O.K., I admit it – except for short stuff like Death in Venice and Tonio K. I haven’t read Thomas Mann, which is sort of shameful considering he’s such a towering figure in modern literature, etc. I guess it was partly because I thought he’d be too square and partly because I thought if I hadn’t read it him by now it was too late and too obvious, or something like that. But the last chapter of Barbara Fass’s La Belle Dame sans Merci, which I’ve been endlessly referring to (and it ain’t over yet – hopefully the final part of my essay "A Mused" will appear tomorrow) is all about The Magic Mountain, which she says is a variation on the Tannhauser theme, and commentary on Romanticism, so I finally picked it up. It’s certainly presumptuous of me to tell the world that Mann’s a good writer, but he is, and The Magic Mountain is a enjoyable read so far, although I don’t think he’ll become one of my favorites – I fear I was a little right about that square thing, though if you have to chose between that and the Nazis certainly square is the way to go.
Anyway this is my favorite passage so far, which is predictably about the Venus of this particular Venusberg, the mysterious Madame Chauchat: (The ellipsis are Mann’s as translated by Johm E. Woods).
Hans Castorp grimaced, but his eyes remained fixed on Madame Chauchat’s hand, and a vague, halfhearted recollection passed through his mind of something Dr. Krokowski had said about corrective bourgeois forces that counteracted love…But this arm was more beautiful, this arm bent gently behind the head – and was barely clad, because the fabric of the sleeve was thinner than that of the blouse, the flimsiest gossamer, which lent the arm just a hint of delicate illusion, making it even prettier than it probably would have been without any covering. It was both tender and full at the same time – and cool one could only presume. There could be no question whatever of any counteracting bourgeois forces.