Thursday, October 17, 2013

Charlatanism and Comedy

The Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man: The Early YearsThe Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man: The Early Years 
by Thomas Mann

"What a glorious gift is imagination, and what satisfaction it affords!"  - Thomas Mann


This is Thomas Mann's last novel and his comic masterpiece. The story of Felix Krull is filled with humorous episodes worthy of the Mann's story-telling mastery. Mann based the novel on an expanded version of a story he had written in 1911 and he managed to finish, and publish part one of the Confessions of Felix Krull, but due to his death in 1955 the saga of the morally flexible and irresistible conman, Felix, remained unfinished. In spite of that it is still one of the best novels dealing with the question of identity.
Early in the story Felix learns to deal with circumstances by changing his character as needed and he continues to shift identities becoming whomever he needs to be in all the ensuing predicaments that he encounters. The expression of a latent admiration for a human being who can metamorphose himself into multiple identities reminds me of The Confidence Man by Herman Melville. That earlier novel is a precursor to the modernity of Mann's unfinished opus. Felix Krull seems to view the world like a chessboard on which he can take pleasure in manipulating the pieces at will and cultivate his ambition and his knowledge of the ways of the world by spending whole days peering into shop windows. His own calm demeanor throughout his escapades did not transfer to this reader who found his episodic life in different identities full of nervous suspense in a strangely vicarious way. It seems that Mann still had more story-telling magic left at the end of his life after World War II and decades after his great beginnings with Buddenbrooks and Death in Venice. The only regret is that Mann was unable to finish the novel; yet, the "early years" of Felix Krull still amounts to a small masterpiece.

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2 comments:

Parrish Lantern said...

It's been many years since I've read any of this writers work. one day it would be nice to revisit old reads.

James said...

I'm sure you would enjoy them even more. I'm currently rereading Joseph and His Brothers in the Woods translation and it is luminous.