What is left to say about the life of Thomas Mann? It is not so long since the voluminous, albeit fragmentary, diaries were published. The dozen or more volumes of correspondence are constantly being added to as new letters come to light. The family itself produced numerous memoirs. In English, we have had the biography by Richard Winston and the double portrait of the brothers Thomas and Heinrich by Nigel Hamilton, followed by no fewer than three lives (by Donald Prater, Ronald Hayman and Anthony Heilbut) in the anniversary year 1995. In German, there have been the multi-volume works by Peter de Mendelssohn and Klaus Harpprecht, not to mention smaller fry. After so many biographies, some of them on the same monumental scale as their subject’s novels, this unusually complex nexus of history, autobiography and fiction might appear to have been fully explored.
Yet a question remains. Have these biographers, or indeed the many scholars and critics who have concentrated solely on the study of Mann’s works, fully explained the miraculous emergence of this late and last titanic master of the German language, a language defiled and thereby irrevocably transformed by Hitler? There