Confesions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man
Confesions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man, Thomas Mann’s unfinished novel, begins with a first person account of his family background, and many quaint anecdotes of his own childhood. Felix comes from an upper class family in the picturesque German Rhine Valley, notable for being a region of fine wine production, where his father owns a small family-run vineyard that produces and bottles a Methode Champenoise, Engelbert Krull Lorley Extra Cuvee. Felix writes about his childhood love of fantasy, his love of dressing-up in costumes, and his passion for the theater. Much of his appreciation for the arts comes by way of his godfather Schimmelpreester, a painter who looks at the world through artistic lenses, and who has a deep influence on Felix’s life.
With a fertile imagination and a penchant for adventure, Felix rarely shows any interest in socializing, preferring to retire into his own fantasy world. He is greatly influenced as a child by his exposure to the theater and music. He tells anecdotes of visiting with artists backstage, and of his affinity for imitating them, a skill he seems to be a natural at. He can’t stand school, obviously, finding it incessantly boring, and so he does whatever he can to get out of having to attend classes. Felix begins to practice the art of deception by forging his father’s writing on notes that excuse him from school due to fictitious illnesses. Later on Felix acquires a higher degree of sophistication in his confidence games, by acting out the illness and being able to fool his mother with all sorts of imaginary symptoms. He in fact becomes so adept at “performing” his sicknesses, that he is able to reproduce, at will, the somatic symptoms for the specific illnesses he is trying to convey (think Ferris Bueller in Ferris Bueller’s Day off: sweaty palms, nausea and vomiting, etc.). Even when doctors arrive to examine Felix, rightly assuming that it is a case of “school-avoidance syndrome”, Felix is skillfully able to convince them, or at least force enough doubt into their minds that they end up buying into his whole ruse.
From feigning illnesses Felix graduates onto a successful, if modest, career as a candy store thief. He then tells us about his first sexual encounter (with an older Housemaid) and everything is charming and light in his life for the first 18 years of it. Then tragedy befalls his family. The bottles for the Engelbert Krull wine his father produces are beautifully and elaborately ornamented, but the stuff inside is sub-par. The family business goes bankrupt. His father falls into a deep depression over what he considers to be a gargantuan failure and months later takes his own life. This tragic event catapults us into the story and perhaps serves to explain why Felix Krull was so desperate to be as far removed from his familial circumstances as possible and why he goes on to become an expert impostor and confidence man in late 19th century Europe.