THOMAS MANN, German writer, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1955); a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and mid-length stories, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and 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.
Mann’s diaries, unsealed in 1975, tell of his struggles with his sexuality, which found reflection in his works, most prominently through the obsession of the elderly Aschenbach for the 14-year-old Polish boy Tadzio in the novella Death in Venice (Der Tod in Venedig, 1912).
Anthony Heilbut’s biography Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1997) was widely acclaimed for uncovering the centrality of Mann’s sexuality to his oeuvre. Gilbert Adair’s work The Real Tadzio describes how, in the summer of 1911, Mann had been staying at the Grand Hôtel des Bains in Venice with his wife and brother when he became enraptured by the angelic figure of Władysław Moes, an 11-year-old Polish boy. Considered a classic of homoerotic passion (if unconsummated) Death in Venice has been made into a film and an opera. Blamed sarcastically by Mann’s old enemy, Alfred Kerr, to have ‘made pederasty acceptable to the cultivated middle classes’, it has been pivotal to introducing the discourse of same-sex desire to the common culture.
Mann himself described his feelings for young violinist and painter Paul Ehrenberg as the “central experience of my heart.” Despite the homoerotic overtones in his writing, Mann chose to marry and have children; two of his children, Klaus, also a writer, who committed suicide in 1949, and Erika, an actress and writer who died in 1969 and who was married to W.H. Auden for 34 years, were also Gay. His works also present other sexual themes, such as incest in The Blood of the Walsungs (Wälsungenblut) and The Holy Sinner (Der Erwählte).