Heinrich Mann

Heinrich Mann (1871-1950)

Heinrich Mann’s novels deliver the most clear-sighted analysis of Wilhelmine Germany even written in fiction.

Because of his devastating critique of the German establishment, Heinrich Mann’s work has often been sidelined in Germany. Although he was politically conservative in the early 1890s, in the following decade Heinrich Mann became a passionate democrat, and remained one for the rest of his life. His essay ‘Geist und Tat’; ‘Mind and Deed’ (1910), sets out this progressive position and attacks the militarism and authoritarianism of turn-of-the-century Germany. In it, he asks the following question about Germany and its so-called ‘great men’:

‘Seine großen Männer! Hat man je ermessen, was sie dies Volk schon gekostet haben?’

‘Germany’s great men! Has anyone ever counted what they have cost the German people?’

During World War One, Heinrich Mann continued his defence of Western democracy in his 1915 essay ‘Zola’, inspired by Émile Zola’s political engagement in France (Heinrich Mann’s novels owe much to Zola’s naturalism). This led to a public feud with his younger brother Thomas Mann, who had adopted a nationalist position and supported Germany’s claim to cultural superiority. In Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen (Reflections of an Unpolitical Man, 1918), Thomas Mann denounced Heinrich Mann as superficial and decadent, and claimed that Heinrich Mann’s work was exaggerated and inauthentic. In the early 1920s, the two brothers were reconciled and Thomas Mann gradually came round to supporting democracy. But the radical nature of Heinrich Mann’s political commitments (his opposition to Hitler in the 1930s led him to support Stalin and the USSR) damaged his prestige among conservative German critics. In the context of the Cold War, Heinrich Mann’s works were celebrated in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), but in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) his works were completely eclipsed by those of Thomas Mann. Even so, Heinrich Mann’s works are rich in political insights and they deserve to be read.

Any reader who wishes to understand the culture of Wilhelmine Germany (1888-1918) is advised to read Heinrich Mann’s two greatest novels:

(1) Professor Unrat (literally, ‘Professor Filth’); known in English as Small Town Tyrant or The Blue Angel (1905). The film version, Der Blaue Engel; The Blue Angel (1930) was directed by Josef von Sternberg and stars Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings. In this classic tale, an authoritarian schoolmaster falls in love with a cabaret artiste.

(2) Der Untertan; The Loyal Subject (1914; in book form, 1918). (Film version 1951, directed by Wolfgang Staudte, East Germany, starring Werner Peters). Heinrich Mann’s masterpiece depicts the rise of a paper manufacturer who models himself on Kaiser Wilhelm II.

In the 1920s, Heinrich Mann campaigned to promote Franco-German understanding and to defuse the rising nationalist tensions. He was associated with the pan-European movement of Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, and his 1924 essay ‘V S E’ calls for a ‘United States of Europe’ (‘Vereinigte Staaten Europas’). His final essay before he fled into exile from National Socialism was ‘Das Bekenntnis zum Übernationalen’ (‘Confession to Supranationalism’, 1932). He spent the rest of the 1930s in Nice in France, where he campaigned for the Popular Front against Hitler and the Nazis. When France was occupied in 1940, he fled the USA, where he lived in Santa Monica. In 1949 he was invited to become the President of the German Academy of the Arts in East Berlin. He accepted this position but died in Santa Monica in 1950, before he could return to Germany.

W. E. Yuill points out that Heinrich Mann had ‘the thankless task of Cassandra’ (see reading list below, Yuill (1963), p. 211) and states: ‘the occasional stridency of Mann’s warnings may perhaps be pardoned in view of the accuracy of his prophecies. [...] Mann is essentially a rebel – not the witty, ironic, ambiguous rebel of the Brecht or Tucholsky type, but essentially a dignified rebel – a German Victor Hugo. He is also a responsible rebel and – rare phenomenon – a rebel with endurance.’ (Yuill (1963), pp. 218-19)

Paying tribute to Heinrich Mann one year after his death, Thomas Mann wrote:

‘Die Verbindung des Dichters mit dem politischen Moralisten war den Deutschen zu fremd, als daß sein kritisches Genie über ihr Schicksal etwas vermocht hätte, und noch heute, fürchte ich, wissen wenige von ihnen, daß dieser Tote einer ihren größten Schriftsteller war’ (Quoted in Yuill (1963), p. 219)

‘The combination of the poet and political novelist was too alien to the Germans for his critical genius to have much influence on their fate, and even today, I fear, few of them realize that the dead man was one of their greatest writers.’ (Quoted in Yuill (1963), p. 223).

Novels by Heinrich Mann:

In einer Familie; In a Family (1893)

Im Schlaraffenland; In the Land of Cockaigne (1900)

Die Göttinnen: Diana, Minerva, Venus; The Goddesses (1902/03)

Die Jagd nach Liebe; The Hunt for Love (1903/04)

Professor Unrat; Small Town Tyrant; The Blue Angel (1905)

Zwischen den Rassen; Between the Races (1907)

Die kleine Stadt; The Little Town (1910)

Der Untertan; The Loyal Subject (1914; in book form, 1918)

Die Armen; The Poor (1917)

Der Kopf; The Chief (1925)

Mutter Marie; Mother Marie (1927)

Eugénie (1928)

Die große Sache; The Big Deal (1931)

Ein ernstes Leben; A Serious Life (1932)

Die Jugend des Königs Henri Quatre; Young Henry of Navarre (1935)

Die Vollendung des Königs Henri Quatre; Henry Quatre, King of France (1938)

Lidice (1943)

Der Atem; The Breath (1949)

Empfang bei der Welt; A World Reception (1950)

Die traurige Geschichte von Friedrich dem Großen; The Sad Story of Frederick the Great (unfinished, published posthumously in 1962)

Also worthy of note are Heinrich Mann’s dramas, his essays, and his short story ‘Kobes’ about an industrialist, based on the German steel magnate Hugo Stinnes.

Further Reading in English

Marianne Doerfel, ‘A Prophet of Democracy: Heinrich Mann, the Political Writer, 1905-1918’, Oxford German Studies 6 (1971-72), 93-111

Stephen A. Grollmann, Heinrich Mann: Narratives of Wilhelmine Germany, 1895-1925 (New York and Oxford: Peter Lang, 2002)

Karin Verena Gunnemann, Heinrich Mann’s Novels and Essays: The Artist as Political Educator (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2002)

Karin V. Gunnemann, ‘Heinrich Mann and the Struggle for Democracy’, in German Novelists of the Weimar Republic: Intersections of Literature and Politics, ed. by Karl Leydecker (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2006), pp. 19-44

Rolf N. Linn, Heinrich Mann (New York: Twayne, 1967)

Nigel Hamilton, The Brothers Mann: The Lives of Heinrich and Thomas Mann, 1871-1950 and 1875-1955 (New York and London: Secker and Warburg, 1978)

David Roberts, Artistic Consciousness and Political Conscience in the Novels of Heinrich Mann 1900-1938 (Berne and Frankfurt am Main: Herbert Lang, 1971)

Ernest Schonfield, ‘The Idea of European Unity in Heinrich Mann’s Political Essays of the 1920s and early 1930s’, in Europe in Crisis: Intellectuals and the European Idea, 1917-1957, ed. by Mark Hewitson and Matthew D’Auria (Oxford and New York: Berghahn, 2012), pp. 257-70

W. E. Yuill, ‘Heinrich Mann’, in German Men of Letters, vol. 2, ed. by Alex Natan (London: Oswald Wolff, 1963), pp. 197-224

Further Reading in German

Jürgen Haupt, Heinrich Mann (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1980)

Willi Jasper, Der Bruder. Heinrich Mann: Eine Biographie (Munich: Hanser, 1992)

Ariane Martin, Erotische Politik. Heinrich Manns erzählerisches Frühwerk (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1993)

Web Links in German


Heinrich Mann Prize for essays and literature with a socially critical aspect. Awarded annually by the Academy of Arts in Berlin


Heinrich Mann Society in Lübeck


Heinrich Mann, Essays und Publizistik. Kritische Gesamtausgabe in neun Bänden (Bielefeld: Aisthesis, 2009-). The major new critical edition of Heinrich Mann’s essays and journalism. A landmark publication