“Buddenbrooks” is a 1901 novel by the German author Thomas Mann. The novel was Mann’s first and was published when he was only 26 years old. Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in Literature in 1929 because of his novel.
Mann said that Mann’s primary goal in writing the novel, was to portray the clash between business and art through the story of a family saga.
“Buddenbrooks” centers around a wealthy German family of the same name. The novel takes place over the course of around 40 years, spanning the family’s trails between 1835, when they move into a lavish new house to 1877 when, with most of the family dead from various illnesses and old age, the eldest daughter is left alone with her adult daughter and granddaughter. The story focuses on the differences between Thomas, the business-minded son, and Christian, the artistic, free-spirited brother.
This novel has been adapt several times. There was a silent film version of it in 1923, and a TV-version for 10 hours in 1979.
It is 1835, and the Buddenbrooks family are wealthy and highly respected. They host a party at their Lubeck home for relatives and friends. Buddenbrooks are a family that is known for their work as grain merchants. Johann Jr. is the father of this family. He has a wife named Antoinette, and a son named Johann III. Johann III, an adult, has Elizabeth as his wife and three children named Antonie (Christian, Thomas) The family has many servants.
The first few chapters consist of the party, which is a housewarming party for the family’s new home. “Some adults seated themselves on the chairs, some on the sofa, and they chatted now with the children, commented on the unseasonable cold, on the house. Herr Hoffstede was admiring the splendid inkwell… that graced the secretary. Dr. Grabow, an older man with a gentle, kind and gentle smile, was looking at the various saltcellars, cakes, and raisin bread on display. This was the “salt and bread” sent by various relatives and friends to mark the move to a new house. But as evidence that these were gifts from persons of some substance, the bread came in the form of sweet, spicy, heavy pastries and the salt in the sturdy gold containers.”
It is while they are enjoying the party and engaging with their guests that a letter comes from Johann Jr’s estranged son, Gotthold. Johann Jr. had an argument with Gotthold many years back over his life choices. They have never spoken since. The book does not, at this point, explore what the life choices were but it does say that Gotthold’s letter concerns his demand for compensation for his share in the house. Gotthold is Johann III’s half-brother. Johann Jr. ignores this letter and returns to the party, trying to forget about the interruption. The story moves ahead a few years after this party’s conclusion. Johann III and Elizabeth have a second daughter, whom they call Clara.
Johann III begins working on a family tree and it is from this that we learn more about the Buddenbrooks’ history. Johann Jr., his father, was married twice before he married Antoinette. This woman was the mother of Johann Jr’s son, Gotthold. Johann Jr. disapproved of Gotthold since a young age.
“Johann Buddenbrook appeared to have felt and honest and bitter hatred of this new creature from the moment his first brash movements began to cause his mother such terrible pain—to have hated him when he came into this world, healthy and lively, whereas Josephine had died, her bloodless head buried in her pillows, and never to have forgiven this unscrupulous intruder, growing up so robust and carefree, for the murder of his mother.” He admits that he would have transferred his love of Josephine to their son but found that he could not as he had seen his eldest son “only as the person who wickedly destroyed his happiness.”
Johann Jr. married Antoinette later. He loves her but he doesn’t feel the same passion for her as he felt for his first wife. Johann III locates the family tree. This diagram was drawn by his grandfather, Johann Buddenbrook. It is clear that the Buddenbrooks family dates back to the 16th century, when Parchim’s oldest Buddenbrook was alive. Later, another Buddenbrook, a merchant tailor had married a woman from Rostock and “done very well”, siring a remarkable number of children.
The Buddenbrooks’ grain business was founded by the first Johann many years later. The family genealogy was further enhanced by the addition of many personal notes, including his own illnesses and accidents. The final Johann added his advice to his descendents. “My son, show zeal for each day’s affairs of business, but only for such that make for a peaceful night’s sleep.” Johann realizes that this family bible should have rightfully been passed down to Gotthold, as he is the eldest son.
Over the years, the children begin to grow and their personalities begin to develop before the family’s eyes. Thomas becomes the more focused and diligent one, seems set to inherit the family’s grain business. Christian is more spontaneous, and less easily distracted. Antonie (whom they call Tony), has grown to be more self-confident. The young man, from a similar family to the Buddenbrooks, proposes to her but she refuses. Tony feels a deep hatred towards Herman Hagenstrom and takes his rejection with a smile, even though he is a boy from s the Buddenbrooks.
Soon, Antoinette passes away. Johann III joins the family grain business at the age of sixteen and he sets to work with “total devotion”. Johann Jr also dies shortly after his wife’s death. Johann III takes over the family company and offers Gotthold a part of the inheritance. Gotthold accepts the offer, but he still doesn’t like Johann Jr. or his three adult children.
Tony is immediately irritated by a businessman named Benedict Grunlich. Elizabeth calls him “a man with perfect manners” and most in the family consider him a respectable gentleman and a good Christian. Tony plans to take a vacation at a Baltic resort in an effort to get away from him. However, her father insists that she marry Grunlich. She accepts his offer and marries Grunlich, even though she still hates him.
Although the couple is unhappy, Erika was born to them. Later, it was revealed that Grunlich had taken money from his business to pay off a debt. He married Tony in order to repay the debt.
Johann discovers the debt and refuses it to pay. He takes Erika and Tony back to his home. Tony moves in to the third floor of her parents’ house, which was where Johann Jr. and Antoinette lived when she was alive. When her father tells her she won’t hire another maid, she is disappointed. He also tells her that although she is not responsible for the divorce proceedings, she needs to stay away from society as her situation as a divorcée woman is extremely precarious.
“But Tony had the lovely knack of being able to adapt readily to any situation in life simply by tackling it’s new possibilities. She was soon enjoying her role of ‘innocent woman afflicted by tragedy.” Grunlich goes bankrupt and he and Tony obtain a divorce only four years after they married.
Christian travels the globe, eventually reaching Chile. Thomas, who was studying in Amsterdam at the time, returns home to start working for the grain company. The business experiences a worker’s strike in 1848. As Clara and Elizabeth sit in their home, Clara notices that the strike has begun. “Suddenly they heard the noise of shouts and screams, some kind of insolent yowling, plus whistles and the stamping of a great many feet on pavement – coming closer now and growing.”
Clara innocently questions what the noise is and Elizabeth panics when she looks outside, saying “It’s the revolution! It’s the masses.” Johann must leave the house as he has a meeting with the board of the company. He manages to get out of the house, but he discovers that the strikers are heading his way when he gets there. Johann calms them down while the rest of the council panics. He says that the mob will soon leave. He decides to talk to the mob, despite the resistance of the other council members. They fear that he might be injured or even killed by the unruly strikers.
He finds the crowd not large, with most of them young workers and some schoolchildren. Johann finds a worker from the crowd that he knows and asks him about his work. The man, embarrassed tells him that “things have come to a pass” and they are having a revolution.
Johann demands that the workers go home. They refuse. Johann asks them through Smolt what they really want. They tell him that they want a republic or a union. Johann reminds them that they already own one. Smolt informs Johann that they would like another. This causes everyone to laugh, which eases tension. Johann suggests that they return home. Smolt, an unintelligent man, is so confused by the effects of his words on the crowd that Johann tells him to let them rest. After he thanks Johann, he says they will be seeing him later. “In the best of moods now, the crowd began to disperse.” Before he can leave, Johann order Smolt to go and fetch the carriage of one of the board members and Smolt does so without hesitation. Johann and Elizabeth become more religious in old age.
Johann dies 1855 as the family gathers in the house. The atmosphere suddenly changes and everyone is downstairs. “Suddenly something happened – a soundless, terrifying something. It was as if the humidity had increased by two-thirds. In less than a second, the atmospheric pressure increased rapidly, causing severe breathing difficulties and affecting heart and brain. One swallow floated so low above the streets that its wings appeared to touch the cobblestones. And this knot of pressure, this tension, this growing constriction of the body would have been unbearable if it had lasted a split second longer, if the shift, the release had not followed, a break that liberated them, an inaudible crack somewhere – though they all thought they heard it. An at that same moment, the rain was falling in sheets, almost as if not a single drop had preceded it, and water gushed and foamed in the gutters, lapping over the sidewalks.”
Christian, who is more familiar with noticing the changes in his nerves as a result of a strange illness has looked around the room to see if anyone else had noticed them. His mother may have sensed it, but Christian doesn’t seem to be the only one who noticed.
After Johann’s funeral, Thomas takes over the business, as predicted. Christian returns from his travels and begins to work for his brother. However, he soon realizes how much he dislikes the business of managing it day-to-day. Christian frequently complains about strange illnesses and quickly gains a reputation as a drunken, liar, and womanizer in the town. Thomas sends Christian off to protect both the business’ reputation and his personal reputation. Thomas marries Gerda, a musician woman. Clara, the youngest Buddenbrooks child is married to a pastor. However, she dies soon from tuberculosis. Tony marries Alois Permaneder (a Munich hops merchant), again.
Once Permaneder receives the dowry from the marriage, he retires from his job and begins living off of Tony’s money while drinking away his days in the local bar. Tony has a second child but the infant dies. Tony is devastated. Tony discovers Permaneder sexually assaulting their maid, and he leaves Erika behind to go to Lubeck with him. Permaneder sends her a letter of apology and promises not to contest the divorce. He also returned her dowry.
Thomas is both a father, and a senator. He builds a large, beautiful home but soon regrets the decision as he realizes how much time and money it cost to maintain. Johann Jr. begins to lose his house as it is too small for his family. Thomas struggles to keep the business afloat through the 1860’s. The only thing that keeps the business afloat during this period is Thomas’s hard work and diligence. Thomas hosts a party in 1868 to mark the 100th anniversary of the company. He learns about a major loss while hosting the party. Erika is now a grown woman. Hugo Weinschenk manages an insurance company that covers art. Soon Erika has a child, whom she names Elizabeth. Hugo is charged with insurance fraud and sent to prison.
Thomas’s son, Johann IV is born sickly and stays this way as he grows up. He is shy and melancholic, and is bullied by his peers. Kai Molln, his only friend, is his only true friend. Kai is a count, and he and his eccentric dad are both remnants from an old aristocracy. Johann IV discovers that his mother is a strong musician and this makes him a good friend to Christian. Thomas is usually very disappointed in the boys’ frivolity and illness. After Elizabeth’s death in 1871 from pneumonia, Herman Hagenstrom is a successful businessman and purchases the Buddenbrooks house. Tony, Erika, as well as the younger Elizabeth, have to leave the house.
Christian falls for a woman named Aline, who has questionable morals and several illegitimate children, one of whom may even be Christian’s. Thomas forbids their union and as he holds the inheritance, his word will be law. Thomas sends Johann IV on a mission to improve his health. Johann is happy to return to his old state, but he is still in poor health. Hugo is released but not without a sham. Hugo leaves Germany and never returns.
Thomas ages and is more exhausted by the demands of his failing business. He suspects that his wife may be cheating on him. He goes on vacation in 1874 with Christian and some old friends to a resort. He soon collapses upon his return and then dies. He advises the liquidation of the business for profit in his will. This is a clear indication of his total lack faith in Johann IV.
All of the family’s assets, including the mansion that Thomas built are sold at a loss. Christian marries Aline and takes control of his father’s inheritance. However, his illness quickly returns and he is soon admitted to an insane asylum for his bizarre behavior. Aline, who has his money, spends it. Johann is still sick and hates school. He manages to pass his class by cheating. Kai and his family are the only people who dislike him. He dies from typhoid fever in 1877.
His mother returns home to Amsterdam. Only Tony, Erika, little Elizabeth remain from the once successful Buddenbrook clan. The women are in total bankruptcy now and they have little hope that they will be reunited with their family in the afterlife to offer them comfort.
Analyse of Characters
Johann Buddenbrook Jr. – at the start of the novel, Johann Jr. is the patriarch of the Buddenbrook family. His father left him the grain business. Johann was married before his current wife, Antoinette. Johann married Josephine, a woman he loved deeply. Josephine, their child, died after she gave birth to Gotthold. Johann Jr., who was also devastated by the loss of Josephine, spends her entire life detesting Gotthold and neglecting Gotthold as a son.
Johann Jr. buys the large Buddenbrook home that the family lives in for the majority of the novel. The house slowly falls apart over the years and is eventually sold to pay for the family’s financial difficulties.
Johann Buddenbrook III – Johann III takes over running the grain business after his father and mother pass away. Johann III is slightly different to his father. Johann III has never experienced the heartbreak of losing his young bride. Instead, he is supportive and loving to his children, despite his being somewhat of a difficult man.
Johann is a strong leader and can easily quell the slightly misguided strike of his workers, even though he sometimes lets his anger get to the top of the situation.
Antoine Buddenbrook – Antoine or “Tony” is the daughter of Johann III and Elizabeth. Antoine is the most articulate and well-developed character in the novel, and the only Buddenbrook original to make it to its end. Tony is spoiled. She can be quite opinionated and sometimes harsh. She marries twice, first to Grunlich and then, after divorcing him, marries Permaneder a few years later, leaving him after he sexually assaults a maid.
Tony has Erika, her daughter whom she loves very much. Tony spends the rest her life caring about Erika until she is old enough to have a child.
Thomas Buddenbrook – Johann III’s eldest son. Thomas is the more intelligent and business-minded of Johann’s sons. Thomas inherits the grain company and runs it his entire life. He sees the failings of the business, and sometimes it falls on hard times. But he retains control over the company.
Thomas is different from the other characters. He does not look like his son in any way. Johann IV was very sickly at birth, and Thomas is skeptical of his strength. He does not confess to his son until his death that it is he who loves him and that he forgives him.
Christian Buddenbrook – Johann III’s youngest son. Christian is more like his brother and more of a free spirit than a dreamer. He does not enjoy any aspect of running the business and leaves that over to Thomas very early on after their father’s death.
Christian complains all his life about a mysterious, unidentified illness. Many assume it is in his head. Because of his unusual behavior and illness, he is eventually admitted to an insane asylum. There he dies.
Thomas Mann Biography
Thomas Mann was born in Lubeck, Germany on June 6, 1875. Mann, the son of a senator & a grain merchant was raised Lutheran despite his mother being Roman Catholic. In 1891, Mann’s father died and his business was foreclosed. As a result of this, Mann’s family moved to Munich. Mann attended the Ludwig Maximillians University of Munich as well as Munich’s Technical University, where he studied economics, literature, history, and economics.
Mann started working for the South German Fire Insurance Company after graduating from university with Heinrich. His career as a writer began in 1898 when man’s first short story, “Little Mr. Friedemann” was first published in Simplicissimus magazine.
Man married Katia Ringsheim in 1905. She was the daughter of a wealthy Jewish industrialist. The couple had six children. 1912 he and his wife moved to a sanatorium in Switzerland where he began writing one of his most famous novels “The Magic Mountain”. Part of his reasoning for moving to Switzerland was his discussed over the coming outbreak of World War I. Mann began publishing longer works at this time such as ‘Death in Venice’ (1912).
In 1929, Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his novel “Buddenbrooks” (1901). Mann was later told he could not return to Germany and he emigrated to America, where he taught in 1939 at Princeton University. Mann and his family moved from Germany to Los Angeles in the 1940s. They became well-known members of the literary community.
Throughout this time, Mann produced some of his best known novels, including the epic tale “Joseph and His Brothers” a series that took over 16 years to write. He also wrote “Doktor Faustus” (1947) during this time.
Man was anti-Nazi in World War II. He participated in anti-Nazi speech-making to the German people via BBC radio. In 1952 Man and his family returned to Europe to live near Zürich, Switzerland. He was allowed to return to Germany at this time, but he never lived again in Germany. In 1955 he died of atherosclerosis in Zürich and he was later buried in the cemetery in Kiltchburg.