be an end in itself--a self-conscious, artificial effort that substituted a dreadfully difficult and grueling viruosity for poise and character. Hanno knew that they all expected him a appear in public someday, too, and to perform, to prepare each word and gesture, with everyone staring at him--and at the thought, he closed his eyes with a shudder of fear and aversion.

--Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks


Lorna said...

I love the quotations you have chosen. I like your common place book very much, it is a great inspiration.

bhadd said...

My personal fave of his. Doktor Faustus next.

Lenore said...

Ha - we were just talking about this last night. There's a new German movie adaption that we are thinking of seeing.

Danielle said...

I really want to read this and magic Mountain. Of course I will probably never make it through Bleak House. I suppose I could just pick up another classic rather than waiting to finish what I already have started. Or is that cheating?