History of Literature

Heinrich Mann


Heinrich Mann


Heinrich Mann
German writer

born March 27, 1871, Lübeck, Ger.
died March 12, 1950, Santa Monica, Calif., U.S.

German novelist and essayist, a socially committed writer whose best-known works are attacks on the authoritarian social structure of German society under Emperor William II.

Mann, the elder brother of the novelist Thomas Mann, entered publishing, but, after the death (1891) of their father, a prosperous grain merchant, he became financially independent and lived in Berlin, spending long periods abroad, particularly in France. His early novels portray the decadence of high society (Im Schlaraffenland [1900; In the Land of Cockaigne]), and his later books deal with the greed for wealth, position, and power in William’s Germany. Mann’s merciless portrait of a tyrannical provincial schoolmaster, Professor Unrat (1905; Small Town Tyrant), became widely known through its film version Der blaue Engel (1928; The Blue Angel). His Kaiserreich trilogy—consisting of Die Armen (1917; The Poor); Der Untertan (1918; The Patrioteer); and Der Kopf (1925; The Chief)—carries even further his indictment of the social types produced by the authoritarian state. These novels were accompanied by essays attacking the arrogance of authority and the subservience of the subjects. A lighter work of this period is Die kleine Stadt (1909; The Little Town).

After 1918 Mann became a prominent spokesman for democracy and published volumes of political essays, Macht und Mensch (1919; “Might and Man”) and Geist und Tat (1931; “Spirit and Act”). He was forced into exile in 1933 when the Nazis came to power, and he spent several years in France before immigrating to the United States. His novel Henri Quatre (two parts, 1935 and 1938) represents his ideal of the humane use of power.



Professor Unrat

Heinrich Mann

Elder brother of the great German writer Thomas Mann, Heinrich, an equally prolific novelist and essayist, differed from his brother in his commitment to political rather than aesthetic issues. Exiled by the Nazis for his attacks on their militarist-nationalist ideology he was also a passionate critic of imperial bourgeois capitalism and a staunch supporter of democracy and various forms of socialism. Professor Unrat is his best known novel, having been successfully adapted for screen, most famously as Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel, with Marlene Dietrich in the lead role, which launched her into international stardom.

The novel concerns an authoritarian, repressed socially inept schoolteacher who falls in love with a young dancer named Rosa Frohlich, After an arbitrary meeting, Professor Unrat is soon enthrallec by Rosa's compelling charm, and he determines that no one else shall have anything further to do with her. Unrat's close association with such a woman scandalizes the small-town community and he loses his job at the school. But he is unperturbec and with Rosa's help reinvents himself as a high society player. They establish a successful salon ana he delights in watching the downfall of former pupils and enemies, as they lose their fortunes at the gambling table or their reputations in inappropriate liaisons. But the greatest downfall will be his own as he gradually learns the full extent of Rosa's suspect behavior, losing control of his all-consuming rage.

Professor Unrat is a fascinating examination of the social values of imperial Germany and the power of desire to transform and control even the most iron-willed of men. Unrat's slow demise at the hands of one of literature's great femme fatales is a captivating cautionary tale.



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