Literature: Doctor Faustus
This 1947 Thomas Mann novel's full title is Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn, Told by a Friend (original: Doktor Faustus. Das Leben des deutschen Tonsetzers Adrian Leverkühn, erzählt von einem Freunde). The book is a repurposing of the Faust legend, combined with a pitiless analysis of early 20th-century German society.Seen from the viewpoint of narrator Serenus Zeitblom, the novel follows his childhood friend Adrian Leverkühn from eccentric child, to passionate, unworldly student, to sinistrally gifted composer. As a young man, Leverkühn made a fateful (though ambiguous) decision that conferred upon him musical genius, but also seemed to make him a destructive, damning force in the lives of anyone he loved from that point onward. All this takes place against the backdrop of a German culture that would end up making its own devil's deal, and rapidly meet its own fatal reckoning.
Doctor Faustus contains examples of:
- Accidental Public Confession: At his last social appearance, Leverkühn's mind begins to snap and he begins a rambling, allusive public confession of his sins, just before he collapses.
- A Chat with Satan: This quasi-dream sequence takes up a good chunk of the middle pages.
- All First Person Narrators Write Like Novelists: Zeitblom's voice is hard to separate from Mann's own usual style.
- Antiquated Linguistics: One of Adrian's old professors favors an archaic form of German full of dialectal quirks, gnarled turns of phrase, and zesty, full-blooded epithets. Leverkühn and Zeitblom later jokingly adopt this manner of speech between themselves, and the Devil often affects it while speaking to Leverkühn.
- Deal with the Devil
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: From title to dialogue, the novel is full of riffs on the Faust legend and all its various adaptations.
- First-Person Peripheral Narrator: For long stretches at a time, Zeitblom disappears as an active participant in events.
- Homoerotic Subtext: The degree and nature of Rudi Schwerdtfeger's obsession with Adrian raises eyebrows among nearly every character.
- Insufferable Genius: Leverkühn, even before his deal.
- Just Before the End: The narration takes place from a besieged Nazi Germany, on the verge of being overrun by the Allies.
- Lack of Empathy: Maintained almost unshakably until the end is near, and it's all far too late.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: This mystery is at the novel's heart. Maybe Leverkühn really did sell his soul to the Devil for 24 years of musical genius. Or maybe he caught a case of syphilis that drove him mad and killed him, but also unlocked unexpected centers of creativity in his brain. You can believe whichever suits you.
- The Muse: The gypsy prostitute whom Leverkühn sleeps with haunts his art in more than one sense: he includes her name in several cryptic music-notational puns.
- Reality Retcon: Leverkühn is not an Expy of any actual person, but the innovations of several real-life composers are attributed to him. For example, in the novel's universe it's Leverkühn, rather than Schoenberg, who pioneers the twelve-tone musical scale.
- Take That: Mann was determined that German readers not miss the parallels to their country's own Faustian bargain with the Nazi party—gaining power and pride for itself in exchange for a price to be worried about later, if at all.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: The angelic child Nepomuk.