Tonio Kröger

Tonio Kröger (1903) 

This novella is a classic example of Mann’s ‘double optic’ (‘doppelte Optik’), his intention to appeal simultaneously to connoisseurs and to the general public. Tonio Kröger is both emotionally compelling and intellectually challenging. It combines touching, bittersweet teenage romance with a series of profound reflections on the status of the artist in relation to society. The intense, poignant tone of the novella owes much to the work of Theodor Storm which Mann greatly admired. In Section 2 there is a reference to Storm’s novella Immensee and a quotation from a poem by Storm: ‘Ich möchte schlafen; aber du mußt tanzen’; ‘I would like to sleep; but you must dance’. On the connection with Storm, see the articles by Mark G. Ward and Erica Wickerson listed below.


Tonio Kröger has a dual heritage as a result of his North German bourgeois father and his artistic South American mother. As a result he feels pulled in two different directions at once, torn between the two worlds of Bürger (bourgeois) and Künstler (artist). Tonio Kröger believes that that ‘life’ (Leben) and ‘intellect’ (Geist) are mutually exclusive, and that, as a representative of Geist (intellect), the artist must forever be excluded from the banality of everyday life. Tonio Kröger also stands between two worlds in sexual terms, since he experiences both homosexual desire for Hans Hansen and heterosexual desire for Ingeborg Holm.


By the end of the novella, Tonio Kröger has attained the valuable insight that life and intellect, bourgeois and artist are in fact related after all. This is already hinted at in section 6, when Tonio Kröger discovers that his childhood home has been turned into a public library. If the public needs libraries, then this implies that writers and artists actually provide a very valuable public service. The novella ends with Tonio writing words of self-analysis that have been applied to him by the narrator at the end of Section 1. Hence he develops to be the narrator of his own selfhood.


In Section 1, sensitive, artistic Tonio Kröger is in love with blond, popular, sporty Hans Hansen. As the two walk home together, Tonio tries to get Hans interested in Schiller’s play Don Carlos, but then Erwin Jimmerthal arrives and Hans behaves distantly towards Tonio. Tonio is heartbroken, like King Philipp when he is betrayed by the Marquis of Posa in Don Carlos.


In Section 2, Tonio is now sixteen and in love with Ingeborg Holm. At Monsieur François Knaak’s ballet class, Tonio is so busy daydreaming about Ingeborg that he forgets his steps and dances the moulinet de dames with the girls by mistake.


In Section 3, Tonio moves to Munich and devotes himself to the power of the intellect. His perception becomes sharpened, but what he sees disgusts him. He has sexual encounters which leave him unfulfilled, and he comes to see life and art as mutually exclusive.


In Section 4, Tonio visits his friend Lisaweta Iwanowna, and tells her that – like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, that typical intellectual – he is disgusted by the world. Lisaweta Iwanowna tells him that he is a bourgeois who has lost his way.


In Section 5, Tonio bids farewell to Lisaweta Iwanowna, telling her that he plans to visit Denmark.


In Section 6, Tonio stops off on his journey to visit his tome town. At his hotel he is interrogated by a policeman, who suspects him of being a confidence trickster.


In Section 7, on the boat to Denmark Tonio has a mildly homoerotic encounter with a young man from Hamburg.


In Section 8, Tonio stays at a hotel in Aalsgaard where he surprised by the arrival of Hans Hansen and Ingeborg Holm (or their doubles). He watches them dancing together in the ballroom.


In Section 9, Tonio writes a letter to Lisaweta Iwanowna explaining his new insight: the thing that will make him into a genuine poet (Dichter) is his love for humanity. This love will be the source of his artistic inspiration. 


Further Reading


Mark M. Anderson, ‘Mann’s early novellas’, in The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann, ed. by Ritchie Robertson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 84-94

T. J. Reed, ‘Text and History: Tonio Kröger and the Politics of Four Decades’, Publications of the English Goethe Society 57 (1988), 39-54

Richard Sheppard, ‘Tonio Kröger and Der Tod in Venedig: From Bourgeois Realism to Visionary Modernism’, Oxford German Studies 18-19 (1989-90), 92-108

Lynne Tatlock, ‘Teaching "Tonio Kröger" in 2010: Loss, Repetition, and Art’, The German Quarterly 83:4 (2010), 407-09

Mark G. Ward, ‘More than “Stammesverwandtschaft”? On Tonio Kröger’s Reading of Immensee’, German Life and Letters 36 (1983), 301-16

Alfred D. White, ‘Tonio Kröger: Anthropology and Creativity’, Oxford German Studies 34 (2005), 217-23

John J. White and Ann White (eds.), Tonio Kröger (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1998)

Erica Wickerson, ‘Refracting time: symbolism and symbiosis in Theodor Storm's "Immensee" and Thomas Mann's "Tonio Kroger"’, Modern Language Review 111:2 (2016), 434-53  


Web Link

Tonio Kröger in German; click on a word for the English translation