Journal Article

Demonizing Gretchen through Gossip in Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus

Erica Wickerson

in Forum for Modern Language Studies

Volume 50, issue 2, pages 212-226
Published in print April 2014 | ISSN: 0015-8518
Published online March 2014 | e-ISSN: 1471-6860 | DOI:
Demonizing Gretchen through Gossip in Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus

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Literature cannot mirror gossip in any straightforward sense. Where gossip requires a dialogue and lacks an audience, literature tends to be the very opposite. Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus, however, complicates this definition. Although the novel's biographical theme echoes gossip's character of scandalous revelation, the mode of narration also implicitly resembles the dialogic form of gossip. By destroying the authority of his biographical subject, manipulating the temporal distance between narrator, reader and subject, and by staging multiple performances on multiple fronts, Zeitblom constructs a ‘pseudo-dialogue’ with the reader, who succumbs to his oratorical prowess. This reading has more general repercussions for interpretations of Doktor Faustus. Mann spoke about the ‘secret’ of his protagonists' ‘identity’, and this essay proposes that both characters have Faustian pretensions, but that neither one is Doktor Faustus; rather, Adrian Leverkühn mirrors Gretchen, the naïve victim. Through historical allegory, Mann illustrates that literature is more useful as a mode of working through a traumatic past than as a representation of that past.

Keywords: Thomas Mann; Doktor Faustus; gossip; performance; time; Faust; Gretchen; history

Journal Article.  6828 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Literature

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