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#1 - Part 1, chapter 1

Buddenbrooks

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Summary

When Thomas Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (1929), the citation made special mention of his first novel, “Buddenbrooks,” published in 1901, describing it as “the first great novel of the 20th century.”

Events in the novel center on the Buddenbrook family, bourgeois owners of a wholesale grain enterprise in the northern German city of Lübeck. (The city is never named as such, but detailed references to landmarks leave no doubt that the setting is closely based on Mann’s hometown, just as the story is inspired by the Mann family history.) We follow four generations of Buddenbrooks through the middle decades of the 19th century. The novel is subtitled “The Decline of a Family.” This “decline” occurs through subtle interplay of character and circumstance. Family members — individuals each with their own romantic, social, and artistic interests — struggle to adapt to the expectations of the “family firm” and to the evolving conditions of German society in the 1800s.

Mann views his characters with both irony and intense empathy, propelling the reader’s journey through this momentous narrative. - Summary by Bruce Pirie

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