Tristan Background

Tristan Background

Tristan is a novella that was written by Thomas Mann and published in 1903. Tristan is one of the six works in the collection Tristan: Sechs Novellen. The work alludes to the myth of Tristan and Iseult quite often. In this myth, Tristan is a Cornish knight who has an affair with the Irish princess Iseult. This story has greatly affected the perception of love in Western culture and art, having changed the idea of what love is after the 12th century when it first appeared.

There are three main characters in Tristan: Anton Kloterjahn, who is a wealthy but boring businessman from Germany, Gabriele, who is Anton’s wife affected with tuberculosis, and Detlev Spinell, a writer at a sanatorium. Anton leaves Gabriele at the same sanatorium as Detlev, who immediately falls in love with her. Detlev claims that Gabriele has a naturally artistic spirit that has been abandoned and crushed by Anton’s attention only on his business and not the well being of his wife. As the novel continues, Mann explores what it means to love and how love can be both beautiful and devastating.

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