Like his more famous younger brother Thomas Mann, Heinrich Mann all his life accompanied his creative writing with the writing of essays. But unlike Thomas, Heinrich divided his interests roughly equally between literary-cultural essays and essays in which not only is a political viewpoint presented, but politics becomes the central theme. While Thomas remained firmly planted in the Germanic world, and found his materials primarily in the traditions of Weimar classicism (Goethe, Schiller), Romanticism, and the 19th century, Heinrich Mann’s interests were cosmopolitan, oriented toward Western Europe, and especially toward France as the greatest exponent of Enlightenment and the liberal, later also socialist tradition. It is essential to understand this background when considering much of his essay output.
A second, even more crucial precondition for understanding these writings is an acquaintance with German history. Mann was an astute observer of sociopolitical as well as cultural and intellectual developments, a fearless polemicist, and a tireless activist.
Over the span of his career, he moved from moderately conservative middle-class opinions to a strong commitment to democracy and various forms of socialism, even communism.
None of this is evident, however, in Mann’s earliest essays, written between 1897 and 1904, though the pieces concerned with literature already show a preference for French writers. The 33 articles Mann wrote for the journal Das zwanzigste Jahrhundert (The 20th century) are surprisingly conservative and anti-Semitic, voiced in language closer to later Nazi polemics than to socialist humanism.
It is in the period between 1904 and the outbreak of World War I that a profound change in perspective in Mann’s writing can be observed. Mann’s transition to a strongly republican viewpoint is inspired partly, beginning in 1905, by his reading of Rousseau.
In Eine Freundschaft: Gustave Flaubert und George Sand (1905; A friendship: Gustave Flaubert and George Sand) Mann begins his critique of bourgeois society, and initiates his series of positive examples of socially and morally engaged writers. “Franzosischer Geist” (1910; The spirit of France; later called “Goethe-Voltaire”) draws a contrast between an Enlightenment France and a regressive Germany, a distinction that will become a constant in his essays. In “Geist und Tat” (1911; Spirit and action), a first high point in his essay oeuvre, Mann compares the dynamism, engagement, and moral standpoint of French literature represented by Voltaire, Rousseau, and Zola with the unpolitical, powerless, regressive literature of Germany exemplified by Nietzsche, Goethe, Hofmannsthal, Rilke, and George. The essay had an immediate impact on the expressionists, at the time the most important group of progressive young writers, who read “Geist und Tat” as a call to arms against the prevalent ivory-tower mentality and politically compromised position of most writers. Mann became the most influential voice for a socially and politically engaged literature.
The outbreak of World War I confirmed what Mann had been warning against; the enthusiasm with which many people greeted the war in fact led to his most polemical writings about German culture in general, and the role of its writers in particular. It inspired Mann to write yet another defense of French over German values, “Zola” (1915), considered by many critics to be the most powerful of his essays. Using the earlier French period as a foil for present-day German conditions, Mann also indirectly attacks the exploitative attitudes of capitalists and industrialists which have led to the war. The essay caused a temporary rupture between the brothers Mann, since Thomas, who had written in defense of the war, felt personally attacked. Ultimately more important in this quarrel was the debate about the definition of the role of the modern writer; Thomas’ denigrating term “Zivilisationsliterat” (cultural journalist) applied to his brother was soon worn as a badge of honor by Heinrich.
The ambivalent end of the war and the revolution of 1918 by necessity dictated that Heinrich would continue writing about political events. In a series of essays, collected in 1919 as Macht und Mensch (Power and the individual), Mann came out in defense of the fledgling Weimar Republic, in favor of socialism, and against what could soon be seen as restorative forces. Essays such as “Kaiserreich und Republik” (1919; Empire and republic) provide an analysis of the vanished empire in the light of idealist-utopian goals incorporated in the new constitution. Mann pleads for an end to class distinctions and capitalism, unfortunately making clear that he does not understand the complexities of the political situation; when it finally dawns on him that the restoration has already begun, his skepticism and despair become tangible in his essays. Thus, in the collection Diktatur der Vernunft (1923; The dictatorship of reason), Mann refers to the radicalism of both left and right (“Tragische Jugend” [1922; Tragic youth]), and rehearses the glaring contradictions of capitalism, the loss of freedom of the individual, and the fatal loss of faith in the possibility of democracy. Mann floats the idea of a “front of the people” against the forces of capitalism, and in an open letter to President Stresemann pleads for a “dictatorship of reason.” Increasingly skeptical about conditions within Germany, he begins, partly inspired by his friendship with Felix Bertaux, to see in the cooperation between France and Germany the core of a new United States of Europe, the last possibility for peace and progress.
This period is characterized by a great variety in types of essayistic writings, from articles on major French authors such as Hugo, France, and Stendhal in the collection Geist und Tat: Franzosen 1780–1930 (1931; Spirit and action: Frenchmen 1780–1930) to a large number of pieces for the newspaper La Depeche de Toulouse (The Toulouse daily). Other political as well as cultural essays of this period were collected in Sieben Jahre (1929; Seven years), Die geistige Lage (1932; The intellectual situation), and Das öffentliche Leben (1932; Public life). In this period Mann became increasingly interested in popular culture as a counterweight to the elitist tendencies he observed around him.
Such considerations were of course overshadowed shortly by the growing power of National Socialism, which in 1933 led to his exile, first in France, then in the United States. Essays concerned with the struggles against fascism, written between 1932. and 1940, such as “Rüstung” (1932; Armament), “Die deutsche Entscheidung” (1932; The German decision), and “Hitler ist nicht Deutschland” (1932; Hitler is not Germany), appeared mostly in exile journals, but especially in Klaus Mann’s Die Sammlung (The collection), published in Amsterdam. Perhaps the most important collection from this period, Der Hass (1933; Hatred), sets out to show how the cultivation of hatred as perpetrated by the Nazis must inevitably lead to the demise of civilization. Mann does not merely write polemical attacks on his enemies, however, but looks already beyond this phase in German history, and toward spiritual renewal.
Like many others, Mann was preoccupied by the question of guilt after World War II, writing about it in essays such as “Deutsche Schuld und Unschuld” (1943; German guilt or innocence), “Über Schuld und Erziehung” (1944; About guilt and education), and “Über den Widerstand” (1945; About the Resistance). “Lehren der deutsche Geschichte” (1949; Lessons of German history) and “Verfassung und reale Demokratie” (1947; Constitution and true democracy) reveal Mann’s concern about the future of Germany. He was still involved with these questions when he debated a possible return to Germany: he was inclined to make East Germany his home, but his death on 12 March 1950 made a decision irrelevant.
Mann brought to the essay form some interesting personal elements. In his early essays, novelistic techniques are employed to enliven and dramatize the content; a typical example is the “Zola” essay. On other occasions his tone is factual, understated, even cool. The intellectual can always be felt, especially where an analysis of social or political dimensions is involved. On the other hand, he is never without passion where his convictions are concerned, and he often employs various forms of satire, from gentle to biting—as he does in his novels and novellas—to make his point. In collections such as Der Hass he excels at the quickly drawn portrait (in this case of prominent Nazis), whereas a distinctive rhetorical tone becomes audible in those essays which present arguments closest to his heart: those defending the ideals of the Enlightenment against all forms of obscurantism. Mann’s range of writing is wide, the style always lively. The greatest impediment to its becoming more widely known is most likely its constant recourse to contemporary events and personalities not necessarily familiar to contemporary English-speaking readers.
Luiz Heinrich Mann. Brother of the writer Thomas Mann. Born 27 March 1871 in Liibeck. Studied at a private preparatory school, Liibeck, until 1889; worked for a bookseller in Dresden, 1889–91, and a publisher in Berlin, 1891–92. Contracted tuberculosis and stayed in a sanatorium in Switzerland. Moved to Munich, 1894. Editor, Das zwanzigste Jahrhundert, 1894. Lived in France and Italy, 1895–96. Married Marie (Mimi) Kanová, 1914 (divorced, 1930): one daughter. Lecturer and journalist during the 1920s. Chair, Volksverband fiir Filmkunst, Berlin, 1928; president of literary section, Prussian Academy of the Arts, 1931–33 (dismissed). Fled to France to escape the Nazi regime, 1933, and deprived of German citizenship; became a Czech citizen, 1936.
Married Nelly Kroeger, 1939 (committed suicide, 1944). Moved to the United States, living in Los Angeles, 1940–49; writer, Warner Brothers film studios, Hollywood, 1940– 41. Appointed president of the Academy of Arts, German Democratic Republic, Berlin, 1949.
Awards: German Democratic Republic National Prize, 1949. Died (of a heart attack) in Santa Monica, 12 March 1950.
Essays and Related Prose
Eine Freundschaft: Gustave Flaubert und George Sand, 1905
Macht und Mensch, 1919
Diktatur der Vernunft: Reden und Aufsdtze, 1923
Sieben Jahre: Chronik der Gedanken und Vorgdnge, 1929
Geist und Tat: Franzosen, 1780–1930, 1931
Die geistige Lage, 1932
Das offentliche Leben, 1932.
Das Bekenntnis zum Ubernationalen, 1933
Der Hass: Deutsche Zeitgeschichte, 1933
Der Sinn dieser Emigration, 1934
Ein Zeitalter wird besichtigt, 1945
Politische Essays, edited by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, 1968
Verteidigung der Kultur: Antifaschistische Streitschriften und Essays, 1971
Other writings: many novels (including Professor Unrat [The Blue Angel], 1905; Der Untertan [The Patrioteer], 1918), plays, and correspondence.
Collected works editions: Gesammelte Werke, edited by Alfred Kantorowicz and Sigrid Anger, 18 vols., 1965–88 (in progress); Gesammelte Werke, 4 vols., 1969–71.
Birr, Ewald, Heinrich Mann, Berlin: Stadtbibliothek, 1971
Zenker, Edith, Heinrich-Mann-Bibliographie: Werke, Berlin and Weimar: Aufbau, 1967
Banuls, Andrè, Heinrich Mann: Le Poète et la politique, Paris: Klincksieck, 1966
Bornebusch, Herbert, “Schreiben fiir die Republik: Zu Heinrich Manns Essay ‘Kaiserreich und Republik’,” Neophilologus 65 (1981)
Ebersbach, Volker, Heinrich Mann: Leben, Werk, Wirken, Frankfurt-on-Main: Roderberg, 1978
Exner, Richard, “Die Essayistik Heinrich Manns: Autor und Thematik,” Symposium 13, no. 2 (1959)
Gockel, Heinz, “Heinrich Mann: Das Engagement des Essayisten,” in Heinrich Mann: Sein Werk in der Weimarer Republik, edited by Helmut Koopmann and Peter-Paul Schneider, Frankfurt-onMain: Klostermann, 1983
Haupt, Jürgen, “Zur Wirkungsgeschichte des Zivilisationsliteraten: Heinrich Mann und der Expressionismus,” Neue deutsche Hefte 24 (1977)
Kammnitzer, Heinz, “Essays im Exil,” Neue deutsche Literatur 8, no. 3 (1960)
Kantorowicz, Alfred, “‘Zola’-Essay—‘Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen’: Die paradigmatische Auseinandersetzung zwischen Heinrich und Thomas Mann,” Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht n, no. 5 (1960)
Morchen, Helmut, Schriftsteller in der Massengesellschaft: Zur politiscben Essayistik und Publizistik Heinrich und Thomas Manns, Kurt Tucholskys und Ernst Jiingers wdhrend der zwanziger Jahre, Stuttgart: Metzler, 1973
Müller, Joachim, “Die kulturpolitische Position des Essayisten Heinrich Mann,” Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der FriedrichSchiller-Universitdt Jena: Gesellschaftsund sprachwissenschaftliche Reihe 23 (1974)
Roberts, Davis, “Heinrich Mann and the Essay,” Jahrbuch fur internationale Germanistik 8 (1976)
Vanhelleputte, Michel, “L’Essai de Heinrich Mann sur Zola,” Revue des Langues Vivantes 29 (1963)
Wittig, Roland, Die Versuchung der Macht: Essayistik und Publizistik Heinrich Manns im franzosischen Exil, Frankfurt-onMain: Lang, 1976
Wolff, Rudolf, editor, Heinrich Mann: Werk und Wirkung, Bonn: Bouvier, 1984
Wolff, Rudolf, editor, Heinrich Mann: Das essayistische Werk, Bonn: Bouvier, 1986
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