Thomas Mann was born into a well-to-do upper class family in Lubeck, Germany. His mother was a talented musician and his father a successful merchant. From this background, Mann derived one of his dominant themes, the clash of views between the artist and the merchant. Mann's novel, Buddenbrooks (1901), traces the declining fortunes of a merchant family much like his own as it gradually loses interest in business but gains an increasing artistic awareness. Mann was only 26 years old when this novel made him one of Germany's leading writers. Mann went on to write The Magic Mountain (1924), in which he studies the isolated world of the tuberculosis sanitarium. The novel was based on his wife's confinement in such an institution. Doctor Faustus (1947), his masterpiece, describes the life of a composer who sells his soul to the devil as a price for musical genius. Mann is also well known for Death in Venice (1912) and Mario the Magician (1930), both of which portray the tensions and disturbances in the lives of artists. His last unfinished work is The Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man (1954), a brilliantly ironic story about a nineteenth-century swindler. An avowed anti-Nazi, Mann left Germany and lived in the United States during World War II. He returned to Switzerland after the war and became a celebrated literary figure in both East and West Germany. In 1929 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.
John E. Woods won both the 1981 American Book Award and PEN award for his translation of Schmidt's Evening Edged in Gold and has published a new translation of Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks.
A.S. Byatt was born on August 24, 1936 in Sheffield, England. She received a B.A. from Newnham College, Cambridge in 1957, did graduate study at Bryn Mawr College from 1957-58, and attended Somerville College, Oxford from 1958-59. She was a staff member in the extra-mural department at the University of London from 1962-71. From 1968-69, she was also a part-time lecturer in the liberal studies department of the Central School of Art and Design, London. She was a lecturer at University College from 1972-80 and then senior lecturer from 1981-83. She became a full-time writer in 1983. Her works include The Biographer's Tale, The Virgin in the Garden, Babel Tower, A Whistling Woman, and The Children's Book. She also wrote numerous collections of short stories including Sugar and Other Stories, The Matisse Stories, The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye, Elementals, and Little Black Book of Stories. Byatt received the English Speaking Union fellowship in 1957-58, the Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1983, the Silver Pen Award for Still Life, and the Booker Prize for Possession: A Romance in 1990.