Friday, December 27, 2013


William Faulkner publicly proclaimed his own choice for the greatest novel of the 19th century, and it was not written by Dickens or Austen or Balzac or Flaubert or Tolstoy or Dostoevsky.

Faulkner's favorite was begun in 1897 by a twenty-two-year-old German, finished three years later in 1900, and published in 1901.

When Thomas Mann received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929 the citation specified that the award was "principally for his great novel Buddenbrooks."

This was a book I had never read, until this month. And I might never have done so if the book itself had not beckoned to me from inside the pages of The Bourgeois by Franco Moretti.

Moretti placed most stress on Mann's picture of Capitalism as a sort of unreliable monster-god guaranteed to betray and destroy its own believers.

Yet the book is also said to be widely "cherished" in Germany as a nostalgic picture of a lovely stable vanished way of life.

The Marxist reading and the Sentimentalist reading seem about equally plausible, now that I have actually read the book.