Thomas Mann (1875-1955) was one of the greatest novelists of his generation, and is one of the giants of German and world literature. His novels often delve deeply into the psychology of the characters and certainly can be philosophical in nature. Works such as Buddenbrooks (1901), Death in Venice (1912), Joseph and His Brothers (1933-1943), Doctor Faustus (1947) and The Black Swan (1954) ensure his place in the pantheon of greats, but it is The Magic Mountain (1924) that is generally considered his greatest and most influential novel (Mann won the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature, mostly due to The Magic Mountain along with Buddenbrooks).
The Magic Mountain follows protagonist Hans Castorp as he visits his tubercular cousin, Joachim Ziemssen, who is being treated at a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland. While there, Castorp’s health suffers and he ends up a patient himself. He remains there for seven years, during which time he meets a wide selection of people, characters which represent different slices of pre-war European society (an intellectual humanist, a radical marxist, a love/lust interest, and a larger than life/live large personality, among others). These characters serve to form Castorp himself as he contemplates his existence. The novel is deeply thoughtful especially in its interesting extended contemplation of modernity, in its pondering of the ebb and flow of time, the reality of illness and death and its role in living, and with sociological and cultural topics (such as music). Of course, the experience of such institutions as the sanatorium itself is deeply interesting. The high altitude remoteness of the Swiss Alps is a constant companion to Castorp as the backdrop to the story, itself representing the other worldly nature of the sanatorium.
Mann’s ill wife spent some months in a sanatorium in Davos for several months, with Mann visiting her in late spring 1912. This influenced Mann, forming the basis for the beginning of this story. The original idea for the story was meant to be a follow up to Death in Venice, and was intended to be a novella further exploring, in a comedic fashion, some of the themes from that story. Obviously, The Magic Mountain took on a life of its own, far surpassing Death in Venice in size, scope and depth.
The 1962 Limited Editions Club (LEC) edition of The Magic Mountain is impressive, if nothing else for tackling such a lengthy novel! The LEC used the original English translation by H. T. Lowe-Porter, one that was not surpassed until that done into English by John E. Woods in 1996. I have not read the translation by Woods, and while I have heard much praise indicating how much more enjoyable the novel is using his translation, I found the Lowe-Porter translation just fine. In fact, I had some hesitation in starting this novel, as I did not much enjoy Death in Venice so I feared getting stuck in 800 pages of boredom. Instead, it was a great, deeply thought-provoking and interesting story. From that perspective, Lowe-Porter did just fine!
Designed by Max Caflisch (1916-2004), a well respected Swiss typographer and book designer, the LEC edition is most remarkable for its fifty-three wood engravings done by Felix Hoffman (1911-1975), the only illustrations authorized by Mann himself, including ten three color, full page illustrations. Interestingly, Hoffman was best known as a children’s book illustrator and as an artist of stained glass. Here, however, Hoffman creates very mature, narrative-based illustrations which do a good job reflecting the setting and characterizations, even if not quite conveying the depth of the underlying story. The LEC Monthly Letter (ML) says of the illustrations:
We think that these illustrations sensitively convey the philosophic, amorous and humorous, worlds and unworldly moods that succeed one another in Mann’s great work.
For each color illustration, Hoffman has engraved a black key-plate in wood, and two color-plates in linoleum. These ten sets of engravings have been printed from the original blocks, in five different color schemes.
The color plates were nicely printed by Bentley AG in Bern-Bümpliz on Swiss paper specially made for the printing of the engravings. The reproduction seems excellent. For the text, Caflisch choose 11 point Fairfield type (designed by Rudolf Ruzicka), here composed by John Stone in Concord, New Hampshire. The ML mentions that Berry, Johnson, and Jaspert’s Encyclopedia of Type Faces describes Fairfield thus:
The type has many of the characteristics of an old face. The R has a curled tail. The g has a large bowl with a minute ear.
I found the type pleasantly clean and readable for such a long novel, and it works well with the illustrations. The title pages and chapter headings are in Eric Gill‘s Perpetual. The text was printed, along with the monochrome wood blocks, by Case, Lockwood & Brainard, of Hartford, Connecticut, on a Curtis wove paper made for this edition. All in all, not overly special, but nice enough. The two volumes are bound with an American linen shelfback bearing the title stamped in gold on a gray-green label of handmade Italian Roma paper with the sides being covered with a smoke-brown Ingres d’Arches, a mould-made French paper, impressed with a design by Mr. Caflisch.
A great novel, in a very nice package, about mid-range for LEC quality. It usually resells for anywhere between $80-150 depending on the quality, which is a great price for a novel and production of this stature.
About the Edition
- Designed by Max Caflisch
- Translation by Helen T. Lowe-Porter
- Fifty-three wood engravings done by Felix Hoffman, including ten three color, full page illustrations
- Color plates printed by Bentley AG in Bern-Bümpliz on Swiss paper specially made for the printing of the engravings
- 11 point Fairfield type (designed by Rudolf Ruzicka), composed by John Stone in Concord, New Hampshire
- Title pages and chapter headings in Perpetua
- Text printed along with the monochrome wood blocks, by Case, Lockwood & Brainard, of Hartford, Connecticut, ion a Curtis wove paper made for this edition
- Bound in three-piece style: The American linen shellback bears the title stamped in gold of a gray-green label of handmade Italian Roma paper; and the sides are covered with a smoke-brown Ingres d’Arches, a mould-made French paper, impressed with a design by Mr. Caflisch
- 7″ x 10 7/8″, 370 pages in Volume I, 386 in Volume II
Pictures of the Edition
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