2015年11月7日 星期六



Felix Krull

Mann, Thomas

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction
Genre: Novella
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: 十一月-12-2004


Felix Krull begins his "confessions" at the beginning, with his family background and infancy. He comes from an upper class family in the Rhine Valley; his father owned a small manufacturing concern; he has an older sister named Olympia. Felix writes about his childhood love of fantasy, as exemplified by his love of dressing-up in costumes at home and his passion for the theater. He detested school, however, because it was so unremittingly boring.
Felix first practiced the art of deception by forging his father's penmanship on notes excusing him from school because of sickness. Later, he graduated to "performing" the illness by being able to fool his mother with imaginary symptoms. In fact, he was so good at "performing" that he was actually able to create the symptoms in himself (e.g. nausea and vomiting), and in so doing, "I had improved upon nature, realized a dream . . . " When the doctor arrived to examine Felix, the doctor initially assumed that it was a phony case (just being "school-sick"), but Felix was able to convince the doctor as well, or at least force enough doubt that he went along with the ruse.
Among the adolescent episodes that Felix confesses is his first theft (of chocolates from a sweet shop) and his first sexual experience (with a much older housemaid). He cites the latter event in the context of explaining how his "great joy" over sensual experience is so much greater than that of the common person.
Felix Krull's confessions end with the family's bankruptcy and loss of their sparkling wine factory, and his father's suicide some months later: "I stood beside the earthly husk of my progenitor, now growing cold, with my hand over my eyes, and paid him the abundant tribute of my tears."


This long story of 1911 later served as the nucleus for Thomas Mann's light and humorous last novel, The Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man (1954).
The story evokes two medically related comments. First, the character of Felix Krull demonstrates that ability (or skill) and motivation are two entirely separate issues in understanding empathy. Felix is extraordinarily empathic. He is able to understand how others feel and what they want, and then act accordingly. That is why he becomes such a good confidence man. However, in his case (at least in this story) he uses this ability to achieve his own ends, rather than for the benefit of others. Clinical empathy, on the other hand, implies a therapeutic motivation.
The episode in which Felix pretends to have an illness, and then actually is able to create symptoms, raises the mind-body connection: Is the "pretend" illness still phony if the pretender has sickened himself?
This incident leads to some interesting comments on the art (or lack thereof) of medicine, as the family doctor makes a house call to see the sick boy. Felix observes: "Indeed, the doctor's calling is not different from any other; its practitioners are for the most part empty headed folk, ready to see what is not there and to deny the obvious. Any untrained person, if he loves and has knowledge of the flesh, is their superior and in the mysteries of the art can lead them by the nose." (Around page 32 of the story)


Translated from the German by H. T. Lowe-Parker. Originally published in 1911.

Primary Source

Death in Venice and Seven Other Stories



Place Published

New York



Page Count


Thomas Mann's Last Work


Felix Krull is a man of talent and a man of desire. He uses the first to gain the second with a total disregard for social or ethical mores. He achieves his ends with a remarkable facility and lack of effort.
Felix's education began some early day in the perpetual childhood that was to be his life. It was then that he delighted to muse to himself, "I (can) not conceal from myself that I am made of superior stuff or, as people say, of finer clay." From this time on his life consisted of varying attempts to prove and demonstrate this thesis. His education consisted in learning new techniques for these attempts.
His first approach was to envelop himself in clouds of unbridled imagination. He was the Kaiser, he was a dashing young prince, he was even a lover, he was anything he could or would think of. Occasionally, costumes that his godfather supplied gave material wings for these flights of fancy.
After his supply of idols was exhausted, young Felix turned to learning the healing arts. By suitable applications he was able to create sickness which convinced even degree-holders that he should carefully avoid school. In the free time thus afforded, he discovered the great splendors candy stores held within their often unguarded doors. These two newly acquired skills were never to be forgotten by the apt student.
There were, of course, some things that Felix could not teach himself. A housemaid with exciting green eyes and an audacious lady of the evening supplied ample instruction.
Above all else Felix developed the ability to change his nature and his wit to profit from any situation. He could be French, Italian or English at the drop of his handsome lower lip. He could entertain monarchs with homely stories about house pets or penetrating analyses of the social-economic state of the nation.
Armed with these basic tools and propelled by the collapse of his father's wine-making interests, Felix stopped into the world of fashion. Though at first only an elevator operator, he quickly changed his station. There followed a dazzling set of conquests for Felix which satisfied him immeasurably. Women young and old fell before his polished manners and Greek grace. They delighted in his thievery of both their riches and their virtue. Men begged for his fellowship. He was supremely happy to have the liberty of refusing or granting these favors as he wished. He achieved his grand triumph by "becoming" a Marquis. He was perfectly at home in the position, captivated nearly everyone he came in contact with, and was in fact a tribute to the title he assumed.
This entire story is presented to us in the first person; Felix himself tells us in a supercillious tone that he finally achieved the fantasies of his babyhood. By the honesty of his confessions the reader is constantly aware that his actions do not deserve their rewards. But one recognizes that Mann is not criticizing Felix Krull. Rather he is criticizing or perhaps laughing at the institution which allows Krull to survive. In every one of his triumphs the polite society of Europe suffers.
The reader is forced to sympathize with Krull; he represents a little of the dream, of the desire to make something out of nothing which is in every man, he succeeded in his dream; he is so very, very clever. Yet a moment's thought shows that Mann is quite as clever as his character; the reader is forced to criticize an institution which perhaps he once admired. Mann is a propagandist here--more subtle perhaps than the violent dialogues stop Der Zauberberg, but just as effective.
Mann's familiar style supports his efforts as well as ever. There is the firm German repetition of motif. We are constantly reminded of Krull's nakedness and his false drapery of forms and decorum. His costumes--which bolstered his youthful fancies--become foreign tongues and social manners. His adaptability constantly recurs so that we even expect him to talk like a paleontologist within minutes after meeting him.
The reader is happy to find a recurrence of Mann's keen scientific analysis--his love for medical description and insight. The scene in which Krull evades military conscription by a self-induced epileptic fit is one of the most genuinely penetrating in the bok. The vividness induced by this scene glows with the reader for the remainder of Krull's fortunes, constantly assuring him that this man can indeed do anything.
Some slightly new notes are found in Mann's writing in the volume. There is a marked shift to the sensual. Krull's delight in candies and women and circuses are far beyond even the despest inner longings of Hans Castorp. The insistent attention to clothes, though possibly dictated by the content are a material-sensual innovation. Humor too is introduced in these confessions. Conscious irony, conscious humiliation of foolish people by a foolish man force chuckles from any reader.
The Confessions of Felix Krull is successful. It presents the reader with a simple thesis well supported. It is only unfortunate that we have but a fragment of a projected work which its great author was never to complete