Literary Merit

Feuchtwanger Studies (2009-present) offers a fresh set of arguments concerning the literary merit of Lion Feuchtwanger’s work. Also of interest are the views expressed by the Nobel Prize for Literature committee when Lion Feuchtwanger was a prize nominee in 1930 (see Der Spiegel and Neue Zürcher Zeitung).

The subject of literary merit is briefly touched upon by Lion Feuchtwanger’s friend and fellow author Thomas Mann in the following piece for the Lion Feuchtwanger 60th Birthday Book. Thomas Mann was a in a strong position to judge on literary merit, and the piece as a whole provides a snapshot of the situation which they and their fellow exiled authors faced:

Pacific Palisades, June 7th, 1944

“Dear Lion Feuchtwanger,

I find it rather amusing that I’m sending you greetings for your 60th birthday on this handmade paper via New York, since we are, after all, neighbours on this slightly unreal coast and I often have the pleasure of seeing you in person anyway. Actually there’s nothing to stop me visiting you at your castle by the sea on July 7th, so that I may shake my young colleague encouragingly by the hand (my God, I was already 60 at the point when Hitler was embarking on his sins). That will be better than writing to you. However, I do not wish to be absent, nor will I be permitted to be, when the literary world pays you collective homage and your richly blessed life is assembled between the handsome covers of a volume, even though on birthdays one would prefer not to be what one usually is—a writer required to formulate everything with great art and precision.

Allow me, then, to be brief and sincere! This will be more of a handshake than a birthday essay. As you’ve probably noticed, I’m fond of you, and am always eager to chat when we meet socially. This is easy to explain. You are a likeable, cheerfully communicative, and—if you’ll forgive the expression! —ingenuous fellow, whose Munich manner of speaking makes people comfortable; you are also a knowledgeable, experienced man from whom one can learn something; and behind your personality lies a body of work that is diverse, energetic, rich in characters, well researched, astute in its critique of our era, and felicitous. Since the beginning, your work has been well received in many parts of the world, first in Germany, then outside it in both East and West, and in Russia and the Anglo-Saxon countries. I heard it with my own ears in England: ‘It’s almost as good as Feuchtwanger’ was true praise indeed.

I have always admired your existence. You were born to happiness and success, and they will not desert you. You are a comforting example of how a cheerful approach to individual destiny can triumph over the gloom of circumstance. Our era has treated you badly, as it has all of us. You have suffered losses and affronts, been uprooted and endangered—yet I have never heard you talk about any of this without laughter in your voice. It has all turned out well for you. I believe you were the first of the emigrés to acquire a suitably impressive house: in Sanary-sur-Mer, where we spent those first few months following our discharge as German writers. I would have loved to have brought Goebbels to your house and shown him the view, to enrage him. Now, prolific as ever, as an honored guest of this expansive but cosy country, you are waiting for the mindless episode which refers to itself as National Socialization and which you have done, you may say, your best to avoid, to come to an end. You are only 60, you spry young thing. Unlike the undersigned you’ll be able to adjust gradually to what comes next. Whether I’ll be missing out on much need not be addressed here. Provided things turn out as anticipated, we will all live to see, and celebrate together, the ignominious end of the murderous lunacy that drove us out of Germany; and each of us, when the time comes, will leave this life safe in the knowledge that on this star with which we were briefly acquainted, though not everything is, to put it mildly, entirely flawless, the most idiotic, most despicable aspects lasted no longer than perhaps a dozen years.

Yours,

Thomas Mann”

(Villa Aurora/USC Libraries, 2014)

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