The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain reviewed in the Guardian, July 1, 1927

To think of The Magic Mountain as written by an author of a nationality other than central European is quite impossible. To imagine it written, indeed, by any other author than Herr Thomas Mann would be hardly less difficult. Mr Lowe-Porter's excellent translation, in two heavy volumes, is so convincing that the impression left on those readers who are sufficiently detached from its subject to endure Herr Mann's grim and often painful pathological study to its end is that they have done their reading in the original German and made their own mental translation as they went along.

Not for Mr Lowe-Porter the foolish and unjustifiable endeavour so to render the work into English that easygoing folk may overlook the fact that it is an importation. English writers, of course, notably Katherine Mansfield and Beatrice Harraden, have not shrunk from the theme Herr Mann exploits with a hand undeniably that of genius: but whereas Mansfield and the author of Ships that Pass in the Night touched in the background only for the purpose of bringing their characters into proper relief, we are not spared descriptions in The Magic Mountain of every characteristic feature, main or subsidiary, belonging to the life therein depicted, and it is all done with a hearty humourlessness, a gusto not always pleasant, and a terrible efficiency.

The scene of Herr Mann's novel is a sanatorium in the Swiss mountains: practically all his people are consumptives in whom we are made to see "a feeble, dreadful welling-up of the juices of organic dissolution". Their pitiful decline and disintegration is ruthlessly detailed, that of the story's principal figure especially - a young Hamburger, Hans Castorp, who was paying a short visit to a cousin confined there, only to learn that he too is a victim of the malady.

The life, which, one must suppose, goes on in every sanatorium of the class of this one - with its flirtations, loves, dislikes, jealousies, scandals, and, above all, its obliviousness to time and its apparent callousness - is portrayed very powerfully. And, moreover, it is portrayed with such Teutonic thoroughness that the translator, as he informs us in his foreword, has had to seek the assistance of "authorities in various special fields" for an adequate rendering of portions of Herr Mann's narrative. It is the triumph of this distinguished contemporary German writer that nothing is disproportionate, everything is artistically justified.

The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and Clarifications column, Tuesday October 1 2002

In this article, ) we referred twice to the excellent translation by Mr Lowe-Porter. H[elen] T[racy] Lowe-Porter (1876-1963) was a woman.

· This article is drawn from the archive at the Newsroom.

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