Wednesday 7 June 2023

Mann, Heinrich "Man of Straw"

Mann, Heinrich "Man of Straw", or "The Patrioteer", or The Loyal Subject (German: Der Untertan) - 1914

Thomas Mann is one of my favorite writers, but I had never read anything by his brother, and when a friend recommended "Der Untertan", I finally gave it a go.

Now, I don't want to compare the two brothers , I don't think that's possible.
Because of his political views and his criticism of fascism, he had to flee Germany after the Nazis took power.

You immediately notice in the story what the author thinks of his protagonist Dietrich Hessling, he doesn't like the submissive behaviour at all. Ultimately, it did lead to the most dreadful part of German history. The description "nazi prefiguration" fits exactly. This is how you imagine the supporters, whether party members or followers. I also saw him compared to Trump somewhere. Bingo!

If you're a bit interested in history, this tongue-in-cheek book is both exhilarating and terrifying, mostly because we know what comes after.
I really liked the novel, I think I'll read more by Heinrich Mann.

"Man of Straw" is the first book in the "Das Kaiserreich" [The Empire] trilogy, the other parts are called "Die Armen" [The Poor] and "Der Kopf" [The Head] (both probably not translated into English as I couldn't find any titles on the usual sites.

From the back cover:

"First published in 1918, Man of Straw is a sharp indictment of the Wilhelmine regime and a chilling warning against the joint elevation of militarism and commercial values. The Man of Straw is Diederich Hessling, embodiment of the corrupt society in which he moves; his brutish progression through life forms the central theme of the book.

Man of Straw is a satirical novel that connects the tradition of nineteenth-century German literature with the larger problems faced on the eve of the Nazi era."


  1. I haven't tried much German literature so far except for 'Alone in Berlin', 'Steppenwolf' and 'Night Train to Lisbon' all of which I was most impressed by. I'm not 100% sure if I HAVE any more German Lit tucked away somewhere, but I'll see if I can schedule more when I can.

    1. Yes, German literature is not as broadly read as English but there are quite a few great authors, as you have probably read on my page before. Apart from the ones you mentioned (who all wrote more great books), Thomas Mann is one of my favourite authors, Günter Grass, Stefanie Zweig, Bertold Brecht is one we all have to read in school but I think his work is so important. Stephan Orth is a contemporary author who travels through the world via couchsurfing and has written quite a few interesting tales about it (and they are all translated).
      I also have a list on my German blog where you could check whose author's books I read most and I'll happily let you know which ones you might like most.

    2. Thomas Mann is definitely on my radar, but I'll check out your list and see if I can add more to my (so far) sparse to-read list. I'll be reviewing a German non-fiction work shortly.

    3. Definitely check out a Thomas Mann book, Kitten. My favourite is Buddenbrooks.

  2. I also wanted to read something by Heinrich Mann, and this seems to be something to start with. I tried to get hold of Der Blaue Engel but don't know whether it is translated into English.

    1. Yes, it has been, Lisbeth. The German title of the original book is "Professor Unrat" and they used that for the translation, as well. "Der Blaue Engel" is the title for the film with Marlene Dietrich, made after the book.