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Thomas Mann and the Mermaid: A Note on Constructivistic Music

Author(s): Victor A. Oswald, Jr.

Source: Modern Language Notes, Vol. 65, No. 3 (Mar., 1950), pp. 171-175
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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Accessed: 25/06/2014 01:57

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Modern Language Notes.

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fast wie der anfanglicheWiderstanddes Patientengegen die psy-

choanalytische Behandlung,und man k6nnteden Autormit seinem
ilelden identifizieren, wenn er diesen ziemlich zu Anfang des
ZauberbergstraumenIasst: er "sah sich alsbald in der Lage,
Zufluchtvor Dr. Krokowskisuchenzu mu'ssen,der ihmnachstellte,
um Seelenzergliederung mit ihm vorzunehmen,wovorHans Cas-
torp eine tolle, eine wahrhaftunsinnigeAngst empfand. Er floh
vor dem DoktorbehindertenFusses . . . suchtein seinerNotlage
sogar die rotbrauneFahnenstangezu erkletternund erwachte
schwitzend in demAugenblick,als der Verfolgerihn am Hosenbein
packte." (155). Nun, Thomas Mann ist erwachtzu Freuds Werk
und Idee. Wennwirklichsich nun eine messerscharfe Verfeinerung
und bewussteVertiefungderpsychologischen Erfassungim Joseph,
im Goetheroman, in derindischenLegendeund zuletztnochin dem
grossen Faustepos offenbart, wenn Thomas Mann sich hier in
grandioserWeise einem mythisch-menschlichen Urbild nahert,so
verdankter das zu einemTeil auch, und wir seine Leser mit ihm,
dem ernsthaften und genauen Studiumder Psychoanalyse.

University of Texas


The appearanceof Die Entstehungdes Do7ktor Faustusl should
have rebukedany possible doubt that the frequentoccurrenceof
allusion, reference,and quotationin Mann's latest novel is con-
sistentlypurposeful.He calls Dr. Faustus "a montageof factual,
historical,personal,and literarydata " 2 and he speaksof his grow-
ing inclination,during the time of its composition," to prefer
quotationto 'independent' invention." He assertsthat he felt
the novel had to partakeof the natureof its subject,"had to be
1 Amsterdam: Bermann-Fischer Verlag, 1949.
Ibid., p. 33. ". . . Aufmontierenvon faktischen, historischen, persion-
lichen, ja literarischen Begebenheiten . . . " (I shall supply the original
text whenever it is necessary for me to furnish an English translation of
my own.)
1bid., p. 137. "Es stimmte . . . mit meiner eigenen . . . wachsenden
Neigung uiberein. . . das Zitat der ' selbstiindigen' Erfindungvorzuziehen."

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whatit dealt with: namelyconstructivistic music.'"4 Clearly,then,

the use of " quotation" throughoutthe novel is to be interpreted
as theapplicationofone ofthetechniquesofmusicalconstructivism.
How elaborateand impenetrable Mann's constructivism can be is
bestdemonstrated by his accountof theinterweaving of dialogfrom
As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing,and Two Gentlemen
of Verona into the passage of the novel that treats of Adrian's
indirectproposalof marriage.5It is difficultto ascertainwhetherit
was Mann's love of the intricacyof his designsor a despairof being
understoodthatpromptedhim to his commenton thisrevelation-
the sotto voce remarkthat Zeitblom"is as little aware [of the
allusions] as is the reader."" In any case, the criticand scholar
mustchooseeitherto castigateThomasvonder Trave7for violating
the rules of Glasperlenspielby using allusions that are evocative
onlyto himself,or to indulgein thedangerousbut fascinatingsport
of pursuingrelationsbetweenreferenceand referentwheneverhe
believeshe has founda clue. This note is dedicatedto the second
The themeof the mermaid-Hans ChristianAndersen'slittle
mermaid,8 whoto gain an earthlyloverand, perhaps,a mortalsoul,
exchangedher fishtailfor a pair of legs at the price of enduring
excruciatingpain whenevershe walked-this themerecursso often
in Dr. Faustus that it finallyacquires the status of an important
sub-motif.The littlemermaidis a symboliccounterpart to Adrian
Leverkiihn,who,you will recall,likewiseachievesa transformation
at the price of pain. She is firstalluded to by Old Harry in the
dialog scene,at whichtimehe suggeststhatshe wouldmakea lovely
sweetheart forAdrianand offers to bringher to his bed.9 He refers
4Ibid., p. 60. " Ich fuihltewohl, das mein Buch selbst das werde sein
minssen,wovon es handelte, naimlichkonstruktiveMusik."
Ibid., pp. 34 f.
6 Loc. cit. ". . . Adrian macht sich ein finsteres Vergnuigen daraus,
gegen Zeitblom, der ebensowenig etwas merkt wie der Leser, direkte Zitate
aus diesen Stiicken in seine Xusserung einfliessenzu lassen."
"7Cf. Hermann Hesse, Das Glasperlenspiel (Zuirich: Fretz und Wasmuth
Verlag, 1943) I, 304 and passim for Mann's appearance as the Ludi
Magister, Thomas von der Trave.
8 Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales and other Stories, translated by

W. A. and J. K. Craigie (London: Oxford University Press, 1914), pp.

9Thomas Mann, Doktor Faustus (Stockholm: Bermann-Fischer Verlag,
1948), p. 357. Hereafter cited as DF.

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to her again in the dialogue,brieflyand in passing,but in such

fashionas to establishthe motivalfunctionof the theme.10When
Adrian himselffirstrevertsto it duringa conversation with Zeit-
blom,1"he specificallycalls the little mermaid his "sister in
" and he elaborateson the fairytale "with an objectivity
that could only be in jest, but with drawnbrowsand reluctantly
moving,half-articulating lips,"12 averringthat the piscine shape
is morelovelythan the humanand thatthe princewouldprobably
have loved her much more passionatelyin her originalform-all
in all a bizarreand sinister" divisionon a ground" and chrono-
logicallythefirstunmistakableindiciumof Adrian'sinsanity.
There are threefurthercitationsof the themeby Zeitblom:two
of themen passant,close together,at the beginningof his account
of Adrian's composingof the "Apocalipsis cum figuris"; 13 the
last as he approachesthe end of his summationof that remarkable
Soullessness! I knowthis is at bottomwhat theymean who apply the
word " barbaric" to Adrian's creation. . . I shall be forgivenfor an
argumentmoreor less into the blue; but to call soullessnessthe yearning
for a soul-the yearningof the little sea-maid-that is what I would
characterizeas barbarism,as inhumanity.'5
The ultimatevariation on the theme occurs in Adrian's mad
monologue,just beforehis collapse.'6
... she was mysisterand mysweetbrideand namedHyphialta." For
10 DF., p. 364.
1 DF., pp. 526 ff. English versions of the text are taken from the
authorized translation by H. T. Lowe-Porter, Doctor Faustus, New York:
Alfred Knopf, 1948. Hereafter cited as DFE.
12 DFE., p. 344

13 DF., pp. 539, 542.

14DF., p. 576.
15 DFE., pp. 377 f.
'6 DF., pp. 758 f.
17 The Hyphialta allusion proved to be most difficultto identify. If
Mann found the name in the Malleus Malelicarum, he had better luck
than I. The only occurrence I have been able to find, but one which,
fortunately,makes the allusion completely clear, is in Jean Bodin's De la
d6monomaniedes sorciers, which I must quote from the Italian translation
that is alone at my disposal: Demonomania degli Stregoni (In Venetia:
Presso Aldo, 1590), p. 142. "And when the Sorcercers and Witches con-
fess carnal embrace with a demon, many Doctors say that these are

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he brought her to my bed . . . that I gan woo her and loved her ever
more, whether she came to me with the fishes tail or with legs . . . There-
upon did Hyphialta get with child and accounted me a little son . . .18

The acme, indeed, of the grotesqueand the revolting.And the

ultimatein cunningand purposefulelaboration.
Of even greaterinterest,however,than the statementand de-
velopmentof this themein Dr. Faustus is its broadersphereof
allusion. That it belongsto the categoryof "personal data" is
beyonddoubt; for who could forgetIda Jungmann'sreading of
fairytales to the Buddenbrookchildren-a situationthat Mann
drew from his own childhood,as Eloesser points out in his
biography;'9 and Mann himself,in the autobiographicalsketch,
"Lebensabriss," writes: "I have not mentionedfor formative
literaryexperiencesof my childhood and early youth, the in-
eradicableimpressionthat Anderson'sfairytales made upon me.
, .. 20 What is more importantis the fact that the themealso
belongsin a specialcategoryofpersonalliteraryquotations;foryou
will findthelittlemermaidin KdniglicheHoheit,in thelimpidand
hope-filledatmosphere of thatfairytale of Mann's owntelling. The
allusion is as cheerfulas the setting. You will recall that the
PrincessDietlindehad, so to speak,abdicatedby marryinga noble-
man froma mediatizedhouse who had turnedto trade and was
doing verywell at it. She openlyconfessesto her brother,Klaus
Heinrich, heirto the throne,that she is utterlycontentedwithher
new way of life and is richlysatisfiedwith her escape fromthe
of royalty.
And sometimes,when Philipp is away, as he is now, and I sit here among
my flowersand Philipp's pictures with all their sunlight . . . then I seem
to myself like the little mermaid in the fairy tale . . . if you recall it

Ephialti and Hyphialti, or Incubi and Succubi." (Et quando i Sortilegi,

et le Streghe confessano la congiuntione carnale co'l demonio, molti Medici
dicono che questi sono Ephialti, et Hyphialti, o Incubi, e Succubi . . .
8 DEE., pp. 500 f.
19Arthur Eloesser, Thomas Mann (Berlin: S. Fischer Verlag, 1925), p.
26. He finds a literary reflectionof Anderson as early as 1899, in "Der
Kleiderschrank." Ibid., p. 66.
20 Thomas Mann, " Lebensabriss," Die Neue Rundschau, XLI, I, 740. "Ich

habe der Bildungserlebnisse meiner Kindheit und Ersten Jugend nicht

gedacht, nicht des unausl6schlichen Eindrucks, den Andersens Mfirchen
mir mnachten.

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. . .who became the wife of a mortal and took on legs instead of a fishes
tail . . . I don't know whether you understand me.21

What could be moreserene? Alas forthe little mermaidwho has

sufferedsuch a changein the mind of Adrian Leverkiihn.But, as
Mann tells us, an atmosphereof coldness,of inhumanity, of horror
envelopedDr. Faustus almost from the instant of its conception,
and our littlemermaidsuffers no worsea fatethan one mighthave
anticipated. In effect,the transferenceof the theme from the
sunny,so to speak E flatmajor key of KdniglicheHoheit to the
fantasticatonalityof Dr. Faustus, is only another instance of
"taking it back," as Adrian "takes back'" Beethoven'sNinth
Symphony by writing" DoktorFausti Weheklage,"by substituting
the demonicand the terribleforthe good, the noble,the humane.
Most of the "quotations'" in Dr. Faustus are given some sort of
pejorativetwist. The themeof the little mermaidis a quotation
by Mann of himself-witha sick grimace.
University of California, Los Angeles


"Wenn bey einem Manne mir jenes ungeheureBild einfallt:
'hoch auf einem Felsengipfelsitzend! zu seinen Fiifen, Sturm,
Ungewitter,und Brausen des Meers; aber sein Haupt in den
Strahlendes Himmels!' so ist es beyShakespeare."
I had oftenwonderedwhat was the originalof the picturewith
whichHerderopenedhis essayon Shakespeare,and was well satis-
fiedfora timewhenI discoveredan identificationin Edna Purdie's
excellenteditionof Von deutscherArt und Kunst.' The passageis
quotedas follows:
Thomas Mann, Die Erzdhlenden Schriften (Berlin: S. Fischer Verlag,
1928) II, 135. "Und manchmal, wenn Philipp unterwegs ist, so wie jetzt,
und ich hier sitze, unter meinen Blumen und Philipps Bildern mit all ihrer
Sonne . . .. dann komme ich mir vor wie die kleine Meernixe in dem
Marchen . . . wenn du dich erinnerst . . . die eines Menschen Frau wurde
und Beine erhielt statt ihres Fischschwanzes . . . Ich weiss nicht, ob dui
-Op. cit., Oxford,The Clarendon Press, 1924; p. 179.

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