Mann in His Letters
FOLLOWING the publication of Buddenbrooks in 1901, it became Thomas Mann’s daily custom, when his ritual hours at the writing desk had ended shortly after noon, to attend to the obligations which fame had brought him. Foremost among such obligations was an already immense correspondence-it is the reliable estimate of experts who have consulted the Mann archives in Zurich that during his lifetime, from his boyhood in Lubeck to his last days, Mann wrote some twenty thousand letters. In later years, after he had come to the United States and settled in California, he acquired the habit-which he did not like-of dictating his correspondence to a secretary, and the letters of those years are as often typewritten as handwritten. He preferred his correspondence to be handmade, so to speak, but it is still a question whether he wanted it to be personal.
Fame confers a hunger for, and a terror of, communal voyeurism, and in the correspondence of the famous the issue of how much the writer should be aware of the potentially large audience that will be attending his “private” utterances cannot be far from the surface of his consideration. When he reveals himself, how much should he reveal, even to his intimates? As for us, his readers, with what degree of ironic perspective should we, at this late date, view his revelations? Such questions are all the more pressing in the case of a figure like Mann, whose complex views on the relation between the private individual and public life in the 20th century-a relation, indeed, that forms the subject of more than one of his novels-might be expected to come into focus in his voluminous private writings.
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