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Summer 2012

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Comparative Literature

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FIVE YEARS BEFORE the publication of his novel Castorp, the Gdansk writer Pawel Huelle published a short piece of the same title in the essay collection Inne historie (1999), the title of which-translated as either "other stories" or "other histories"-consciously plays with the difficulty of writing a history of Gdansk, a theme to which almost all of the short pieces in this collection somehow return. The essay tells the story of a literary correspondence between a Lvov pastor and the writer Thomas Mann, in which Mann voices regret over some unelaborated ideas and abandoned storylines in The Magic Mountain. When Huelle hears the story of the lost letters from the grandson of the pastor, it causes him to think about what he has always missed in Mann's novel: an account of what happened to Castorp, the novel's main character, while he was a student in Danzig, a fact that the novel merely mentions in passing. Did Mann, Huelle wonders, not like Danzig enough to include it in his novel? Or did Castorp perhaps feel that his time in Danzig was a disappointment? In response to these questions, Huelle's short essay outlines what five years later would become the canvas of his own novel: the unpleasant events of Castorp's first hours in Danzig, his loud-mouthed landlady, his inability to find his favorite cigars, and his irritation with the incomprehensible idioms of the city's Polish and Kashubian minorities. The only reason Castorp could have remained for two years in the city, Huelle imagines, is his obsessive love for a mysterious Slavic woman.


Post-print version of an article published originally in Volume 64 Issue 3 of Comparative Literature.