thomas the novelist

People of Germany: Thomas Mann (1875-1955) was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate. His highly symbolic and ironic epic novels are noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual. His analysis and critique of the European and German soul used modernized German and biblical stories, as well as the ideas of Goethe, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer. He was a member of the Hanseatic Mann family and portrayed his family & class in his first novel, Buddenbrooks. His older brother was the radical writer Heinrich Mann. 3 of his 6 children, Erika, Klaus, and Golo, also became important writers. 

Thomas Mann was born to a bourgeois family in Lübeck, 2nd son of a senator and grain merchant and his wife Júlia da Silva Bruhns (a Brazilian of German and Portuguese ancestry who came to Germany at age 7). His mother was Roman Catholic but Mann was baptized into his father’s Lutheran religion. His father died in 1891, the firm was liquidated, and the family moved to Munich. Mann attended the science division of a Lübeck school, then spent time at the Ludwig Maximillians University and the Technical University of Munich where, in preparation for a journalism career, he studied history, economics, art history, and literature. He lived in Munich from 1891-1933 and spent a year in Italy. In 1905, he married Katia Pringsheim, daughter of a wealthy, secular Jewish industrialist family. She later joined the Lutheran church. The couple had 6 children.

I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing. 

I used to have students who bragged to me about how fast they wrote their papers. I would tell them that the great German novelist Thomas Mann said that a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. The best writers write much more slowly than everyone else, and the better they are, the slower they write. James Joyce wrote Ulysses, the greatest novel of the 20th century, at the rate of about a hundred words a day—half the length of the selection I read you earlier from Heart of Darkness—for seven years. T. S. Eliot, one of the greatest poets our country has ever produced, wrote about 150 pages of poetry over the course of his entire 25-year career. That’s half a page a month. So it is with any other form of thought. You do your best thinking by slowing down and concentrating.


from William Deresiewicz

This quote is so important to me. So. Important. Because it’s exactly how I write a novel – my first thought is never my best, and there’s no shame in taking my time. I used to think there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t produce a finished novel quickly, but that’s bull shit.

There’s is no right speed, only MY speed.