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Literature / Confessions of Felix Krull

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Confessions of Felix Krull or Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man (original title: Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull) is an unfinished picaresque novel by German Nobel-Prize laureate Thomas Mann first published in 1954. It is the beginning of the memoirs of the eponymous conman from his childhood in the Rheingau to his first forays to Paris and Lisbon during the Fin de siècle before World War I. On the way he has many amorous and other adventures and reveals more than a little of his charming and self-indulgent personality. In style, the novel is also a parody of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's autobiography Dichtung und Wahrheit ("Poetry and Truth") and the traditional Bildungsroman.

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Mann first started writing the novel during the years from 1910 to 1913. Initially a short story titled "Felix Krull - Confidence Man" appeared as a short story in 1911. The project was then put on ice until Mann revived it in 1950, completing the first part in 1954, a year before his death.

Confessions of Felix Krull was adapted into movies twice in West Germany. The first one, directed by Kurt Hoffmann and with a screenplay co-written by Thomas Mann's daughter Erika, starred Horst Buchholz as Felix. The second version was a five-part television mini-series (1981-1982) which was also condensed into a 125-minute movie; it starred John Moulder-Brown.


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Tropes

  • All First Person Narrators Write Like Novelists: An extreme case, as the narcissistic Felix Krull is also very much in love with his own writing (in the very first sentence of the book he notes that he is penning his memoirs "in clean and pleasant handwriting") and often takes pain to speak as if he was writing. For instance when recording his first conversation with Professor Kuckuck he says that he chose a certain word out of pure excitement and because he wished to discuss the subject formally and in "book German".
  • Casual Kink: Madame Houpflé is into young, preferably teenaged men, and the idea of being humiliated by Felix Krull, a mere domestic worker and thief, turns her on immensly.
  • Chick Magnet: Felix, of course.
  • Con Man: As the title gives away.
  • Draft Dodging: Felix knows that the army doctors are very generous in declaring even sick people fit for service; so he fakes being a sick but enthusiastic guy, who plays down his obvious-but-fake maladies. It works.
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  • The Edwardian Era: Or rather its continental European equivalents, the Belle Époque and the Fin de siècle, as the story is set in Wilhelminian Germany, Paris, and Lisbon.
  • First-Person Perspective: As the title indicates, the novel is narrated by Felix Krull himself as the first part of his autobiography.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Felix Krull is fluent in French and his "Confessions" contain several short and long passages of untranslated French dialogue. He also shows off his English and Italian, but to a rather lesser extent.
  • Greek Mythology: In the course of the novel Madame Houpflé likens Felix to Hermes, the Greek god of thieves. He also has a lot in common with Narcissus.
  • Inspired by...: The memoirs of the Romanian con artist and hotel thief Georges Manolescu (1871-1908).
  • Meaningful Name: Paleontologist and botanist Professor Kuckuck ("cuckoo").
  • Meaningful Rename: When Felix Krull becomes a liftboy at the Saint James and Albany Hotel in Paris, the director tells him that henceforth he will answer to "Armand", basically to show him who's boss and because he considers the name Felix too intimate and pretentious.
  • The Mentor: What Professor Kuckuck wants to be to the young Marquis de Venosta (Felix Krull in disguise).
  • Mrs. Robinson: Madame Houpflé alias Diane Philibert is a classic case. At twenty years of age Felix is a bit old for her tastes. She also theorizes that her proclivity for young men may in part be rooted in her wanting to compensate for not having children of her own and that her teenaged lovers want to return to the body of their mother.
  • Prophetic Name: "Felix" means "happy" or "lucky".
  • Prussians in Pickelhauben: In the fifth chapter of the second book Felix Krull is called up for national service in the army; in a hilarious scene he fools the examining military doctors into believing that he is prone to epileptic fits.
  • Purple Prose: As a narrator and in conversation Felix Krull can indulge in this. For instance when he explains the hard times his family went through to the draft board he says things like "With a harsh knuckle ruin rapped on our door", acting out the knocking for emphasis.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: It's a novel by Thomas Mann, after all! The first sentence of Felix Krull consists of 72 words in the original German. However, when you listen to the recordings of Thomas Mann's public readings of two excerpts — the muster scene and the conversation with Professor Kuckuck in the train to Lisbon — everything is surprisingly easy to understand.
  • Suicide Is Shameful: Very much the prevailing attitude at the time, which is why the suicide of Felix' father is disguised as a gun-handling accident by the family. At the muster scene, when he pretends to be over-excited Felix Krull goes on and on that "the shooting-thing went off by itself" and that he can provide documentary proof and witnesses that his father had a church funeral.
  • The Trickster: Felix comes close to the archetype.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Apparently this is the case with Monsieur and Madame Houpflé, although we only have her word for it (her husband is never seen). It does not help that she is an aesthetically pretentious writer of novels and he is a manufacturer of toilet bowls.

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