Vincent Bourgeau has produced another wonderfully apt portrait of one of the major characters in 'The Magic Mountain': the director and head doctor of the Berghof International Sanatorium, Hofrat Behrens.

(There is a whole discussion to be had around the term 'Hofrat', a title bestowed on Dr Behrens by a grateful Italian prince. 'Hofrat' – literally, 'court adviser' – is a title that is still used today in Austria for top-ranking civil servants and, like an obsolete Austrian and Prussian title, 'Geheimrat' or 'secret adviser', is most closely associated with the UK position of 'privy councillor'. That would be a seriously misplaced and misleading translation here, but I also wanted to go a little further than John E. Woods in the 1996 translation of 'The Magic Mountain', which referred to the doctor as Director Behrens. He is director of the sanatorium, but there is something more reverential, more discretionary about 'Hofrat'. I have therefore settled on 'Counsellor Behrens' – at least as a working title. Incidentally, Thomas Mann based this character on Geheimrat Professor Dr Friedrich Jessens, who had treated Katia Mann during her stay in Davos.)

Thomas Mann describes Hans Castorp's first encounter with Behrens on page 72 of my edition of the novel:

'They almost bumped into Counsellor Behrens in the doorway, however, as he strode in with Dr Krokowski at his side.
"Oops, watch out, gentlemen!" Behrens said. "That could have been nasty on the corns, yours and mine." He said this in a broad Lower Saxon drawl. "A-ha, so there you are," he said to Hans Castorp when Joachim introduced him with a click of his heels. "Well, nice to meet you." And he gave the young man his hand, which was the size of a shovel.
He was a bony man, a good three heads taller than Dr Krokowski, already completely white on top, with a protruding nape, large, bulging, bloodshot blue eyes moist with tears, an upturned nose, and a cropped, lopsided moustache due to a curl in his upper lip. What Joachim had said about his cheeks turned out to be absolutely true: they were blue—and so his head stood out vividly against the white surgeon’s coat he was wearing, a belted smock that extended below the knee, offering a glimpse of his striped trousers and a colossal pair of feet in somewhat battered, yellow lace-up boots.'

We will later learn that Dr Behrens paints in oils and, crucially as far as Hans Castorp is concerned, Madame Chauchat has been sitting for him. Hans Castorp expresses grudging admiration for Behrens's talent for rendering the skin of her cleavage, which Behrens attributes to his familiarity with both the inside and the outside of the human body.

Linguistically, though, and for the translator, Behrens has a very characteristic way of speaking, which combines the familiar, the vulgar, the idiomatic or figurative, and, at times, invented highfalutin words.

"Anyway, trot along now for your promenade! No more than half an hour, mind! And stick that quicksilver cigar in your face afterwards! Write it all down properly, Ziemssen! Dutifully! Diligently! I want to see the graph on Saturday! And your esteemed cousin should take readings too. A reading never did anyone any harm. A good morning to you, gents! Enjoy yourselves!"

Note the combination in this passage on page 75 between 'nun mal los' – literally 'off you go' which I thought it more amusing to translate as 'trot along' - and 'Lustwandel', which entered German usage in the 1920s, rose in prominence throughout the 20th century and has since collapsed into rarity. I considered 'stroll', but 'promenade' is more fitting in tone and also carries a sense of levity that belies the fact that many of the patients are in no condition to traipse around mountain paths.

A 'quicksilver cigar' (Quecksilberzigarre) for a thermometer is a splendid coinage by Mann, not least because cigars and thermometers (and pencils, as we saw on Walpurgis Night) are major phallic symbols in the novel. At which point, I cannot resist juxtaposing these two objects with their identical slants, just as Hans Castorp always tilts his head:

A second passage of Behrensian speech:
"Always on the hoof, I see? Lovely out there in the big wide world? I’ve just come from an unequal battle, it was on a knife edge or a bone saw’s—serious business, you know, a rib resection. Fifty per cent used to stay on the slab. We’re better at it now, but we often have to knock off early, mortis causa. Anyway, today’s was a good sport, hung on bravely for a while . . . How’s your constitutionality, gents?"

Again, there is a bit of everything here: telegram-like half-sentences at the beginning, embellished idioms ("Zweikampf auf Messer und Knochensäge"), medical Latin, bluntness about his profession, chumminess ("der von heute konnte ja Spass verstehen") and then an invented word, "Befindität", which is a Latinate exaggeration of "Befinden" or "condition". I realise that "constitutionality" is a legal term, but it does not seem out of place here as an augmentation of how someone's health is.

What is important, it seems to me, is to reflect the full gamut of Behrens's idiolect, mixing down-to-earth, slangy terms like "on the hoof" and "on the slab" with longer, fancier vocabulary. You have to imagine his Lower Saxon (i.e. North German) drawl...

It is interesting to compare the way Behrens talks with the Italian Settembrini's speech patterns, where the words leap off his tongue, plump and round, like little marbles. Settembrini is vain and savours language; Behrens fires off cheerful, entertaining salvos – then slides into melancholy when on his own.

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