- Raum und Interieurs in Thomas Manns Erzählwerk. Materielle Kultur zwischen ,Welthäusern‘ und ,Urdingen‘ by Julian Reidy
Von Julian Reidy. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018. 310 Seiten. €99,95 / $114.99 gebunden, open access eBook.
Julian Reidy explores spatial arrangements and their dynamics as well as the decorations of interiors in eight novels by Thomas Mann in order to uncover hitherto neglected dimensions of the creation of cultural meaning and knowledge and of the formation and expression of the main protagonists’ identities. Spatial configurations and interior designs are aesthetic human artefacts conceived to support the occupants’ socio-cultural performances. Therefore, their study can offer insights into historical periods, as well as their world views and socio-cultural dynamics. Following Walter Benjamin, Reidy understands the nineteenth century as a time of far-reaching changes in domestic spaces and their conceptualization—developments that were closely related to the rise of the bourgeoisie, whose ideas and values informed Mann’s life and writings. Mann’s fictional spaces are experimental configurations for the exploration of the ways in which spaces are shaped according to social, cultural, and ideological concepts and, at the same time, they contribute to shaping the identities and perspectives of those using them. As Reidy shows, Mann’s spaces are conceived realistically, yet simultaneously incorporate concepts now regarded as belonging to a wide range of fields—philosophy, sociology, politics, psychoanalysis, and gender, culture, and material culture studies—and in several cases anticipating ideas that were formulated by scholars only more recently. Reidy draws on sources from these varied disciplines to trace the subtexts of Mann’s spaces, at times concentrating on larger structures such as entire buildings, at others focusing on minute interior details. He reveals links between Mann’s novels and a number of contemporaneous discourses and thus sheds new light both on the meaning and complexity of the literary works and on the author’s position in various public debates.
Reidy himself anchors his work theoretically and methodologically in the areas of spatial theory, “Interieurforschung” (18), and material culture studies. The introduction traces the notion of “Wohnen” as a bourgeois phenomenon that emerged in the nineteenth century and led to a new “Raumgefühl” (4). Chapters Two and Three concentrate on Buddenbrooks, where the elegant family home is indispensable for the formation and performance of the Buddenbrooks’ self and public image as one of Lübeck’s leading families. Reidy rejects the traditional idea of Mann’s fictional interiors as mere reflections of their occupants’ mental states and the family’s decline, instead pinpointing the descriptions of rooms as reflections of social, political, and interior-design developments during the time of the novel (1835 to 1877). For the analysis of the wall decorations in the nanny’s room, Reidy draws connections to the contemporary debate on German vs. un-German mentality and art, Theodor Fontane’s writings, Hans Thoma’s paintings, and the history of colored art prints. This enables him to reveal the family home as a sphere of discord and alienation, incapable of [End Page 736] serving as a retreat and space of self-assurance during a period of change—findings that indicate Mann’s misgivings about Germany’s progress after 1871. In Chapter Three, Reidy argues that the influence of Wilhelm Riehl’s widely read 1855 study Die Familie on Buddenbrooks is more extensive than has been acknowledged previously. Mann’s narrative of the Buddenbrooks’ decay is closely related to Riehl’s negative perspective on the decline of the “ganzes Haus,” yet conflicts with the successful historical establishment of the nuclear family. Instead, Reidy maintains, the Buddenbrooks’ decline reflects Lübeck’s (and the provinces’) waning importance after German unification.
Chapter Four turns to Königliche Hoheit and the spatial encoding of two contrasting types of representation: the traditional ducal family and their lifestyle, including their living and work spaces, must represent their subjects and the country’s values and legitimize their inherited power (“Kult,” 125); the rich and modern bourgeois Spoelmanns display a life that revolves around individuals’ comforts and goals and relies on competitively achieved...