Die kleine Stadt; The Little Town
Die kleine Stadt; The Little Town (1909)
This novel depicts a small town in Italy, loosely based on Palestrina in Lazio, which is changed forever when an opera company comes to visit.
The novel was written in praise of democracy, at a time when many Germans rejected democracy as a foreign import. It combines gentle humour with serious political intent.
The town is divided between two rival political factions, the liberals and the conservatives. The liberal faction is led by Belotti, the lawyer, a champion of democracy and political progress. The conservative, anti-democratic faction is led by Don Taddeo, the priest. The liberals meet in a café called ‘To Progress’ (‘Zum Fortschritt’); the conservatives meet in a café called ‘The Moon’ (‘Der Mond’). Another important figure in the town is the bandleader/musical director Enrico Dorlenghi, who falls in love with the prima donna, Flora Garlinda.
When the opera singers arrive in the town, various love affairs ensue, and the battle for political power in the town is played out through numerous intrigues. Gradually, the opera teaches the townspeople to act in harmony with one another, for the general good of the whole society. At the end of the novel, democracy prevails and even the priest, Don Taddeo, is reconciled. But there is also personal tragedy for the young lovers Nello Genari and Alba Nardini.
Heinrich Mann, The Little Town, trans. by Winifred Ray (New York: F. Ungar, 1962)
D. E. Jenkinson, ‘Die kleine Stadt Revisited: Heinrich Mann and the Notion of Liberal Democracy’, Publications of the English Goethe Society 55 (1986), 47-68