“Professor Unrat” by Heinrich Mann (1905) – 255 pages
I’ve read and admired several of Thomas Mann’s novels, but up until now I had never read any of the novels of his older brother Heinrich Mann. I read that the Nazis had burned both Thomas and Heinrich Mann’s books as “contrary to the German spirit” during their book burning of May 10, 1933 instigated by Joseph Goebbels. What could be a higher recommendation for Heinrich Mann than that? Heinrich Mann had already left Germany for California by that time leaving as soon as Adolf Hitler took over. I decided to read his most famous novel “Professor Unrat” which was made into the movie “The Blue Angel” starring Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich.
Professor Raath has been teaching his high school class in the same small German town for over 25 years. From the beginning, there were some unruly students who, when they thought he wasn’t listening, called him “Professor Unrat” which means in English “Professor Filth”. Even now there are students that call him “Professor Unrat”, and the Professor is out to punish them. When he finds out that three of his biggest troublemakers are sneaking into a club called the Blue Angel after school, he goes there to track them down. At the Blue Angel, he meets dancer Rosa Froelich, and the rest is history.
To prepare for this entry, I also watched the 1930 movie “The Blue Angel” directed by Josef Von Sternberg. It is a fine old musical movie, but as so often happens, the movie simplified the novel leaving out much of the story. “The movie “The Blue Angel” is solely a cautionary tale about what can happen when a respectable man starts going to a nightclub to visit a scantily clad dancer. The novel is much more complex, and the life of Professor Unrat after visiting the Blue Angel is much more ambiguous and three dimensional.
Both the novel and the movie capture the grubby ambience of the Blue Angel, this working man’s club. The magician and the dancers see themselves as show performers putting on an act for the men, but they know they are really there to sell more beer and drinks before moving on to the next town.
How does Heinrich Mann’s “Professor Unrat” compare with Thomas Mann’s novels? First, it is not in the same league as a novel as “Buddenbrooks” or “The Magic Mountain”. Those two novels are masterpieces that can change your life. “Professor Unrat” is a down-to-earth earthy story that held my interest throughout, but is by no means transcendent.