Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
It was carnival time. Mardi Gras was upon them.
More or less everyone made a pilgrimage to Platz that afternoon to see the carnival in the streets. There were people strolling in masks – Punchinellos and Harlequins, flicking whips that rattled – and flurries of confetti burst among the pedestrians and above the heads of masked passengers in the decorated sleighs jingling past. By suppertime, spirits were already very high at all seven tables, with everyone determined to continue the public gaiety in their own closed circle. The concierge had done a good business in paper hats, rattles and sacks of favours…
Management had placed a paper lantern on each table, a colourful moon with a candle burning inside.
The festive spirit was very apparent from the start. Laughter reigned, streamers dangling from the chandeliers wafted in the breeze, confetti floated in the gravy.
Once the lights were turned off towards the end of the meal and only the lanterns illumined the dining hall with the soft colourful glow of a night in Italy, the perfect mood was set.
commentary: Mardi Gras is the Tuesday before Lent starts – yesterday was Ash Wednesday (the date is different each year, depending on the date of Easter). The world celebrated, and now the hard times have begun.
This is one of the setpiece scenes of Magic Mountain – I have already done a couple of previous posts on the book, after being inspired to read it by Linda Grant’s marvellous Dark Circle, and have looked some other works on TB sanatoria.
The patients in a sanatorium are celebrating moments in the year, glad to have survived. Before the party begins, as Hans Castorp thinks ahead
‘I’m all for celebrating holidays… we’ve had Christmas and New Year and now Mardi Gras… Then it will soon be Palm Sunday… and then before you know it it’s the longest day, Midsummer Night…’His Italian friend Settembrini shouts ‘Silence! I forbid you to play so fast and loose with time!’ – he is aware that some of the people in the sanatorium do not have much time ahead of them.
And there is one of the odd moments in the book where the author intrudes:
At this juncture we alone know to what these carnival festivities eventually led, thanks to Hans Castorp’s enterprising spirit. But we are not about to let our knowledge of what happened disrupt the deliberate pace of the narrative; instead we shall give time the honour it is due and not rush into things – perhaps we shall even draw them out a bit.And so the celebration is exciting and colourful, but becomes increasingly manic and a touch desperate. There is mention of danses macabres, and the chapter is called Walpurgis Night - the witches’ orgy which is actually April 30th.
Mann describes costumes and clothes in great details, and the whole section is compelling and horribly sad.
There have been Mardi Gras entries on the blog most years (with some wonderful pictures) - click on the label below.
The Mardi Gras picture is from the Dutch Archives.
The other picture shows patients at a European sanatorium of the era.