Mealtimes at the Berghof: who sits where?

One striking feature of the regimen at the fictional Berghof International Sanatorium in Davos, where Hans Castorp visits his cousin, is the fantastic amount of eating that goes on. There are five meals per day (this apparently rose to seven in some real-life establishments), taken in the dining room, and Hans Castorp gets the feeling that no sooner has he got up from one copious spread than he is sitting down to the next repast. I shall look at why all this feasting was considered necessary for tuberculosis sufferers in a later post on the disease and its treatments.

In this post, however, I am interested in the seating plan of Hans Castorp's table, which is unvarying and lumbers him with a bunch of tedious gossips and ghouls . . . until they either leave or die.

The seating arrangements are described – in the sub-sections "Breakfast" and "A Sharp Mind" of Chapter 3 – but there is one detail that is a little confusing and another that is plain wrong.

Can you spot them in these four passages from my translation-in-progress?

Oh, and can you guess which of HC's fellow diners is pictured above? (My thanks again to Vincent Bourgeau.)

"There were seven tables in the dining room, most of them parallel to the longer walls, only two perpendicular to them. They were large, each seating ten people, although not every place was set. A few paces diagonally across the room and Hans Castorp had reached his seat: it had been prepared for him at the end of the central table nearest the door, between the two perpendicular ones.
"To his right he had an unattractive creature in black with a downy complexion and a dull flush to her cheeks, whom he took for some kind of seamstress or in-house dressmaker, in part because her entire breakfast consisted of coffee and buttered buns and because in his mind he had long associated dressmakers with coffee and buttered buns. To his left sat an unmarried English woman, also not particularly young, and very ugly, with spindly, frigid fingers, who read letters in a rounded hand from home while drinking tea the colour of blood. Next came Joachim and then Frau Stöhr, wearing a Scottish woollen blouse. She kept her left hand clenched by her cheek while she ate and clearly made an effort to put on an educated face when she spoke by retracting her upper lip from her narrow, long rabbity teeth. A young man with a sparse moustache and an expression that suggested he had something foul-tasting in his mouth sat down next to her and breakfasted in complete silence. He came in when Hans Castorp was already seated, lowered his chin to his chest once in wordless greeting and took his place, his behaviour negating any chance of making acquaintance with the new guest. Perhaps he was too sick to have any feeling or consideration for such formalities or to take any interest whatsoever in his surroundings. For a brief moment, an exceptionally skinny, extremely blonde girl sat opposite him; she emptied a bottle of yoghurt onto her plate, spooned the dairy product into her mouth and immediately left again.
"One after the other, he asked the dressmaker and Frau Stöhr how long they had been up here (the former had been at the establishment for five months, the latter for seven), then summoned his knowledge of English to ask his neighbour to the right what kind of tea she was drinking (it was rosehip) and if it tasted good, to which she uttered a rather passionate yes, and afterwards he looked out over the dining room, where people were coming and going.
"His own table was fully occupied apart from the top seat opposite him which he was told was the doctor’s seat. Schedule permitting, the doctors joined in with the communal mealtimes and rotated between tables; one doctor’s seat was kept empty at each table. Neither of them was present now; they were reportedly in an operation. Once more, the young man with the moustache entered, touched his chin to his chest once and sat down with a gloomy expression. The skinny blonde woman was sitting in her seat again, spooning yoghurt into her mouth as if this was her only sustenance. Next to her this time sat a small and cheerful old lady, who spoke to the silent young man insistently in Russian as he looked anxiously at her, responding only with nods, and pulling that face again, as if he had something foul-tasting in his mouth. Seated opposite him, on the old lady’s other side, was another young girl—she was pretty, with a blooming complexion and high breasts, pleasantly wavy chestnut hair, round, brown, childish eyes, and a small ruby on her graceful hand. She laughed a lot and also spoke Russian, only Russian. Hans Castorp heard that her name was Marusya. He also noted in passing that Joachim looked down with a severe expression whenever she laughed and spoke."

PAUSE HERE before reading on if you want to sketch the seating arrangements first.

I tried to sketch out Thomas Mann's descriptions work in my notebook.

With four people along each side and one at each end:

With three people along each side and two at each end (after all, though unlikely, it is never stated clearly that HC and the doctor are alone on the narrow side!):

As I was struggling, I asked for some help from Vincent Bourgeau, the illustrator, and Martina Schönbächler, a Thomas Mann specialist at the ETH Library in Zurich. Here are their attempts (although, in fairness, Vincent has since revised his position):

Martina Schönbächler:

Vincent Bourgeau:

(I love the free-floating Maroussia and the doppelgänger Dr Blumenkohl in Vincent's initial attempt!)

So the problem, as we all agree, is where Marusya is sitting. And the problem stems from Thomas Mann's use of the word "gegenüber" – "opposite" – to define the position of both the yoghurt-eating girl AND Marusya in relation to the gloomy young man (Dr Blumenkohl - "Dr Cauliflower"). Mann presumably intended "opposite" to mean "facing" once and "on the other side of the table from" the second time. Marusya's position is relatively clear due to her being seated to the left of the old Russian lady – and Joachim's extreme embarrassment at how attracted he is to the giggling young woman.

The actual mistake in Mann's text – recognised, it should be said, in the notes to the Grosse Kommentierte Frankfurter Ausgabe – is that the rosehip-tea drinker is to Hans Castorp's left, as the woman to his right (the "seamstress") only drinks coffee.

The portrait is of Frau Stöhr – Mrs Sturgheon, like the fish but with an extra 'h'.

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