Frederick the Great: Thomas Mann on the Political Function of the Biofictional Symbol

Michael Lackey


Frederick the Great is one of the most important biographical novels of the twentieth century, which is strange, since it does not technically exist. In 1905, Mann started work on a biographical novel about the Prussian monarch, and though he never completed it, his character Gustav Aschenbach from “Death in Venice” did. Biofiction is literature that names its protagonist after an actual historical figure, and while there were a few important biographical novels in the nineteenth century, the literary form had its first major surge in the 1920s and 1930s, with publications mainly from many prominent German writers. Mann, I contend, is of crucial importance in biofiction studies because through his writings about Frederick he provides us with a compelling framework for understanding how authors fictionalize a life in order to support the formation of a particular type of polity. (ML)

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