Every year I do a series of Xmas entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. If you use Pinterest you can see some of the beautiful seasonal pictures on this page, and you can find (endless!) more Xmas books via the labels at the bottom of the page. You’d think I’d be running out of Xmas books and scenes by now, but far from it – I have to begin this feature earlier in December each year. More ideas still welcome in the comments. (If it’s a particularly good choice I will ditch one of the ones I have ready and give you credit…)
Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
A tall handsome fir had been set up a few days beforehand at the far right end of the dining hall, next to the Bad Russian table; and its piny scent, finding its way among all the aromas of rich food, occasionally reached the noses of the diners and awakened a kind of wistful look in the eyes of some who sat at the seven tables. By suppertime on the 24th, the tree had been gaily decorated with tinsel, glass balls, gilt cones, little apples in nets, and all sorts of candies; its colourful wax candles burned during the whole meal and for a while afterward. It was said that little trees with candles had been provided for the bedridden too – one tree per room.
A great many parcels had arrived over the last few days. Even Joachim Ziemssen and Hans Castorp had received packages from their distant, low-lying homeland, carefully-wrapped gifts that they had then spread out in their rooms: cleverly chosen articles of clothing, neckties, luxury items in leather and nickel, as well as an abundance of holiday pastries, nuts, apples and marzipan, in such quantities that the cousins gazed at them dubiously, wondering when they would ever find a chance to eat it all.
commentary: This cheery scene is set in a sanatorium for TB patients, in Switzerland at the beginning of the 20th century. The book is one of the great works of the century, but it is a commitment to read it because it is very long and quite sad. I read it earlier this year, inspired (finally, having been meaning to read it for years) by Linda Grant’s Dark Circle, a virtuosic novel on the treatment of TB after WW2.
Christmas at the sanatorium is a charming occasion, although Mann has already warned us that one of the patients will die shortly afterwards. But then, patients die throughout the book… later on, a nurse is quite straightforward with the main character, Castorp:
Quite rightly, the idea would never have occurred to her that it might be more tactful to spare Joachim, and she was much too businesslike to think that anyone, and certainly not a close relative, could possibly indulge in self-deception as to the nature and outcome of the case.Not very festive perhaps – but the Christmas scene in the book gives us some respite, and the book isn’t as depressing as it might sound. The Bad Russians (as opposed to the Good Russians, who include a woman Castorp has a crush on) made me laugh every time they appear.
You can read other entries on this book here: there will be more sanatorium/hospital posts as part of the Xmas meme….
The 2nd picture shows, remarkably, exactly a sick young woman in a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland, celebrating Christmas in bed with her own tree. It is from the Dutch archives.
The 3nd pic is the sanatorium of Davos, from Flickr.
The Xmas tree is from the NYPL.