Which turn? I know full well that there are those in Lübeck who see in me the notorious bird that fouls its own nest. They do me an injustice, and their thinking is unjust – but I do not know how I should swear this to them, since they are convinced that nothing is holy to me. If I were to speak as a native of Lübeck and member of a Lübeckian family, then I can say that, in my own way, I have done just as much to honor my hometown and my family as my father – who is perhaps not quite forgotten in Lübeck – did in his way. I have managed to arouse in hundreds of thousands of Germans an interest in the life and character of Lübeck, I have directed the gaze of hundreds of thousands of readers to the old gabled house on Meng Street. And I have created a situation whereby hundreds of thousands of people would consider it an interesting reminiscence if they were to have the opportunity to meet personally the individuals after whom the characters populating my book are modeled, and one can not even rule out completely the possibility that readers in Germany will continue to enjoy these characters well past the time when the individuals who inspired them – and I myself – will have long since ceased to be among the living.
My fellow citizens will find this hard to believe. They will think, “It is simply not possible, that this little Thomas Mann, who was running around here with us and who was so unusually lazy in school, and who did not want to make good, that he is now a writer, a decent one, not just like Bilse, but rather one who will be listed in the literary history books.” Perhaps this is not possible. But if in Lübeck I am not considered to be a writer, then this does not mean that I should therefore be labeled a traitor and a desecrator of the homeland. Without a sense of family and homeland, without love for family and homeland, books like “Buddenbrooks” are not written; and whoever knows me, whoever has read certain works of mine that came after this book, he knows, despite all my artistic libertinism, how deeply to the core I remain a citizen of Lübeck.
I salute my homeland from deep in my heart. It should not think so badly of me!
Source: Thomas Mann, “Ein Nachwort [zu Buddenbrooks]” [“An Epilogue to Buddenbrooks”] (1905), in Thomas Mann, Reden und Aufsätze [Speeches and Essays]. Frankfurt am Main, 1965, pp. 714-17.
Translation: Richard Pettit