Monday, October 15, 2012

Paraty’s Contribution To German Literature

Paraty isn’t only a charming little town within the Bahia da Ilha Grande:  
And the venue for Brazil’s most important literary festival: 

It also played a seminal role in the life one of the great German-language writers of the twentieth century.
Here’s the story:

This lady is Júlia da Silva Bruhns, the daughter of a Brazilian mother and a German father.
Back in the mid-nineteenth century, her father owned a number of sugarcane plantations on the Brazilian coast between Rio de Janeiro and the port of Santos.

Júlia was born in this house, in Paraty, and lived there until a year after her mother’s death.

And then, at the age of seven, she was shipped-off to live with her father’s brother in Lübeck.

She arrived speaking only Portuguese.

The rest of the family spoke only German.

In the Germanic fashion of the time, they decided to solve the communication problem by sending her to a boarding school where she stayed for the next seven years.

Harsh treatment, as far as I'm concerned, for a little Brazilian girl.

In 1869, she married Thomas Heinrich Mann, a senator and grain merchant.

She was seventeen; he was twenty-nine.

Their second son, born in 1875, was christened Paul Thomas Mann.

She always called him Paulo.

But the world knew him as the Nobel Prize laureate, Thomas Mann.

His mother was the inspiration for Gerda Arnoldson and Toni Buddenbrook in Buddenbrooks, for the wife of Senator Rodde in Doktor Faustus, for Consuelo in Tonio Kröger, and for the mother of the protagonist, Gustav von Aschenbach, in Death in Venice.

In her age, she wrote a book (never translated as far as I know) called Aus Dodos Kindheit in which she described her idyllic childhood in Paraty, referring to it as “the happiest time of my life”.

If you read German, you can still find it in many libraries throughout the world.
Check the World Library Catalogue for one near you:

Leighton - Monday


  1. Very interesting Leighton! Thank you!
    Greetings from Belgium where they also speak German.

  2. It is amazing how much those first seven years of life can nourish and mark you, especially if the next several years don't live up to that... Wonderful story, beautifully told.

  3. Fascinating. Maybe some great writers have these unusual people in their lives to write what they do.

  4. How do you keep coming up with this these things? Mann, oh Mann, you're terrific, L.

  5. Those amazing Brazilian women! Thank you for introducing me to yet another one.

  6. What a great history! Thomas Mann was one of my father's favorite authors, and he particularly liked The Magic Mountain and Buddenbrooks.

    But I never knew Mann's history.

    It was harsh to ship a seven-year-old girl off to Germany and then to boarding school. But she weathered it and produced a world-famous author, so somehow she was fine.