Colm Toibin's "The Magician" intimately recaptures a literary giant

Mann published his first novel, “Buddenbrooks”, at the age of 26. He married Katia Pringsheim, the wonderful daughter of a wonderful Mun...


Mann published his first novel, “Buddenbrooks”, at the age of 26. He married Katia Pringsheim, the wonderful daughter of a wonderful Munich family. Katia is perhaps the most memorable character of “The Magician”.

Credit…Reynaldo Revera

Toibin is a scathing dialogue writer, Tom Stoppard novelist, and he gives Katia many of the best lines. Regarding a pretentious archduchess, she comments: “I would like to see her in the water. Water has a way of splashing the powerful in a way that does them no favors.

Heinrich replies, “This is how empires end, with a mad old bat being obsequiously treated in a provincial hotel.” “

Mann had a devotion similar to that of a monk at work. He could be a distant father. A book about his relationship with his children might be called “Mann’s Inhumanity to Manns.” At other times he could be generous and attentive.

Her family was aware of her sexual addictions. “Written in their set of unspoken agreements, there was a clause stating that just like Thomas would do nothing to endanger their domestic happiness,” writes Toibin, “Katia would recognize the nature of her desires without any complaints, notes with tolerance and good humor the characters her eyes have most easily landed on, and clearly shows her willingness, if any, to appreciate her in all of its various forms.

Toibin, who is himself gay, has always shown his historic sympathy for sexual strangers. As he has written elsewhere, “There are no 19th century ballads about being gay.” The painful sublimation of homosexuality in Mann’s work, especially in “The Magic Mountain,” which takes place in a tuberculosis sanatorium, might make it look like an illness.

Toibin’s fiction is animated by his ever-alert attention to sexual undercurrents. In this novel, Albert Einstein makes a kind of pass to Katia – “E is equal to old goat,” Mann says – and Alma Mahler makes one to Mann. I remembered Edward St. Aubyn’s comment: “It was the wonderful thing about historical novels, we met so many famous people. It was like reading a very old copy of Hello! magazine.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Colm Toibin's "The Magician" intimately recaptures a literary giant
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