Thomas Mann’s final novel recounts the strange and entranced career of the gifted swindler, Felix Krull, through his childhood and early manhood. Krull is a man unhampered by moral precepts that govern the conduct of ordinary mortals, and this natural lack of scruple, coupled with his formidable mental and physical endowments, enables him to develop the arts of subterfuge and deception with astonishing success and to rise swiftly from poverty to affluence. Following Krull along the shady paths his nature has destined him to take, the reader moves through a world peopled by bizarre characters from the lowest to the highest reaches of European society. Chameleon-like, Krull readily adapts himself to the situation of the moment, and so adept in the practices of chicanery does he become that his victims almost seem to count themselves privileged. And so it is too with the women who encounter the irresistible Krull, for where Krull is, the normal laws of human behavior are in suspense.
Originally the character of Felix Krull appeared in a short story Mann wrote in 1911. The story wasn’t published until 1936, in the book Stories of Three Decades along with 23 other stories written from 1896 to 1929, the year in which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Much later, he expanded the original story into a novel, managing to finish and publish Part 1, “The Early Years,” of the Confessions of Felix Krull to great public success. Due to Mann’s death in 1955 the saga of the morally flexible and irresistible con-man remains unfinished.
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