Buddenbrooks was the first novel written by Thomas Mann, when he was only 25 years old, and was the novel for which he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929. The subtitle of the book already gives us a clue on its theme: “the decline of a family”, which is an autobiographical telling of the story of three generations of a family of merchants in Lübeck (where the author himself was from).
Therefore, we are faced with a family saga that spans from 1835 until 1876. With this work, Mann intended to reflect to perfection both the style of life, the customs and the way of thinking and acting of the emerging, wealthy bourgeoisie. Their tedious lives and behaviors which are in many cases absurd. The first part describes a family dinner which reflects the manners and mores of a stale era and social class.
On occasion I’ve heard about the so-called “Buddenbrooks syndrome” which is a term used in economy, which explains this sort of decline. The first generation of an entrepreneurial family are the founders and creators of the company, they are those that have that entrepreneurial spirit. The second generation is responsible for raising capital and especially the social prestige of the company and family, and the third is the one that leads to decadence by way leisurely activities.
Therefore, the author’s achievement with this novel is not only a reflection on the decadence of a bourgeois family at all levels (social and economic) but also symbolizes the decline of the world, and an entire society.
It is a very large novel (884 p.) with its corresponding ups and downs: There are moments that are highly entertaining, and other times in which the length of the novel makes them more tedious. One can say, in fact, that it is a novel in which “nothing happens”, except for family events. But the style with which it is written quickly realize that we are faced with a work of art. It is one of those novels that in subsequent readings discover new nuances. Mann is a writer that deepens each phrase as he tries to transmit more than one idea to us at a time. There is rather a serious tone in Buddenbrooks and very little humor is perceived. We are also given the time to reflect on the different environments which are perfectly detailed. The majority of events and transcendent dialogues happen behind the walls of a large mansion. It seems as if we become part of that family and sit to eat at the same table. Therefore, everything is described perfectly and not only the environment but the clothing, the gestures, and the character’s actions, without forgetting the smallest detail.
I think Buddenbrooks should be required reading, as Mann is one of the most important authors of universal literature. It is not a small commitment to read a novel of this size, but it is well worth it.