Notes on Part 4 of Buddenbrooks

Chapter 1 — letters from Tony to her mother re: married life, a letter to Tom from his father outlining the limp family business.

Chapter 2 — a mob passes by the Buddenbrook home, shouting and yelling. It’s 1848, a good year for revolution.

Chapter 3 — terrific chapter; Jean Buddenbrook leaves home to go to a city leaders meeting the night of the mob. He meets up with the other business bigwigs, and the mob comes and surrounds the council building. Jean waits them out and then gets them to disperse and quiet down.

There was a sudden surge in the tumult outside—the revolution had reached the windows of the assembly hall. The excited exchange of opinions inside stopped short. Hands folded over their stomachs and, mute with shock, they stared at one another or toward the windows, where they could see raised fists and hear boisterous hoots, inane and deafening yowls that filled the air. But then, quite unexpectedly, as if the rebels were suddenly appalled at their own behavior, it was as quiet outside as it was in the hall; and the deep hush that fell over everything was broken only by the sound of one word, spoken slowly and with cold intensity, emanating from somewhere in the bottom rows, where Lebrecht Kröger had taken his seat: “Rabble!”

Chapter 6 — Kesselmeyer the banker comes to collect his due money from Tony’s husband Herr Grunlich, who is of course horrible at business and has lost his dowry.

Chapter 7 — Jean arrives to see about Grunlich’s bankruptcy. He interrogates Tony in a great scene; he gets her to admit she doesn’t love her husband, and he sets about not assisting his son-in-law, so that he might go bust and a timely divorce be granted to Tony.

Tony began to weep again. Holding her batiste handkerchief to her eyes with both hands now, she managed to say amid her sobs, “Oh! How can you ask, Papa? I never loved him. I’ve always loathed him. Don’t you know that?”

Chapter 8 and 9 — the undoing of Grunlich. Once it’s clear Jean won’t help Grunlich, Grunlich admits marrying Tony for the dowry (he owed most of the money) and he flails like a dumb teenager in front of his wife; she is embarrassed and anxious to leave.

“And how did we manage that?” Herr Kesselmeyer continued. “How did we actually go about snapping up both the daughter and the eighty thousand marks? Oho! It can be arranged—even if one has no more than a pennyworth of industry and invention, it can be arranged. If Papa is to come to the rescue, one presents him with very pretty books—charming, tidy books with everything in tiptop order. Except, of course, that they don’t quite correspond to crude reality. Because in crude reality, three-quarters of that dowry is already promissory notes.”

Chapter 11 — the death of Jean Buddenbrook. The second-best chapter in Part 4. Mann uses a thunderstorm to kill the family patriarch. Frightening stuff, Lear-esque:

Then suddenly something happened—a soundless, terrifying something. It felt as if the humidity had doubled; in less than a second the atmospheric pressure rose rapidly, alarmingly, oppressing heart and brain and making breathing difficult. A swallow fluttered so low over the street that its wings seemed to brush the cobblestones. And this knot of pressure, this tension, this growing constriction of the body would have been unbearable if it had lasted a split second longer, if the shift, the release had not followed, a break that liberated them, an inaudible crack somewhere—though they all thought they had heard it. And at that same moment, the rain was falling in sheets, almost as if not a single drop had preceded it, and water gushed and foamed in the gutters, lapping up over the sidewalks.

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Jean Buddenbrook’s letter to his daughter Tony

My dear Tony,

Your letter duly received. As regards its contents, I should tell you that I did not fail dutifully to communicate to Herr Grünlich your view of the situation in an appropriate manner. The result of which, however, truly shocked me. You are a grown young lady and find yourself at such a serious crossroads in life that I do not scruple to point out the consequences that might result from any frivolous step on your part. Upon hearing what I had to say, Herr Grünlich became quite desperate, crying that he loved you so much and the pain of losing you would be so great that he was prepared to take his own life if you were to persist in your decision. Inasmuch as I cannot take seriously what you have written about another attachment, I would ask you to master your agitation about the ring you were sent and to weigh all this most seriously one more time. My Christian convictions, dear daughter, tell me it is our duty to have regard for the feelings of others, for we do not know whether one day you may not be held answerable before the Highest Judge because the man whom you have stubbornly and coldly scorned has been guilty of the sin of taking his own life. I would like you to recall, however, something that I have impressed upon you often enough in conversation, and which the present occasion allows me to repeat in writing. For, although the words we speak are more vivid and immediate, the written word has the advantage of having been chosen with great care and is fixed in a form that its author has weighed and considered, so that it may be read again and again to cumulative effect. We are not born, my dear daughter, to pursue our own small personal happiness, for we are not separate, independent, self-subsisting individuals, but links in a chain; and it is inconceivable that we would be what we are without those who have preceded us and shown us the path that they themselves have scrupulously trod, looking neither to the left nor to the right, but, rather, following a venerable and trustworthy tradition. Your path, it seems to me, has been obvious for many weeks now, its course clearly defined, and you would surely not be my daughter, the granddaughter of your grandfather, who rests now in God, indeed would not be a worthy link in our family’s chain if, of your own accord and out of stubbornness and frivolity, you seriously intended to follow an aberrant path of your own. I beg you, my dear Antonie, to ponder these things in your heart.

The most heartfelt greetings as well from your mother, Thomas, Christian, Clara, and Klothilde (who has spent the last few weeks at Grudging with her father), and from Mamselle Jungmann as well. We all look forward to the moment when we may embrace you once again.

As always with love,
Your Father

from part 3, chapter 10, of Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks: John E. Woods translation

First notes on Buddenbrooks

Part 1

Family dinner, new house of the family Buddenbrook, bought by the old man, his son and wife live on a lower floor. Seems to be about 5 stories, with a granary on the lower level—a horse and cart can drive through the archway and pull into the back yard. Exporting grain seems to be the business, with financing from Hamburg(I think). The old man receives a threatening letter from a stepson (his oldest; he also has a stepdaughter) anent a forthcoming inheritance he believes due. Good imagery, especially around the food served at the dinner. Lots of guests of a political and prestige bend. The children are introduced early and then set aside.
Part 2

Jean seems to have his 5th child (can’t keep count). Old Johann is happy. Jean consults an old commonplace book and seems embarrassed by it. Teen Tony vacations with her grandparents—where everything is nicer—and rebuffs a boy who tries to kiss her; she’s a handful. The Tom and Christian duality is further set up; Tom is studious, Christian a prankster, looking for a laugh and attention. This can’t end well for Christian. 

Last Notes of The Luminaries

  1. A hundred pages left to go. Finally hit a dry-spell, the courtroom scene. The only thing more boring than a lawyer is a courtroom drama.
  2. Still there were some funny moments. Which reminded me of how humorous this novel is–an urgent message is delivered with instructions to destroy it after reading, and the destruction is mocked; Te Rau asking after a certain type of woman at the seance; the bluster of Mannering, the fey good goofy-nature of Staines, Lydia Wells’ way of greeting a woman newly arrived to Dunedin. 
  3. The problem of ending a book one spends a week with–and one only spends a week on a good book, at least in middle age–is that the next book, no matter what it is, won’t be as good. Best to follow something like The Luminaries with a Warren Beatty biography. Or opium.

      A note on the shape of The Luminaries

      It is a circle to start–360 pages for part 1, and then the other parts proceed by half the previous part’s length. Down to 1? Who knows, not there yet. Just picked up on this–not sure how Catton did it.

      The structure reminded me of a funny paragraph from Nathanael West’s debut novel The Dream Life of Balso Snell:

      Is this journal to be like all the others I have started? A large first entry, consisting of the incident which made me think my life exciting enough to keep a journal, followed by a series of entries gradually decreasing in size and culminating in a week of blank days.

      The Luminaries at page 500 (more notes)

      1. Curious why I’m reading it every chance I get, a hundred pages a day if I can make the time. Besides the enjoyment and the propulsion of the story, there is no resolution in the offing. Moody just opened Lauderback’s trunk and rifled through it; Dick Mannering (great name) has been informed that his former whore is studying tarot. Don’t know what to expect at the seance. Maybe a strangling (a la Arcturus). 
      2. Has a celebrated novel ever been this influenced by a TV show? I conjure pictures of HBO’s “Deadwood” constantly while reading this book. Makes me want to write a novel based on the best tv show ever, “Simon & Simon”.
      3. There’s a nice division being set-up between characters who were in the hotel room and those who were not. 
      4. Burning through this makes me hope the other big books I brought on holiday will be as enjoyable. They are Biskind’s Star (Warren Beatty bio), Mann’s Buddenbrooks, and Littell’s The Kindly Ones. An actor, a family saga, and a Nazi–party time.
      5. Have been out on two boats the past week, none named Godspeed.

        Notes on The Luminaries at its half-way point

        1. Holds together well for a multi-character minutely-plotted novel. Haven’t had to flip pages back to reread to clear up past action. Catton can leave a scene or character for a long time and come back to it nicely.
        2. Wouldn’t describe Catton’s prose as natural, but she’s expert at details (environment and character), and great at suspense; the first half of the novel is a huge set-up and I have no idea where it is going. Each sub-chapter seems like a client retelling the events that brought him to 221B Baker Street to ask Holmes for help and resolution.
        3. Like Highsmith’s The Termor of Forgery I won’t be disappointed if all the loose ends of this novel don’t get tied. I like loose ends, ambiguity, and unresolved puzzles. 
        4. Have no idea what the Zodiac has to do with anything, yet. 
        5. New Zealand’s west coast is laid out well and it is easy to orient oneself within the novel as the characters make their way north and south and up and down river.
        6. Tried over the years to read the two big Wilkie Collins novels (Luminaries got compared to Collins when it came out) and never finished them. Prefer Luminaries.
        7. Wish that jail was always spelled gaol.