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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials - Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann was a 20th-century German author and essayist. A native German, Mann supported his homeland in World War I but became an increasingly vocal critic of fascism in the interwar period. His works are classics of the German literary canon, seamlessly blending philosophy, art, and the everyday experience of Germans like Mann himself. It is only fitting that so intellectually omnivorous an author would be a staple of the quizbowl canon!

German novelist Thomas Mann.  Part of the Qwiz5 series by Qwiz Quizbowl Camp, written to help quiz bowl teams power more tossups!

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Thomas Mann.


Death in Venice is one of Mann’s earliest works. Its protagonist, Gustav von Aschenbach, becomes obsessed with a Polish teen named Tadzio while vacationing in Venice. The novella is rife with classical allusions, and Aschenbach likens Tadzio’s beauty to a Greco-Roman sculpture. Mann also references Freud, with characters such as the red-haired man and the dandy representing Aschenbach’s repressed desires. So intense is Aschenbach’s infatuation that he remains in Venice in the midst of a cholera epidemic and dies on a beach in order to be near Tadzio.

MAGIC MOUNTAIN Magic Mountain begins with protagonist Hans Castorp traveling to the Alpine Sanatorium Berghof to visit his tubercular cousin. While there, Castorp becomes a patient himself. Critics view the sanatorium as a representation of pre-WWI era Europe. Different characters represent entire worldviews: the radicalism of Naphta, the humanism of Settembrini, and the sensualism of Clawdia Chauchat among them. The novel ends with Castorp departing for the First World War and his probable demise.

BUDDENBROOKS Mann’s first novel, Buddenbrooks explores the rise and fall of the titular German merchant family in the town of Lübeck. The Buddenbrooks are based in part on Mann’s own family. The family progresses from wealth and prestige to obscurity and ruin. The Buddenbrooks family line ends when Hanno Buddenbrooks dies of typhoid before producing an heir. Mann was heavily influenced by the philosophy of Schopenhauer while writing Buddenbrooks, and many of his characters reference it.


Written in 1943, Doctor Faustus is Mann’s most political work and a pointed critique of Nazism. Doctor Faustus uses the myth of Faust as an inspiration. Narrated by Serenus Zeitbloom, Doctor Faustus details how the composer Adrian Leverkühn intentionally infects himself with syphilis in order to find inspiration through madness. Before he succumbs to this madness, Leverkühn creates works obsessed with death and judgement, including the oratorios Apocalypsis cum figuris and The Lamentation of Doctor Faustus.

OTHER WORKS Mann also produced additional works of fiction and essays. Some of his notable fictional works include: Mario and the Magician, another novel exploring the rise of fascism; Tonio Kröger, a novella examining the development of a young artist, and The Confessions of Felix Krull; a light-hearted, unfinished novel relating the adventures of the titular confidence man.


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:

● During World War II, Mann made a series of propaganda broadcasts for the BBC designed for German listeners. Here is a recording of one—with a helpful English transcript—detailing his thoughts on the bombing of his hometown of Lübeck.

● Doctor Faustus is a tough read, thanks in part to Mann’s music theory-heavy explanations of Adrian Leverkühn’s hypothetical compositions. New Yorker music critic Alex Ross catalogues each of Leverkühn’s works and comments on his most notable.

● The titular family of Buddenbrooks are members of The Hanseaten, an elite aristocracy in Lübeck, Hamburg, and Bremen that dates to the days of the Hanseatic League. For a brief overview of the League’s history and how it came to play such a dominant role in the culture of Lübeck, check out this article.

● Famous British composer Benjamin Britten composed an opera based on Death in Venice, which can be viewed in its entirety here:

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