Saturday, 17 April 2010

The Pen of Thomas Mann

Working without pen and ink is something one scarcely dares to call "work", even to oneself, 
writes Thomas Mann to his brother Heinrich on December 29, 1900. The author of the Magic Mountain used to work almost exclusively in the morning hours, from 9 to noon, or 12:30 producing one and a half manuscript pages, as he writes to Austrian writer and journalist, Viktor Polzer in 1940. His slowness he attributes to "severe self-criticism", and the high requirements of form but also to

the "symbolic content" of style, in which every word and every phrase counts, for one never knows what part one's present phraseology may have to play as a motif within the total work.

Thomas Mann writes to Polzer that he works by himself and writes by hand using "what is here called a desk fountain pen instead of the steel nib". Perhaps he stopped using a steel nib in 1907 when he writes to his brother: "I can't be very coherent (we are breaking up our household here, now reduced really to complete disarray and I'm writing with a fountain pen I'm not yet used to)". But who knows?

Thomas Mann and his fountain pen, ca. 1939

Mont Blanc has produced a Thomas Mann fountain pen as part of its Writers Limited Edition, inspired by Mann's masterpiece Buddenbrooks. InkyJournal has got a review with excellent photos too.

Thomas Mann to Heinrich Mann, December 29, 1900; 7 June 1907, in Letters of Heinrich and Thomas Mann, 1900-1949, Weimar & Now: German Cultural Criticism, U. of California Press 1992; Thomas Mann to Viktor Polzer, March 23, 1940 in Richard Winston, Clara Winston, Letters of Thomas Mann, 1889-1955, University of California Press, 1992


  1. The parallel between the disarray of the household and the unwieldiness of the fountain pen is very nice: seems to indicate a symbiotic connection between the messy word on the paper and the messed-up world in the household.

  2. Yes. And the messy world in his mind ("I can't be very coherent").

  3. The MontBlanc seems too luxurious and lavish for a real, hard-working writer to use. That whole writer's series from MontBlanc is such a joke. I wonder what fountain pen Mann actually employed. In some later photos from his American period, it looks like he has a Parker 51 in his breast pocket. I can see a true craftsman like Mann utilizing such a sensible, workhorse of a pen for an honest day's struggle with the word.

  4. Adair, I agree. Take Proust for instance. He couldn't care less about the pens he used, in fact he used the cheapest nibs around. What a contrast with the luxurious Mont Blanc "Proust" pen! A less flashy "tribute" pen would have been more appropriate.

  5. In Moscow, in the State Literary Museum, I saw pen of Vladimir Mayakovsky - it was also a Parker (-51?)