Dagmar von Gersdorff

Julia Mann - The Mother of Heinrich and Thomas Mann

A Biography
Dagmar von Gersdorff
Foto: Dagmar von Gersdorff
© Jürgen Bauer

Dagmar von Gersdorff, Doctor of Philosophy, studied German and the History of Art at the Freie Universität, Berlin. She lives in Berlin and works as a literary expert and biographer. Dagmar von Gersdorff is a member of the Writer’s Association and of International PEN.

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The first biography on the mother of Heinrich and Thomas Mann


»I have a Portuguese mother. But I believe that the Romance element unmistakably leaves its mark not only on my outward appearance, but on all my artistic work as well.« Thomas Mann


Her life began like a novel. She was born not in her parent’s home, indeed not in any house at all, but in the Brazilian rain forest. Julia da Silva-Bruhns (1851-1923) grew up on a sugar-cane plantation near Rio de Janiero. At the age of eighteen she married the consul Johann Thomas Heinrich Mann in Lübeck. In the Hanseatic town she was an elegant beauty with fascinating flair. She was a wonderful piano player, sang beautifully, and wrote poems and short stories – it was she who brought a poetic, musically exotic element into the dry business world of the Lübeck family. According to Thomas Mann, »the artistic and the Bohemian« came from her; time and again the contrast of northern and southern culture, of bourgeois existence and that of the artist were the themes of his work. As the mother of five children, Julia Mann had to deal with dramatic family discord: the difficult relationships among the children themselves, the suicide of the younger daughter; but she was proud of the part she played in the writing success of her sons, and of her own wide circle of artistic friends.

Dagmar von Gersdorff, bestselling author of Goethe’s Mother, has written the first biography of Julia Mann, and in it reveals new aspects of the lives of the muchdiscussed Mann family.