Reproduction in Mann's *The Magic Mountain*
July 14, 2009 10:09 AM Subscribe
This question is about the depiction of the sexual reproduction of animals in Thomas Mann's novel The Magic Mountain
(1924). People with knowledge of biology, as well as people with knowledge of Mann's writing, may be able to give good answers.
posted by Prospero to media & arts (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm reading Mann's The Magic Mountain (the English translation by John E. Woods), and have reached the section titled "Research," in which the protagonist Hans Castorp has developed a sudden, obsessive interest in biology, and spends as much time as he can reading textbooks on the subject. In the following excerpt, Mann describes two species that Castorp reads about in a book on embryology:
In its serious pursuit of variations on this standard procedure [of sexual reproduction], nature had employed every conceivable farce and grotesquerie. In some animal species the male was a parasite in the intestine of the female. There were others where the male placed his arm down the gullet of the female to lay his sperm inside her; the arm, bitten off and vomited back up, now ran away on its fingers, long fooling scientists into believing it an independent life-form deserving a Greek and Latin name of its own. (p. 331 of the Everyman's Library edition)
Now, from what I've read of Mann (this is my second time through The Magic Mountain, and I've also read Joseph and his Brothers), he is many things, but not a fantasist. So I'm assuming for the moment that he's not pulling my leg, and these animals actually exist in some form or other, though their descriptions might be distorted through the lens of Castorp's misunderstanding. It's probably also worth noting that this book was first published in German in 1924. All that said: what animals might Mann be describing?