Author Thomas Mann: Biography, Books & Short Stories

Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

If you think the people he writes about are interesting, you'll definitely want to meet the real character that is Thomas Mann. In this lesson, you'll find out more about the life of this German author and get to see some examples of his novels and short stories.

Defying Expectations: A Biography of Thomas Mann

If you had gone to school with this future author, your class would've probably voted him 'Least Likely to Succeed.' Born June 6, 1875 into a wealthy and well-established grain merchant family in the Free City of Lubeck, Paul Thomas Mann was a bit of a disappointment in the grades department. He repeatedly performed bellow school standards and later admitted to having had trouble accepting external expectations.

When Thomas was fifteen, his father suddenly passed, and the family's company was liquidated. The author's mother took the rest of the family to Munich while Thomas remained in Lubeck to finish his lackluster education. He soon rejoined his family in Munich and took a job there as an insurance broker. While in this new city, Mann enrolled in university and polytechnic schools to prepare himself for a career in journalism. He began life as a writer for the German weekly magazine Simplicissimus, and his first short story (Little Mr. Friedemann) was published in 1898.

Three years later, Mann published his first novel: the autobiographical work, Buddenbrooks. The book was an instant success and won Thomas great notoriety as a writer. Following Buddenbrooks, Mann began work on several other large pieces, but abandoned them in favor of shorter works until returning to novels in 1909 with Royal Highness. In the interim, Thomas married his wife Katia in 1905, and the couple would go on to raise a fairly large family of six children.

Nobel Laureate, Paul Thomas Mann (1875-1955)
Photo of Thomas Mann

When Thomas returned to longer works, many of them displayed his political ideas - particularly those in opposition to fascism. The Nazi party was coming to power at this time in Germany and they took major exception to Mann's views. For this reason, Thomas was exiled to Switzerland in 1933 and he officially renounced German citizenship in 1936. Mann continued to write and lecture in Europe until he went to California, where he became an American citizen in 1940.

Even after World War II, Mann never again lived in Germany. He did move back to Europe in 1952, but took residence just outside Zurich, Switzerland. On August 12, 1955, Thomas Mann died there, leaving an enduring legacy that few would have ever expected.

Over the course of his life, Thomas had received wide critical acclaim, as well as numerous awards and honors. These included an honorary doctorate from the University of Bonn, the title of 'professor' from the Senate of his native city of Lubeck, the Goethe Prizes of Weimar and Frankfurt, and the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature. These accomplishments were made possible only through his celebrated body of work, which you can find some examples of below.

Novels and Short Stories by Thomas Mann


It's no coincidence that Thomas, the patriarch of the Buddenbrook family, shares his name with Mann. That's because these aristocratic merchants are highly representative of his own family. Throughout the novel, Mann rejects the expectations of the aristocracy and its skewed morality by characterizing many of the family members as decadent and decaying. He also mirrors his own path from aristocrat to artist in the career choices of the young Hanno Buddenbrook, who pursues music rather than business ventures. Such discussions on art and society are found prominently throughout Mann's works.

Death in Venice

Most of Mann's 'short stories' are considered today to be novellas, which are works somewhere between a long short story and a short novel. In this particular novella published in 1912, Thomas returns to his own artistic life for inspiration. Perhaps his most notable work, Death in Venice follows German author Gustav Aschenbach on his bewitching vacation in Italy. Confronted with his passion for a young Polish boy, Aschenbach investigates art as a product of madness - a divine inspiration Thomas parallels with the wildly erotic rituals dedicated to the Greek god Dionysus. This work is also somewhat autobiographical since Mann himself struggled with the concepts of his own artistic inspiration and sexuality.

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