Tuesday, November 29, 2011
German Lit Month: Lotte in Weimar by Thomas Mann
Publisher: Univ. of California Press
Translator: H.T. Lowe-Porter
Date: 1990 (1939)
Read: for German Lit Month
Reading time: one month
From GoodReads: Thomas Mann, fascinated with the concept of genius and with the richness of German culture, found in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe the embodiment of the German culture hero. Mann's novelistic biography of Goethe was first published in English in 1940. Lotte in Weimar is a vivid dual portrait—a complex study of Goethe and of Lotte, the still-vivacious woman who in her youth was the model for Charlotte in Goethe's widely-read The Sorrows of Young Werther. Lotte's thoughts, as she anticipates meeting Goethe again after forty years, and her conversations with those in Weimar who knew the great man, allow Mann to assess Goethe's genius from many points of view.
My review: I can't believe I actually finished reading this. Lotte in Weimar is probably one of the most boring books I've ever read, mostly because I managed to finish it where similar books would have been back on the shelf weeks before. My reason: I don't do well with dialogue, and the novel is pretty much all dialogue, for all four hundred fifty pages. Dear Thomas Mann: It's not you, it's me. So sorry I didn't like your book that much.
It wasn't all bad and boring, though. Thomas Mann is a great writer and did a really nice job with telling the tale of Lotte's later life and dealings with Goethe, it's just that my teenage mind kept zoning out of the interminable discussions. I'm sure a seventy-page view of Goethe's inner mind is fascinating, but I can't focus on his ramblings for that long. I was able to identify some with Lotte, though she's several decades older than myself. The feeling of love with another person being avoided by a few twists of everyday fate, the wondering of the what-could-have-been, the longing to see and talk to the other person some, even if just within your own mind, can be universal across ages. I also caught the reflection upon the sacrifices other people make to the "genius" of an author, which reminded me of Sofia Tolstoy's diary. Mann's Goethe bore similarities in temperament and "genius" to Sofia Tolstoy's images of her famous husband, which makes me glad that Lotte did not further engage herself with Goethe and end up in a position similar to that of Sofia. The novel also re-emphasized my dislike of the whiny, selfish Werther of Goethe's novel and how, whatever his immediate desires, Werther's want to be with Lotte could never have ended up well in the long run. So, Thomas Mann, I will happily revisit your novel later when I feel more up to the task of dealing with all that talking.