Doctor Faustus (Modern Library Series)by Thomas Mann
Adrian Leverkuhn, a/b>
"The thorn was in my flesh," Mann said about the genesis of Doctor Faustus, which was composed during World War II. "I knew what I was setting out to do and what task I was imposing upon myself: to write nothing else than the novel of my era, disguised as the story of an artist's life, a terribly imperilled and sinful artist."
Adrian Leverkuhn, a former theological student who has become a composer, enters symbolically into a pact with the devil in exchange for two and a half decades of inspired work. Narrated by Serenus Zeitblom, Leverkuhn's faithful friend, this retelling of the Faust legend turns on the composer's slow descent into syphilitic paralysis. Densely orchestrated with musical constructions and what Mann called historical "montage", the book discourses on the tragedy of Germany, the Schonbergian twelve-tone system, Nietzche, the life of Tchaikovsky, and the introduction of syphilis into Europe. Mann described Doctor Faustus as "difficult, weird, uncanny, sad as life."
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This translation, by H. T. Lowe-Porter, was done during Mann's lifetime. He and Mrs. Lowe-Porter knew one another and he was aware of her method of translation. I find her rendition to be more in the spirit of Thomas Mann than later ones, if only because it is through her translations that I became aware of his work. If you compare her lines to those of other translators, she seems more intellectual, or, if you will, academic, and Mann was nothing if not an academic writer. It's a shame this translation is being shunted away into history. In a sense, she was his collaborator. This novel is a bit like MOBY-DICK in that there are several chapters of narrative and then several chapters of technical description. In the case of MOBY-DICK, the technical descriptions are of whale biology and in the case of DOCTOR FAUSTUS, the technical descriptions are of music. I learned an incredible amount about music history, theory and practice from this stunning epic. It is also a tragic story. Anybody with a serious interest in the mid-20th-century crisis in Europe should read this novel.