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Doctor Faustus

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  9,796 ratings  ·  539 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 (first published 1947)
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Johan Thilander The only connection is that it is about a composer, but other than that - no.

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"Ode to Despair"

Figuratively or musically speaking, Thomas Mann lets time and culture move backwards, from the emotional bliss and security of Beethoven's 9th symphony expressing hope for humanity, to his 5th symphony symbolising fate knocking at the door, in one German novel of gigantic weight and proportions.

Starting with the 19th century's belief in progress and development, the plot moves us through the delusional madness of the first and second world wars, showing the genius of German cult
Spring cleaning my goodreads shelves recently, I noticed the absence of a review for this book.
Truth to tell, I was aware of its absence — the thought of reviewing Doctor Faustus has haunted me since I finished the book 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 outside world. Serenus

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)


I, John Seren
Vit Babenco
Oct 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“…a night, where it doesn’t get dark for the lightnings.”
This was the entire troubled life of the great groundbreaking composer Adrian Leverkühn…
This is the world of man:
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
Lee Klein
Jul 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"No, to the very end, this dark tone poem permits no consolation, reconciliation, transfiguration. But what if the artistic paradox, which says that expression, the expression of lament, is born out of the construct as a whole, corresponds to the religious paradox, which says that out of the profoundest irredeemable despair, if only as the softest of questions, hope may germinate? This would be hope beyond hopelessness, the transcendence of despair - not its betrayal, but the miracle that goes b ...more
Jan 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Katia N
Jun 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Now we will throw these mediocre kitchmongers into a slavery, and teach them to venerate the German spirit and to worship the German God.”

This was uttered in 1914 at the beginning of the the first World War. By the “kitchmongers” he means the French and their culture. Would you guess who said it? It was not Mann, though he was not far behind in the sentiment at that time. These words belong to Arnold Schoenberg, the avant-garde composer, music genius for some and the scandalous upstart for ano
Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, in2dawoods

This is my third read of this novel, though my first with this translation. It is a little like that scene in teen movies where the (already beautiful) "awkward girl" descends the stairs post make-over, allowing one to see with glaring clarity the gorgeousness that was always already there.

So, because it amuses me, and in an effort to overdo an already rather rubbish analogy, on the left, ladies and gents, we have H. T. Lowe-Porter's version of the novel, on the right that of Mr Woods. Although
Aug 31, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Chris Chapman
It has been a long time since I thought so much about a book, jotted down so many notes as I was reading. Oh the joy of a book that challenges, provokes... Having said that, it does nothing to charm and seduce. The narrator is not easy to love, being, as he admits, a "sobersides", and clearly emotionally repressed; there are long passages about musical theory, and a transcription of the conversation of a group of students on a Wandervogel outing, discussing the nature and destiny of the German p ...more
Feb 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Patience. That's the word.
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant. Challenging. Enlightening. Disturbing. A work of art.

I had not read Thomas Mann, neither the Magic Mountain nor Buddenbrook, then I saw over the course of the last year several fine reviews pertaining to this book. Then Kalliope’s musical entity stirred me to get the book from my library.

Brilliant. I am familiar with Goethe’s version but this one works on a different level. In fact the various levels at play here reveal Mann’s brilliance.

Mann himself fled Germany during the war to Am
Nov 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me nine months to read this book, and now I'm supposed to summarize it in a review limited to 20,000 characters? Pah! I don't dare even attempt it! Many others have outlined the plot (such as it is) and explored in greater detail than that of which I am capable, the parallels between the story and Mann's bout of cultural guilt over the Third Reich. Anything I say about this would only serve to expose how much I did not understand about this novel. And because I didn't understand the enti ...more
A daunting masterwork which I feel hopelessly unqualified to describe, this is in part a retelling of the Faust legend, in part a meditation on the nature of classical music, genius and creativity, and part an inditement of Mann's Germany at the time of its creation, in the latter stages and immediate aftermath of the Second World War, centred on the life of an imaginary radical German composer of the early 20th century, told by a friend who knew him from his schooldays.

I was prompted to read i
K.M. Weiland
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
What an extraordinary book. Thomas Mann—even translated into English—has such an immersive and yet easy style of writing. He’s a pleasure to read even when he’s not saying anything interesting, which he certainly is here with this deeply symbolic web of personality and history. Most interesting of all, however, is his deft use of a highly unreliable but entirely earnest non-protagonist narrator. I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as Magic Mountain, but it cements Mann as one of my favorite classi ...more
Megan Baxter
Mar 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
My initial reaction to being done this book is relief. Like the other Thomas Mann book I've read, I've found this a slog at times. It was one where I had to give myself permission to read around 20 pages a day and no more, or else I never would have sat down with it in the first place. But despite that, despite how long it took me to read, and how I was never quite eager to get back to it, I am glad I read it. A difficult read, but still, a worthwhile one.

Note: The rest of this review has been w
Stephen Durrant
Aug 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 09, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
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
Justin Evans
May 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
Greg Brozeit
I so wanted to like this book, especially after reading a Goodreads friend's review. It had languished on my shelves for decades. I was scared of it. Once I started reading, like the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, it ended up becoming an albatross. But I wasn’t going to quit. Not so sure that was the right decision now that I’m done. I went to Venice with Mann, but that was years ago and I not tempted to go anywhere else with him. Perhaps I’m missing something and just don’t get it, but I can live ...more
Oct 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Michael Austin
Oct 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
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
Dec 15, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
After reading The Magic Mountain, this was a disappointment. More than 300 pages too long. Some parts are not functional in the story. A little storyline, unnecessarely blown up to big proportions. The link with the evolution of Germany is uninspiring. Only in the end, there was some literary firework. My bad?
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
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Serbian: Tomas Man

Thomas Mann was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and Nobel Prize laureate in 1929, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psycholo

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