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A life of triumph and tragedy

Julia Mann. The mother of Heinrich and Thomas Mann
Forfatter: Dagmar von Gerstorff
Forlag: Insel Verlag (Tyskland)

AUTHOR MOTHER: Talented Julia Mann defended the children against an irreconcilable father and husband and supported the sons Thomas and Heinrich all their lives. Her daughters, on the other hand, committed suicide.

Julia Mann was the origin of Germany's most famous authorial dynasty. When her son Thomas received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929, he described his mother's significance: “My mother, the daughter of a German plantation owner and a Portuguese-Creole Brazilian, saw the light of day in Rio de Janeiro. When I look for the hereditary origins of my abilities, I must [….] state that while my father instilled in me the seriousness of life, I have a happy nature, an artistic-sensory disposition, […] the desire to create – to thank my mother for." In the obituary "Mrs. Senator Mann" was hailed as Lübeck's most beautiful woman.

Dagmar von Gersdorff's biography Julia Mann presents us with an easily recognizable female destiny: in a squeeze between personal preconditions and society's social straitjacket.

Defended the children

Julia became a motherless child, and her father saw no other option but to transport her across the world's oceans, from "monkeys and parrots" in the jungles of Brazil to his family in Germany's Hanseatic city of Lübeck, while he himself remained in Rio.

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In reality orphaned, unfamiliar with the language and a German bourgeoisie the girl had difficulty adapting.

Thanks to her exotic charm, she soon had an appropriate suitor, and before long she was settling down as Mrs. Consul – later Senator – Heinrich Mann. She fulfilled her expected role, gave birth to five children, acquired the (rich man's) culture, developed a talent as a musician, arranged house concerts, sang German Lieder and played Chopin's E minor concerto like a professional.

The husband considered all this "pleasant, but useless." When the children Heinrich and Thomas showed a greater interest in art, literature and their mother's imaginative stories than in diligent schoolwork, a necessity for future businessmen, mother Julia had to defend them – and herself – against an irreconcilable father and husband.

Prevented from managing the inheritance

Then something happened that again threw Julia Mann into the unknown. Senator Mann contracted bladder cancer and died at the age of fifty.
. . .

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Ranveig Eckhoff
Eckhoff is a regular reviewer for Ny Tid.

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