Love and Humanity: Casualties to Divine Warfare

Christianity’s mythic war between God and Satan for the heart of mankind has long fascinated the Christian world. The twentieth century seems in particular to contemplate the idea that perhaps, looking at the trajectory of its history, Satan is winning this war. Thomas Mann explores this notion in the 1947 novel Doctor Faustus, using the conflict between God and the Devil as a powerful influence upon the metamorphosis of his protagonist, Adrian Leverkühn. While a multitude of characters influence Leverkühn’s development, a few in particular have exceptional impact. This impact lies not only in his personal development, but also in his journey towards either salvation or condemnation, and these characters act as messengers sent from both heaven and hell to win Leverkühn’s soul. The scales, however, seem tilted in the favor of the demonic, and though Leverkühn discovers that he is in fact able to love someone other than himself, this realization is coupled with tragedy. Leverkühn finds himself trapped by Fate as Heaven and Hell grapple for his soul-for redemption versus damnation-and ultimately he must yield to the victor that has finally embraced humanity. From the novel’s beginning, metamorphosis, often coupled with imitation, plays a strong and recurring symbolic role. Jonathan Leverkühn first introduces young Serenus Zeitblom, our faithful narrator, and his son, Adrian, to exotic moths, sea creatures and inorganic imitations of organic phenomena. Adrian is particularly impressed with the butterfly Hetaera Esmeralda, a creature “whose transparent nakedness” after its metamorphosis “makes it a lover of dusky, leafy shade…its wings smudged with just a dark splash of violet and pink, so that in flight, with nothing else visible, it imitates a windblown petal.” This butterfly comes to symbolize the imitation and the transformation that play a crucial role in Leverkühn’s life. Adrian matures to become a man who, while brilliant, is also cold, with a distinct lack of interest in familiarizing himself with acquaintances or even with many of his closest friends. While Zeitblom refers to Adrian by his first name, Leverkühn calls him only by his last, though in tribute to their long friendship, he does refer to him with the “familiar ‘you.'” Leverkühn extends this cold aversion to women, and has no interest in developing romantic relations or even physical contact at all. He is a man completely absorbed by his studies and work. When led astray to a whorehouse, though, Leverkühn quite suddenly finds himself in the midst of a “hell-hole of lusts,” wherein he meets the first messenger destined to play a fateful role. As he plays the piano-his only connection to the familiar-“a nut brown lass, in Spanish jacket, with large mouth, stubbed nose, and almond eyes-Esmeralda, who strokes [Leverkühn’s] cheek with her arm.” Never having touched, or been touched by, a woman, and given the setting in a house of prostitution, this woman’s touch lingers on his cheek, burning in shame. Her impact is such that Leverkühn dubs her Hetaera Esmeralda, after the delicate and naked butterfly of his youth, and while “the arrogance of the intellect had suffered the trauma of an encounter with soulless instinct, Adrian would return to the spot where his deceiver had led him.” After a year of abstention, Leverkühn does indeed return to this spot in search of Esmeralda. He finds her in Poszony, recently committed to a hospital for the demonic disease she gives him-syphilis. In their act-of love, or of lust?-Adrian commits his soul to the Devil. Though Esmeralda warns him of her condition, and though Zeitblom sees this as an act of compassion and love, “love and poison were joined as a single experience, as a mythological unity embodied in the arrow.” Thus, though she surely despises her role, she is a messenger of the Devil, a pawn in his games despite her better intentions. And “in that embrace, one party forfeited his salvation, the other found hers.” Though he never sees her again, Esmeralda’s impact is such that in much of Leverkühn’s work, and most importantly in the culminating work, Lamentation of Dr. Faustus, Adrian includes homage to Esmeralda with the encoded melodic line: H-E-A-E-Es, for Hetaera Esmeralda. It is not until four years after his sinful encounter that Leverkühn finally meets face to face with his demonic tormentor: the Devil, who-in a classic Faustian arrangement-offers him twenty-four years of artistic genius in exchange for his soul. He first appears to Leverkühn as a pimp-master; one can extrapolate that Esmeralda was his whore, bound to him for reasons unknown, though certainly tragic. The Devil’s several changes in appearance underscore the emphasis on transformation in the novel: from pimp to player to refined gentleman connoisseur, and even to the classic, twirl-mustached and pointy-goateed demon. The Devil insinuates that Leverkühn has in fact known since that fateful night the consequences of his act with Esmeralda. He refers to Leverkühn’s own words:And so it was by givingMe cooling drink by nightYou poisoned life and living . . .And on the wound the serpentNow tightly clings and sucks . . . Esmeralda was the cooling drink by night, given to Leverkühn, which poisoned his life with sin and syphilis. And the Devil is, of course, the serpent, who knows feeds off the wound he is responsible for. The Devil argues that he is directly responsible for Leverkühn’s affairs, from his encounter with Esmeralda to his ill luck with the two doctors he seeks to treat his illness. “In your interest, to be sure, we dispatched those bunglers,” for if the doctor’s had continued their treatment, it might have been overcome, rather than lain dormant for some twenty-four years as it did. The Devil argues that this was also his doing, for had the disease not been allowed to continue, his offer to Leverkühn would have been rendered false. Perhaps the doctors were agents working for Heaven, attempting to stay the sway of Satan before it grew worse. He would, however, would have no such thing, and the pact made in the bed of Esmeralda was thusly confirmed. While the doctors may or may not have been working for Heaven-they could as well have been bitter agents of Hell, attempting to sabotage their Master’s attempt to win another soul-there is, without a doubt, an angelic figure sent from Heaven in a last attempt to gain salvation for Leverkühn. This is his nephew, the elfin prince, Nepomuk-Echo. Leverkühn had, before Echo’s appearance in his life, decided that despite his attempts at breaching the distance between himself and humanity, humanity had rejected him. With Echo’s arrival, though, Leverkühn is utterly swept up by Echo’s ethereal and beautiful appearance and nature. Echo seemed “a visitor from some tinier, daintier, finer world . . . [evoking] a fundamentally strange, ethereal, not quite earthly joy and serenity.” Zeitblom compares him to a cherub in heaven, something “that had fallen from heaven,” and Echo’s sky-blue eyes seemed to show “a primal purity from another world; the cherub-like face with its singular and explicit childishness.” Even Leverkühn feels as though Echo “comes from a long way off” and Echo’s presence fills Leverkühn with a compassion, joy and love he had not known himself capable of. Paired with Echo’s Heavenly countenance is a sense of duty, a sense that Echo is on a Heaven-sent mission to save his uncle’s soul before it is too late. In “the child’s stance and demeanor . . . [there was] a certain coquetry and an awareness of his own magic.” The purpose of his mission is made abundantly clear in the evening prayers he recites before bedtime. He calls upon the power of God-“Goad,” in Echo’s distinct and endearing manner of speech-reminding Him that “So be man’s wrong how ever great, / The grace of Goad hath larger weight. / At sin, swhich hath a narrow space, / My Goad doth smile, so wide His grace.” Requesting that God keep “me pure on earth each day, / Till death’s great toll I sometime pay,” (presumably so that he may fulfill his mission) Echo also asks that God “Mark that another’s prayer is fit / To save the prayer’s soul with it. / Swhile Echo prayeth for manking, / In Goad’s good arms is he entwined.” It seems clear that Echo has been sent from Heaven to protect Adrian, to invoke a powerful love-of only such can be found in redemption-and, with this love and beauty, nullify the demonic pact and drive Satan’s presence out of Leverkühn’s life. Alas, it would seem that Satan’s power is indeed great, and that Heaven is not the dominant force at work. Echo refers to the person who “to hell he hath been born” in his evening prayers also, and there is a deeply tragic element to Echo’s story. As quoted before, it seemed as though Echo had “fallen” from Heaven. Perhaps the emphasis is truly on the “fallen” in that phrase, for Echo is not successful in his mission to redeem his uncle. Instead, in a cruel twist of fate, his own life is sacrificed to the Devil’s war against Heaven; Echo is struck down by the same poisoning of the cerebral meninges that would later claim Leverkühn’s life. Diseased and tormented, Echo’s “heavenly eyes dimmed . . . [his face looked] strangely, horribly deformed; and especially when accompanied by fits of teeth-gnashing that were soon part of the affliction, the impression created was that of a child possessed.” While “Nepo” takes it etymology from the Latin word for “nephew” or “beloved one,” it is possible that it has a second, more obscure etymology from the Nephilim of Biblical mythology. As Echo is a fallen guardian, these mythical giants were the offspring of fallen angels-angels who forsook their Heavenly divinity in the act of succumbing to their lust for the daughters of men. Leverkühn’s fate, it seems, lies not in Heaven but with the demonic in the Hell that Satan claims Leverkühn has already begun to create for himself on Earth. At the time of conversation with the Devil, Adrian had been inflicted with a coldness to the humane that was, with the help of the Devil, “evidently an anticipated hell you prepare now for me on Earth.” Since that time, though, Adrian had disobeyed the one clause to his Faustian agreement-he had found humanity in his love for Echo. Leverkühn “had thought . . .that [Satan] would permit it, might allow this after all. But no, where should He, being far from grace, find grace, and in His beastly rage He surely had to crush this above all else.” Resigned to his fate, Leverkühn makes one final rebuke of the Devil’s power. While Leverkühn must descend to hell, he “will yet know that [Echo] is in the place from whence You, foul filth, were cast out. And that will be the cooling water upon my tongue and a hosanna to mock You in my foulest curse!” And despite his miraculous metamorphosis into a being able to love, Adrian Leverkühn despairs, and discovers “that it ought not be . . . the good and the noble . . . what people call human, even though it is good and noble . . . it ought not be. It will be taken back. I shall take it back . . . The Ninth Symphony.” The optimistic symbol of humane brotherhood and the ultimate redemption and salvation of humanity. Leverkühn finds himself the subject of a singular battle in the war between Heaven and Hell, and this knowledge leads him both to ingenious musical work and the renunciation of all things humane. Despite Heaven’s efforts to overcome the cruel and malicious power of Hell, it is ultimately Hell that triumphs, that lays claim to the soul of one who found love when he least expected it-a love that was viciously torn from him; a casualty to divine warfare. Despite Satan’s nefarious accord, though, a metamorphosis of spirit does in fact take place. Before the end, Adrian finds it within himself to love someone more than he loved himself, to feel the true pain and sorrow of loss. And though he descends to Hell, one gets the sense that he does not go quietly. It is a truly disturbing notion: that Satan is winning the war with God for the souls of humanity; perhaps, though, having found a piece of humanity in his own life, Adrian Leverkühn won a kind of victory for Heaven after all.