Laughing with Bergson: Vital Laughter in Thomas Mann’s “Der kleine Herr Friedemann”

Dante S. Prado


Laughter has a prominent position in "Der kleine Herr Friedemann" (1897). While quantitatively scarce, laughter appears in the narrative climax and conclusion, signalling the end of the titular character and the novella. Despite being a distinctive feature of crucial scenes in the novella and an important topic in the period, laughter has not yet been analyzed in the novella nor, in turn, this novella in modernist studies on laughter. Addressing this gap in Thomas Mann scholarship and expanding our understanding of the similarities and differences between laughter in German modernism and contemporary theories of laughter, I analyze laughter in "Der kleine Herr Friedemann" in the light of Henri Berg-son's Le Rire (1900). The novella parallels Henri Bergson's contemporary theory of laughter. Specifically, the novella characterizes laughter in relation to vitalism and superiority and in opposition to rigidity, relations and concepts that occupy a central place in Bergson's book. (DSP)

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