Friday, January 7, 2011

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain: "Whims of Mercurius", "Encyclopaedic", "Humaniora"

A stretch of brilliant, warm weather begins a few days into October. Hans' infatuation with Madame Chauchat continues. He avoids looking at or judging her defects, physical and moral, and even tries his hand at simulating some of them, such as slouching and slamming doors. One day, Hans conspicuously gets up from dinner and adjusts the curtains to stop a ray of sun from vexing her, and is rewarded with a look and a smile. But Hans' isn't always so secure in Madame Chacuchat's affections. On another day, he converses with Joachim within her earshot in order to draw her attention, even dragging Hermine Kleefeld into the conversation, but she only gives him a glance that he interprets as one of scorn. Despondent, his temperature drops. Three days later, he overtakes Madame Chauchat on the morning walk and they exchange friendly greetings. His gloom lifts, and so does his temperature.

229-230: "We have as much right as the next person to our private thoughts about the story we are relating; and we would here hazard the surmise that young Hans Castorp would never have overstepped so far the limits originally fixed for his stay if to his simple soul there might have been vouchsafed, out of the depth of his time, any reasonably satisfying explanation of the meaning and purpose of man's life."

Hans' passion becomes evident to everyone at the sanatorium. Hans, in fact, does a great deal to advertise it. One day, he even holds forth on the peculiarities of Madame Chauchat's face to a small audience of fellow patients on the veranda. Hans begins to look forward to the Sunday afternoon wait for letters in front of the porter's lodge because of the excuse it provides him to be close to Madame Chauchat. One Sunday, Settembrini pulls Hans away from the gathering into a side room, ostensibly to announce his participation in the production of an encyclopedia of human suffering. (One might wonder who would read such a thing!) In fact, Settembrini's purpose is to urge Hans to return home from the corrupting influence of the sanatorium -- a suggestion that Hans resists.

On another day, Hans and Joachim are sitting in the veranda garden after dinner when Hofrat Behrens strolls by, and Hans wrangles an invitation to look at his paintings. Hans takes particular note of the portrait of Madame Chauchat -- he even removes it from the wall and carries it about Hofrat Behrens' house during their visit. Hans and Behrens converse at length about the human body: flesh, blood, lymph, its composition (mostly water), its life and death (both processes of oxidation). But the Hofrat becomes downcast and the visit ends when Hans questions the necessity of continuity of form, which for the Hofrat is the distinction between life and death.

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