Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family  
by Thomas Mann
1901 / 732 pages / rating 10

The story of a bourgeois family in 19th century Germany , 1835 – 1877.   More specifically,  it’s  the tale of the family of Johann Buddenbrooks and his family,  his children, grandchildren and great grandchild – 4 generations.   Johann is a grain broker, like his own father, but makes a great deal of money, thanks in large part to war with Prussia.   When his first wife dies leaving him with a son,  Gotthold,  whom he hates,   he marries again,  builds a fine house, weds a wonderful woman and has three more children.  The first child,  Julian (Jean) grows up to be like his father, takes over the business but can’t handle quite as well.  The second child, Antonie,  marries poorly and the third child seems to be  a hypochondriac-actor.   Meanwhile,  Gottleib is left on his own.

The book really focuses on the attitudes of mid-century bourgeois Germans and the industrial revolution,  the status conscious, money-oriented business sector.  But for the characters in Buddenbrooks it also comes down to a clash between the art world and the business world.  Christian, the third child, is really an artist at heart.  The wife of Jean, the first son, is also a part time artist.  And Hannu, Jean’s son, has distinct artistic tendencies.   The main thing for bourgeois families is to acquire money and keep it.  This,  I think,  is the basis for the plot –  the Buddenbrooks keep losing it.

But over the decades the family  also loses its values – the religion becomes watered down and “tolerated” and the honest broker businessman is slowly “dealed” to death.  They spend as usual (or more) even though the “firm” makes less.  Tony marries twice .  Christian has health issues and finds a totally unsuitable woman to get involved with.
Pride is a huge problem for Tony – she wants to be the top dog.  She honors and honors her family tree – but she is also part of the cause of the downfall.  They all are – in their own ways.


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