Art and its Uses in Thomas Mann's 'Felix Krull'
- Ernest Schonfield
- Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies, Modern Humanities Research Association/Maney Publishing
- Subject Areas
- Germanic, Culture, Language & Literature, Bithell Series of Dissertations
The turn of the twentieth century was a time of identity crisis for the upper and middle classes, one in which increased social mobility caused the blurring of traditional boundaries and created a need for reference works such as the British Who's Who (1897). At the same time, the rise of a new leisure industry and an increase in international travel led to a boom period for confidence men, who frequently operated in hotels and holiday resorts. Thomas Mann's Felix Krull, written between 1910-13 and continued (though never completed) in 1951-54, uses contemporary accounts of these figures as a starting-point from which to explore the aesthetics of society.
The early Krull marks an important stage in Mann's development in a number of respects. In writing it, Mann acquired a more flexible conception of identity and a new understanding of the relation between artist and public. Krull also signals a deeper engagement with Goethe and a shift in Mann's work towards a more open treatment of sexuality. The novel presents art as being central to the development of the individual and to social interaction. While Krull is nominally a confidence man, he is more of a performance artist, a purveyor of beauty who relies upon the complicity of his audience. The later Krull takes up where Mann left off and continues the justification of art as an essential human activity. This study draws upon unpublished material in order to provide a comprehensive reading of Felix Krull. It examines the novel within the context of Mann's work as a whole, and, in doing so, it seeks to demonstrate the remarkable continuity of Mann's creative achievement.