Six Early Stories (Sun & Moon Classics)

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9781557132987: Six Early Stories (Sun & Moon Classics)

When they think of the stories of the great German writer Thomas Mann, most American readers will recall Stories of Three Decades, translated in 1936; however, that edition purposely excluded several early tales of Mann which the translator found "tentative and awkward efforts." As noted translator and editor of this volume Burton Pike notes, however, "Times and interests change; in 1936 Thomas Mann, in exile from Nazi Germany, was celebrated as a leading spokesman for the threatened humanistic values of Western Civilization." His early development seemed unimportant within that context, but such a judgment now seems arbitrary and wrong.

Indeed the six stories of this volume are all quite wonderful examples of this genre, and even more revelatory with regard to Mann's themes and styles. Experimenting with a complex, multi-layered narrative, Mann explored new approaches to the psychologies of his characters with a "strong, fresh voice of a major talent."

"These early stories, ably translated by Peter Constantine and edited by Burton Pike, are well worth reading. They are also a welcome addition to the body of Mann's work in English. But they are something more. They remind us of what has been lost in the dissolution and passing of modernism. The boldness, daring and risk-taking in both formal, technical matters and in explicit, thematic explorations remain as admirable today as they were a century ago."-Steven Marcus, New York Times Book Review

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Review:

In 1936, Alfred A. Knopf published a collection of Thomas Mann stories in a volume called Stories of Three Decades. Though Mann himself stated that the book contained all of his short stories, in fact, six were left out. Sixty years later, those six stories get a book of their own: Six Early Stories. These are the work of Mann's youth, written between the ages of 18 and 33. Though none of the stories matches the mastery he exhibited in his later short fiction, all the signs are here of the writer he would one day become.

The preoccupations are here as well; each story in the collection involves sexuality, the position of women in society, morality, and art. Six Early Stories will certainly be of interest to Thomas Mann enthusiasts, but even for those who have never read anything else by him, this collection is worth reading. Even in his juvenilia, Mann's work demonstrates the skill, intelligence, and courage of a bygone literary age.

From Booklist:

The six stories in this collection were left out of the earlier Stories of Three Decades, published in 1936, for reasons that, as the introduction here ably notes, will no longer seem sufficient. Given the enormous talent Mann became, the value of these pieces seems obvious, as they reveal the efforts of a young artist working through the contradictions of bourgeois society and art on his way toward modernism. "Fallen" offers an ironic portrayal of bourgeois romance, of a young man caught up in the idea of loving a young actress in such purified form that "of her mouth he did not even dare think," though he is permanently embittered upon discovering the unromantic realities in which his loved one lives. "The Will to Happiness," on the other hand, offers a complex inquiry into the figure of the artist and Mann's view of the artist's compromised relation to society, an important subject in his later works. Students of Mann's work will also appreciate the one-paragraph introductions to each story. Jim O'Laughlin

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