Author(s): SÃ¼reyya ?LKILIÃ
This paper analyses the theme of decadence as developed in the short novel “Little Herr Friedemann” [Der kleine Herr Friedemann] by Thomas Mann, one of the most prominent German fiction authors. The brief novella, one of the writer’s early works, recounts the story of the life of a man who as a small child had suffered an accident that terminated his bodily development. As in many other of Mann’s works, the theme of decadence is prominent in this story. The present study examines this topic with regard to the works influencing Thomas Mann’s writing of the novella, looking at the characters and motifs they contain. The Decadent movement originated at the beginning of the 20th century in response to Naturalism. Conceptually, the Decadent movement was characterised by characters’ excessive attention to aesthetics and fine arts; in particular, Thomas Mann in his novella refers to Friedrich Nietzsche’s point of view of a “psychology of decadence”. Mann presents the protagonists’ obsession with appearance and art as a measure to protect themselves against their society’s corrosive reactions. To some extent, the novella’s motif and the characters embodying decadence can be seen as parallel to typology and motifs found in the novel “Effi Briest” by Theodor Fontane, an important representative of the realist current. Despite certain similarities, though, the decadent characters display different reactions to their environment. In “Little Herr Friedemann”, this difference is evident especially in a performance of an opera by Richard Wagner. On that occasion, Wagner’s music is described not only in its intrinsic decadent quality; rather, Mann emphasises its varied effects on the decadent characters.