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Authors: Thomas Mann

Doctor Faustus

BOOK: Doctor Faustus




Doctor Faustus

The Life of the German composer Adrian Leverkuhn told by a friend


Thomas Mann









Translated from the German by 
H. T. Lowe-Porter

Original edition 1947

Translation 1948



Copyright 1948 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a magazine or newspaper. Manufactured in the United States of America. Copyright in Canada by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Originally published in German by Bermann-Fischer Verlag A. B., Stockholm. Copyright 1947 by Thomas Mann. 

Lo giorno se n’andava, e l’aere bruno toglieva li animai che sono in terra da le fatiche loro; e io sol uno m’apparecchiava a sostener la guerra 5sì del cammino e sì de la pietate, che ritrarrà la mente che non erra. O muse, o alto ingegno, or m’aiutate; o mente che scrivesti ciò ch’io vidi, qui si parrà la tua nobilitate.

, Canto II


Les traductions sont comme les femmes: lorsqu’elles sont belles, elles ne sont pas fideles, et lorsqu’elles sont fideles, elles ne sont pas belles.

From a more familiar source we are instructed that “to have honesty coupled to beauty is to have honey a sauce to sugar.” And on the highest authority of all we know that the price of a virtuous woman, with no mention of other charm, is above rubies. All things considered, what remains to hope is only that the English version of
Doctor Faustus
here presented may at least not conjure up the picture of a femme ni belle ni fidele.

It is to be feared. The author himself has feared it. I venture to quote on this point, lifting it from its context in the Epilogue, some words of the narrator, who here surely speaks for the author himself: “In actual fact I have sometimes pondered ways and means of sending these pages to America, in order that they might first be laid before the public in an English translation… True, there comes the thought of the essentially foreign impression my book must make in that cultural climate; and coupled with it the dismaying prospect that its translation into English must turn out, at least in some all too radically German parts, to be an impossibility,”

Grievous difficulties do indeed confront anyone essaying the role of copyist to this vast canvas, this cathedral of a book, this woven tapestry of symbolism. Translations deal with words; and in two fields at least the situation is unsatisfactory (I do not include in the list the extended musical discussion and critique, since music, and talk about it, uses an exact and international language). But dialect cannot be translated, it can only be got round by a sort of trickery which is usually unconvincing. Again, there are chapters resorting to an archaic style and spelling. The English-speaking world boasts no Luther in the history of its language; and the vocabulary of Wycliffe, Tindale, Thomas More can scarcely evoke for us the emotions of the literate German in so far as these are summoned up by the very words themselves which Luther used. On the other hand this archaic style is employed only in a few chapters, as a device to suggest an element that is indicated by other means as well. And the final difficulty is hardly a linguistic one, but rather a matter of the “cultural climate” of which the author speaks: that knotted and combined association, symbolism, biography, and autobiography which might make even German readers be glad of a key to unlock its uttermost treasure.

So, after all, these difficulties are seen to be a matter of degree. Against them, far outweighing them, is the fact that this
monstrum aller Romane
is addressed not only to Germans, not only to Europeans, but equally to ourselves. All that our world has lived through in this past quarter-century has forced us to enter this climate and to recognize that these are our proper stresses. Readers of
will and must be involved, with shudders, in all three strands of the book: the German scene from within and its broader, its universal origins; the depiction of an art not German alone but vital to our whole civilization; music as one instance of the arts and the state in which the arts find themselves today; and, finally, the invocation of the daemonic. It is necessary for us to read Faustus, even in a version which cannot lay claim to being beautiful, though in every intent it is deeply faithful.

The translator wishes to express warm and heartfelt thanks to the scholars who have been so helpful in certain chapters: especially to Dr. Mosco Garner, conductor and musicologist, adviser to the Musical Staff of the B.B.C.; and Mr. Graham Orton, of the University of Durham, England, who has been indefatigably resourceful and suggestive in the mediaeval portions. Other scholars in various fields, notably Professor R. D. Welch, head of the Music Department of Princeton University, and Mrs. Welch, have helped the translator with comments and suggestions in ways too numerous to specify in detail. That they have done so is a tribute to the author of



wish to state quite definitely that it is by no means out of any wish to bring my own personality into the foreground that I preface with a few words about myself and my own affairs this report on the life of the departed Adrian Leverkühn. What I here set down is the first and assuredly very premature biography of that beloved fellow-creature and musician of genius, so afflicted by fate, lifted up so high, only to be so frightfully cast down. I intrude myself, of course, only in order that the reader—I might better say the future reader, for at this moment there exists not the smallest prospect that my manuscript will ever see the light unless, by some miracle, it were to leave our beleaguered European fortress and bring to those without some breath of the secrets of our prison-house—to resume: only because I consider that future readers will wish to know who and what the author is do I preface these disclosures with a few notes about myself. Indeed, my mind misgives me that I shall only be awakening the reader’s doubt whether he is in the right hands: whether, I mean, my whole existence does not disqualify me for a task dictated by my heart rather than by any true competence for the work.

I read over the above lines and cannot help remarking in myself a certain discomfort, a physical oppression only too indicative of the state of mind in which I sit down today in my little study, mine these many years, at Freising on the Isar, on the 27th of May 1943, three years after Leverkühn’s death (three years, that is, after he passed from deep night into the deepest night of all), to make a beginning at describing the life of my unhappy friend now resting—oh, may it be so!—now resting in God. My words, I say, betray a state of mind in anguished conflict between a palpitating impulse to communicate and a profound distrust of my own adequacy. I am by nature wholly moderate, of a temper, I may say, both healthy and humane, addressed to reason and harmony; a scholar and
of the “Latin host,” not lacking all contact with the arts (I play the viola d’amore) but a son of the Muses in that academic sense which by preference regards itself as descended from the German humanists of the time of the “Poets.”

Heir of a Reuchlin, a Crotus of Dornheim, of Mutianus and Eoban of Hesse, the daemonic, little as I presume to deny its influence upon human life, I have at all times found utterly foreign to my nature. Instinctively I have rejected it from my picture of the cosmos and never felt the slightest inclination rashly to open the door to the powers of darkness: arrogantly to challenge, or if they of themselves ventured from their side, even to hold out my little finger to them. To this attitude I have made my sacrifices, not only ideally but also to my practical disadvantage: I unhesitatingly resigned my beloved teaching profession, and that before the time when it became evident that it could not be reconciled with the spirit and claims of our historical development. In this respect I am content with myself. But my self-satisfaction or, if you prefer, my ethical narrow-mindedness can only strengthen my doubt whether I may feel myself truly called to my present task.

Indeed, I had scarcely set my pen in motion when there escaped it a word which privately gave me a certain embarrassment. I mean the word “genius”: I spoke of the musical genius of my departed friend. Now this word “genius,” although extreme in degree, certainly in kind has a noble, harmonious, and humane ring. The likes of me, however far from claiming for my own person a place in this lofty realm, or ever pretending to have been blest with the
divinis influxibus ex alto
, can see no reasonable ground for shrinking, no reason for not dealing with it in clear-eyed confidence. So it seems. And yet it cannot be denied (and has never been) that the daemonic and irrational have a disquieting share in this radiant sphere. We shudder as we realize that a connection subsists between it and the nether world, and that the reassuring
which I sought to apply: “sane, noble, harmonious, humane,” do not for that reason quite fit, even when—I force myself, however painfully, to make this distinction—even when they are applied to a pure and genuine, God-given, or shall I say God-inflicted genius, and not to an acquired kind, the sinful and morbid corruption of natural gifts, the issue of a horrible bargain…

Here I break off, chagrined by a sense of my artistic shortcomings and lack of self-control. Adrian himself could hardly—let us say in a symphony—have let such a theme appear so prematurely. At the most he would have allowed it to suggest itself afar off, in some subtly disguised, almost imperceptible way. Yet to the reader the words which escaped me may seem but a dark, distrustable suggestion, and to me alone like a rushing in where angels fear to tread. For a man like me it is very hard, it affects him almost like wanton folly, to assume the attitude of a creative artist to a subject which is dear to him as life and burns him to express; I know not how to treat it with the artist’s easy mastery. Hence my too hasty entry into the distinction between pure and impure genius, a distinction the existence of which I recognize, only to ask myself at once whether it has a right to exist at all. Experience has forced me to ponder this problem so anxiously, so urgently, that at times, frightful to say, it has seemed to me that I should be driven beyond my proper and becoming level of thought, and myself experience an “impure” heightening of my natural gifts.

Again I break off, in the realization that I came to speak of genius, and the fact that it is in any case daemonically influenced, only to air my doubt whether I possess the necessary affinity for my task. Against my conscientious scruples may the truth avail, which I always have to bring into the field against them, that it was vouchsafed me to spend many years of my life in close familiarity with a man of genius, the hero of these pages; to have known him since childhood, to have witnessed his growth and his destiny and shared in the modest role of adjuvant to his creative activity. The libretto from Shakespeare’s comedy
Love’s Labour’s Lost
, Leverkühn’s exuberant youthful composition, was my work; I also had something to do with the preparation of the texts for the grotesque opera suite
Gesta Romanorum
and the oratorio
The Revelation of St. John the Divine
. And perhaps there was this, that, and the other besides. But also I am in possession of papers, priceless sketches, which in days when he was still in health, or if that is saying too much, then in comparatively and legally sound ones, the deceased made over to me, to me and to no other; on these I mean to base my account, yes, I intend to select and include some of them direct. But first and last—and this justification was always the most valid, if not before men, then before God—I loved him, with tenderness and terror, with compassion and devoted admiration, and but little questioned whether he in the least returned my feeling.

That he never did—ah, no! In the note assigning his sketches and journals there is expressed a friendly, objective, I might almost say a gracious confidence, certainly honourable to me, a belief in my conscientiousness, loyalty, and scrupulous care. But love? Whom had this man loved? Once a woman, perhaps. A child, at the last, it may be. A charming trifler and winner of hearts, whom then, probably just because he inclined to him, he sent away—to his death. To whom had he opened his heart, whomever had he admitted into his life? With Adrian that did not happen. Human devotion he accepted, I would swear often unconsciously. His indifference was so great that he was hardly ever aware what went on about him, what company he was in. The fact that he very seldom addressed by name the person he spoke with makes me conjecture that he did not know the name, though the man had every reason to suppose he did. I might compare his absentness to an abyss, into which one’s feeling towards him dropped soundless and without a trace. All about him was coldness—and how do I feel, using this word, which he himself, in an uncanny connection, once also set down? Life and experience can give to single syllables an accent utterly divorcing them from their common meaning and lending them an aura of horror, which nobody understands who has not learned them in that awful context.

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