Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann

Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann. In recent years I have been trying to read works written by as many Nobel Prize winners as I can.  Doctor Faustus, one of Mann’s renowned works, was published in 1947, nearly two decades after he became a Nobel laureate.

The book is about an ambitious musician who makes an agreement with the devil  in exchange for inspiration and geniality. From some online comments it seems that the author’s motivation was R. Wagner, however I think names like Alan Berg, Schoenberg or even Shostakovich fit more appropriately the characteristics of the music of the main character of the novel. 

The novel is narrated by Adrian’s childhood friend, Serenus. Adrian’s passion for music was initially sparked and nurtured by his uncle, who owned a music instrument shop, as well as a series of lectures delivered by a speaker in their town. These lectures explored the works of Beethoven and other musicians. One notable idea presented in the lectures was how Beethoven’s music gradually became more abstract, distancing itself from religious motivation, in contrast to composers like Bach. As an example, the author highlights Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, which I personally found quite enjoyable. Over the years Adrian shows a progressively wide range of special  interests and amongst these, music and theology occupy a special place. 

During his time in college, Adrian became deeply intrigued by the theological dilemma surrounding why God granted humans the gift of choice. This freedom inherently leads to a conflict between good and evil, with evil serving to accentuate the virtues of good. Does this freedom of choice include the option to reject God? If not, then God’s creation would be incomplete. Consequently, an omnipotent God cannot grant humans both absolute freedom and the absence of sin, as the two are incompatible. True freedom lies in the ability to choose loyalty to God or succumb to the temptations of demons. Another idea explored in the novel is that human imperfection renders perfection unattainable, necessitating the presence of sin in the journey toward perfection.

Doctor Faustus emphasizes the destructive power of unchecked ambition, the consequences of making immoral choices, and the tragic fate that befalls those who seek greatness at any cost. It serves as a cautionary tale and a profound exploration of the human condition. BTW, this novel somehow reminds me of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde.

Finally, I would like to mention that I read the Spanish translation of the novel. Prior to making my choice, I examined the English translation as well, and while I believe it is very good too, I must say that the Spanish version is exceptionally well executed. This reminds me of a similar experience I had with Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

error: Content is protected !!
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap