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Doctor Faustus

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4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  4,976 ratings  ·  221 reviews
Thomas Mann's last great novel, first published in 1947 and now rendered into English by acclaimed translator John E. Woods, is a modern reworking of the Faust legend, in which Germany sells its soul to the Devil. Mann's protagonist, the composer Adrian Leverkühn, is the flower of German culture, a brilliant, isolated, overreaching figure, his radical new music a breakneck ...more
Paperback, 535 pages
Published July 27th 1999 by Vintage Books (first published 1947)
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Community Reviews

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Kalliope
THE LAMENTATIONS OF THE HUMANIST NOVEL

Oratorio in Five Parts.

Composer: M.

Conductor’s Edition.

Dynamics and Mood: Melancholia.

Tonality: G** minor.

Venue: Church of St. Thomas, Leipzig.

Date: 23rd May 1943.

Duration: The Hour-Glass will determine its Time.

Première: Serenus Zeitblom as Conductor.

Singers: Tanya Orlanda (a dramatic soprano and a stupendous woman with a heroic voice).

Harald Kjoejelund (as Heldentenor, a quite rotund man with pince-nez and voice of brass. (p. 293)


OVERTURE

I, John Serenus
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Fionnuala
Reviewed in May 2014
Spring cleaning my gr shelves recently, I noticed the absence of a review of this book. Truth to tell I was well aware of its absence as the thought of reviewing Doctor Faustus had haunted me since I finished the book over two months ago. But spring cleaning is still a useful analogy. When the stronger rays of the sun hit our window panes at this time of the year, they reveal the layers of dust that have built up on the glass over the winter and which block our view of the ou
...more
Tony
Is it enough to say I loved it?

No, that won't do. Although, it seems silly to write a proper review. Oh, there are pages of notes stuck in the back: some pretension of understanding. But this is a book you could devote an entire academic life to. Or even be humbled in a group read with readers who know or can track down every clue.

(My thanks to all of you who enriched this read. And for letting me tag along. I don't know if all group reads are like this (I suspect not); but my sincere thanks to
...more
Hadrian
Tell me, what do you think about greatness? I find there is something uncomfortable about facing it eye to eye, it is a test of courage — can one really look it in the eye? You can't stand it, you give way. Let me tell you, I incline more and more to the admission that there is something very odd indeed about this music of yours.

[...]

I do not like to call it beautiful. The word 'beauty' has always been half offensive to me, it has such a silly face, and people feel wanton and corrupt when they s
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Sue
I have hesitated to write a review of this book because there is so much here and it is so difficult to know where to begin. Based on the Doctor Faustus story, it is the tale of one Adrian Leverkühn, born early in the 20th century, who trades his soul for the ability to compose brilliant music. Of course this is a limited pact, in his case for 24 years. His story is told by a childhood (and adult) friend Serenus Zeitblom, who also presents the changes in German culture during the years, ending w ...more
Lee
Got up before dawn this morning to finish the last two chapters with coffee, knew I wouldn't be able to read the final 17 pages last night -- didn't really want to put the book down over the past few days as it started to take off towards its finale thanks to way more dramatization than in, well, most of it. Like all Mann I've read it requires and it rewards patience. Like in The Magic Mountain, if you make it through the first 250–300 slow, dense pages, things take off at a pretty good upwards ...more
Rebecca
Apr 24, 2008 Rebecca rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone looking for an intellectually-engaging read
Recommended to Rebecca by: DK
Shelves: 1001, music, fiction
It is rare that it takes three months for me to finish a novel, but I have a few theories as to why this was (aside from the rigors of a teaching schedule/adjunct commute).
The novel operates on so many levels it is difficult to read more than a few chapters before you need to stop to digest. Keeping track of the numerous secondary characters is a painstaking, but worthwhile, endeavor. Mann forms his environment with this multitude, presenting a photograph of German bourgeois life in the early 20
...more
Elena
This is not a beach book. The literature on Thomas Mann's "Doktor Faustus" is huge, and I'm glad I didn't try to master it all. I tackled the novel (actually re-reading it after 40 years) with an untutored but relatively open mind. However, I needed a reading group to get through it, and here goodreads really came through for me with an international group of 14 close readers on the same schedule. They helped enormously.

Thomas Mann wrote his fiction in response to a heartbreaking reality: his b
...more
Stephen
I hardly ever give up on a novel. Somehow I always hear my late mother's voice telling me to "bite off more than you can chew and chew it." Well, Thomas Mann's "Doctor Faustus" was perhaps more than I could chew, but at least I kept chewing to the end. And I'm glad I did. As all Mann readers know, his books can be terribly slow and sometimes maddeningly ponderous, but I invariably reach the final page, having resisted the inclination to throw the book aside forever, feeling that my time has been ...more
Adam
Mar 15, 2008 Adam rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Lovers of Classical Music and German History
Mann is Teutonic Melville, and like Moby-Dick this book is filled with digressions and discussions alongside the unavoidable plunge toward madness and doom. These digressions interweave the narrative with images of Dante’s Inferno, Dürer woodcuts, puppet theater, fairy tales, German culture during the period through the World Wars, lengthy discussions of Classical music, and apocalyptic and prophetic literature. Written in the waning of the Second World War as the narrator tries to understand th ...more
Justin Evans
I read this when I was an undergrad; you remember, back when it was great fun to torture yourself by reading 500 page books you could barely understand? Loved it.

I flatter myself that I understood much more this time round: the way that the two levels of time interact (the narrator writes in the closing year of world war two, the story takes place in the twenties); the music theory and, much more importantly, modernist aesthetic theory; the reflections of those theories in the book (two charact
...more
Eric
It was only a matter of time before I re-read Mann's Dr. Faustus, one of the handful of novels that made me a lifelong reader of literary fiction. Besides, Alex Ross kept mentioning it in "The Rest Is Noise," which I took up about a month or so ago, an excellent book in its own right, tho hardly literary fiction, details of which to follow.

Mann writes the unwriteable, expresses the inexpressable and does the undoable. Not only does he manage to capture and communicate the notoriously difficult a
...more
Larou
Doktor Faustus is – besides Zauberberg and the Josef novels – one of Thomas Mann’s great novels (and yes I’m aware that most people would add Buddenbrooks to that list or even have it solely consist of that novel – for my part, however, I think it is very overrated and one of Mann’s lesser efforts) – and has a reputation of being inaccessible even by his standards. This reputation is not completely undeserved, it is a complex and difficult book and takes some effort to get into – on the other ha ...more
Frederick
I read the translation by H. T. Lowe-Porter. She worked with Thomas Mann. I think she captures his tone better than later translators. Then again, I don't know German, which was the in which Mann wrote. But, every so often I compare some of the translations. I still hear a particular voice when I read Lowe-Porter's phrases. From her translations I get a sense of Thomas Mann as a sort of diligent, puckish, sometimes aggressive writer. I read the edition published by Knopf, with the great photo of ...more
Marios
This book grew on me progressively.
When i finished it I was between 2 or 3 stars, I rated it 3, to end up in 4.

There were many reasons to like it: Beethoven's life was there, the shy man entering the brothel(to touch only the piano from nervousness) was a young Nietzsche, Leverkuhn and his music was based on a real person-A. Schoenberg-his music too revolutionary to be appreciated at the time also. Actually Schoenberg had it worse, I don't think any composer had ever been more depreciated and pu
...more
Ensiform
translated by H.T. Lowe-Porter

This 500-page tome is a dense, rich experience detailing the deterioration of Germany from a paragon of culture in the 19th century to a force-worshiping anathema by the ignominious end of WWII. The narrator, Serenus, is a staid, conservative Catholic bourgeois, who worships his subject, the composer Adrian. This latter is a Lutheran, possessed with musical genius and detached from the world after a sinful tryst. Adrian's genius and madness parallel Germany's genius
...more
Michael Austin
I turned to Doctor Faustus to remedy two major deficiencies in my intellectual development. First, I had never read anything by Thomas Mann. I have started "Death in Venice" a few times, but it just never stuck. Second, and perhaps more embarrassingly, I have never been able to understand any but the earliest of Schoenberg's compositions. I don't get twelve-tone music. It sounds like people tuning their instruments. Since I have always been patently incapable of understanding atonal music as mus ...more
Jeffrey
Feb 11, 2012 Jeffrey rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: my son the musician, any composer
Recommended to Jeffrey by: another reader on Good Reads
Someone on Good Reads noticed that I liked The Magic Mountain and suggested that I read Doctor Faustus, also by Thomas Mann. What a suggestion! This is one tough read from an author who was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1927, 20 years before he published Doctor Faustus!

I am in awe of the translator, H.T. Lowe-Porter. She calls Doctor Faustus "a cathedral of a book," and I must agree. What a project this must have been to translate. There are quotes in German, French and Latin. In plac
...more
Josh
Dry. Mann writes several engaging passages concerning his characters and plot which hold the reader's attention. They are very good. But most of this book is him expostulating about music theory, German religious history and other random subjects in the most complex language possible. The book seems almost hostile in how much it requires the reader to work to follow tangents that really do not make the story progress. It made me very mad. I actually punched the book. Maybe I'm over-emotional. Ma ...more
Palmyrah
Ploughing doggedly through the final chapters of Thomas Mann's masterpiece, I reflected more than once that it must share the quality Dr. Johnson ascribed to John Milton's, namely that 'none ever wished it longer than it is.'

Doctor Faustus is a challenging read, especially for an Anglophone reader in this day and age. The Germany whose psyche it so brilliantly anatomizes through its account of the life of the fictitious composer Adrian Leverkühn is long gone; it was writhing in its death-throes
...more
Cooper Renner
I didn't finish, but I need to move this off my main page. I made it not quite halfway before crying "Mann hath defeated me!" I love Magic Mountain and Buddenbrooks, but Dr F is too abstracted, too theoretical and abstracted for me. I forced myself to finish the likewise unsympathetic Lotte In Weimar, but I see no reason to suffer through this one.
Greg
This was my third attempt at reading Doctor Faustus, and my second attempt at a Mann novel, the first being Magic Mountain, which I was also unable to complete, though I got farther in that book than this one. I was excited about Doctor Faustus, being tangentially familiar with the theme of the story through musical representations of Faust, and since the story has a main character devoted to the arts. The intellectual scope of this work is indeed impressive, and my rating reflects the pop-up su ...more
Paul Haspel
Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus is a symphony of a novel by Germany's greatest modern writer, recounting the life story of the brilliant and troubled composer Adrian Leverkühn, as told by his lifelong friend Serenus Zeitblom. Just as the talented Leverkühn seems to revoke the ties of ordinary humanity in his obsessive quest for greatness, so Mann, who had won the Nobel Prize for Literature in the time of the Weimar Republic, must have long meditated on the danger that the ambitious artist might los ...more
Mike
Dry, thoroughly expository prose mars what is the sometimes brilliant bildungsroman of Adrian Leverkuhn, a character I admire and sometimes wish to identify with (I have the arrogance and aloofness down, not so much the renowned composer part). Much of the book is superb writing about art and music, some of it when it is dry is still intellectually engaging, but parts of it are a slog.

I remain conflicted on how much I like the idea of a person becoming an allegory for an entire nation. The nati
...more
Katie
May 02, 2009 Katie added it
So on my second reading of this godforsaken masterpiece, I started thinking about Faustus and Bolano's 2666 (a little bit about Infinite Jest, a little bit of Conrad, and a little bit about Macbeth)

It's funny how there can be so many ploys on the exact same idea.

I think Mann's book is better (my own very un-literary-criticism-like opinion) because:

I can remember the characters, what they look like, how they sound, etc. and I miss them once they are gone. Mann is more Shakespeare than anything-bu
...more
Gordon
I read this in a different translation (H.T. Lowe-Porter, 1949) and found it heavy going. After the first few chapters the word that came to mind was 'pedantic'. At that point I was already captivated by the character description and not sure if the bookish language was a peculiarity of German literature, Mann's personal style or a deliberate attempt to reflect the character of the narrator (a schoolteacher). Both the positive and not so positive impressions remained with me to the end and both ...more
Adam
This book was fantastic. It's one of those "geez, I'm going to have to read that again" kind of books. The depth of the characters was astounding; the heavy, religious imagery amazing; the musical knowledge and symbology excellent. It's super tragic, though, so maybe not beach reading (with Infinite Jest last year and 2666 this year being my "summer fun reading", that's saying something, I think)
Anyhow, this reframing of the Faust myth adds layer upon layer to the story, making each layer more c
...more
Mazel
L'un des plus grands romans de Thomas Mann, composé aux Etats-Unis de 1943 à 1947, et dont la trajectoire trouve un écho flamboyant et tragique dans l'histoire contemporaine, le triomphe et l'apocalypse de l'Allemagne hitlérienne.

Brassant les mythes, renouant avec le démoniaque, paraphant son véritable testament spirituel d'artiste, Mann nous livre la biographie imaginaire d'un artiste qui, comme Nietzsche, braverait la folie pour porter la souffrance d'une époque dans son orgueil de créateur et
...more
John
Aug 05, 2008 John rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Musicians, Christians
Shelves: european-lit
I had a love-hate relationship with this book but I ultimately had to put it down. I loved it when the author would stick to the narrative and hated it when he'd go off on philosophical tangents. I'm not much for philosophy in general, and, to make matters worse, it was christianity-based philosophy. Ugh.
John Pappas
What an edifice of a novel this is to scale! Mann's tale of a composer who sells his soul and relinquishes his humanity to become a musical genius bigger than Beethoven is an allegory for Germany's ambition during the first
part of the twentieth century. The allegory, at the same time profoundly revealing and reductive, hinges upon the embracing of the abstract for the sake of the abstract, where the score supersedes the performance and the audience is non-existent. Indicting culture as well as p
...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Thomas Mann was 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 novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intel
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