Sunday, June 22, 2014
the good fight
Therese Weichbrodt is the most respected repetitive object in the book. Why is she respected? Why does Mann call her a prophetess: “eine kleine, strafende, begeisterte Prophetin”? He is striving against her. Let her be an opponent then, or let her have a clownish power and be a mimic opponent, fighting “the good fight which, all her life, she had waged against the assaults of Reason.” She is only the headmistress of a private girls' academy in an ordinary German town. Furthermore she is a hunchback with a speech trait. What is her power? She arrives at all the important family ceremonies to give one of the Buddenbrooks a kiss on the forehead and tell them that they are a “good child.”
You could write something on the significance of a headmistress praising the failing Buddenbrooks by referring to them perpetually as good children, particularly when they themselves like to think about the time when the family business was more childlike and direct, not the modern financial world where cunning people win. “He was a fox, Hinrich Hagenström.” Complicated, brutal, adult business is not theirs in the end; it belongs to the Hagenströms.
You could suggest that the Buddenbrooks family is growing up like a person and that adulthood is being yardsticked by financial solvency, but I'm going to go back to Therese Weichbrodt. The Reason against which she fights is the impetus of the book itself. Events are being crushed irretrievably by time. One person is born, another person dies, a second person dies, someone goes somewhere and meets someone, they return, they never see that person again; they get married, they divorce. But what she prophesises is eternity, she asserts the family's right to meet again in the afterlife, as though the basic force of the repetition that she herself manufactures should be enough to crush time, and the endless recreation of that activity should make the universe aware of the responsibilities that she has assigned to it.
Not stasis for everything indiscriminately, please note, but an oasis of calmness where she is always kissing someone's forehead.