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Mephisto (1936) - Klaus Mann

Related: Germany - 1936 - literature


Klaus Mann’s controversial novel Mephisto published in 1936 constitutes a warning of the evils of Hitler’s regime. The novel describes the career of an ambitious actor who rises to the pinnacles of success during the Third Reich.

In existing literary criticism the novel’s protagonist has been interpreted as the typical collaborator who betrays all cultural, artistic and moral values to ensure his own success. Such readings have failed to take account of the protagonist’s masochistic relationship with a black woman dancer and prostitute that forms an essential prerequisite to this ability to pursue his goal.

This thesis presents a novel reading based upon theories of masochism by Freud, Reich, Reik, Fromm and Deleuze. As the protagonist is not only shown in relationship with his dominatrix but also forms an alliance with the fascist rulers, the question of masochism and power arises. The relations of masochism and power are explored in general by referring to theories of power by Günter Dux, Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault. Finally these theories are related to the specific constellation of masochism and power in Klaus Mann’s text. --http://languages.wits.ac.za/publications/pictures/masocsynopsis.html [Nov 2004]

Klaus Mann

Born in Munich, Mann was the son of German writer Thomas Mann and his wife Katia Pringsheim, whose parents were secular Jews. He began writing short stories in 1924 and the following year became drama critic for a Berlin newspaper. His first literary works were published in 1925.

Mann's early life was troubled; his homosexuality often made him the target of bigotry, and he had a difficult relationship with his father, who had little respect for him. He left Germany in 1933 and moved to Amsterdam. He became a Czechoslovak citizen, having been stripped of German citizenship by the Nazi regime. In 1936, he moved to the United States, living in Princeton, New Jersey, and New York. He became a US citizen in 1943.

His most famous novel was Mephisto, written in 1936 and first published in Amsterdam. It is a thinly-disguised portrait of his former brother-in-law, the actor Gustaf Gründgens. The literary scandal surrounding it made him posthumously famous in West Germany, as Gründgrens' adopted son brought a legal case to have the novel banned after its first publication in West Germany in the early 1960s. After seven years of legal hearings, the West German Supreme Court banned it by a vote of three to three.

He died in Cannes of an overdose of sleeping pills. He was buried there in the Cimetière du Grand Jas. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klaus_Mann [Mar 2006]

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