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He Was a Great Coward to Boot

June 17th, 2011  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  2 Comments

In yesterday’s cri du père about the fascism of New York playgrounds, I quoted (as pretentious bastards do) some Thomas Mann, from his famous short story about visiting fascist Italy. Later in the day, I set aside my raw grievance against helicopter parenting just long enough to read the rest of the story, which is really just amazing. Here, apropos of absolutely nothing, is one of the great, succinct takedowns of a spoiled child you will read in any literature:

The cry was addressed to a repulsive youngster whose sunburn had made disgusting raw sores on his shoulders. He outdid anything I have ever seen for illbreeding, refractoriness, and temper and was a great coward to boot, putting the whole beach in an uproar, one day, because of his outrageous  sensitiveness to the slightest pain. A sand-crab had pinched his toe in the water, and the minute injury made him set up a cry of heroic proportions-the shout of an antique hero in his agony-that pierced one to the marrow and called up visions of some frightful tragedy.  Evidently he considered himself not only wounded, but poisoned as well; he crawled out on the sand and lay in apparently intolerable anguish, groaning “Obi!” and “Ohimè!” and threshing about with arms and legs to ward off his mother’s tragic appeals and the questions of the bystanders. An audience gathered round. A doctor was fetched, the same who had pronounced objective judgment on our whooping-cough-and here again acquitted himself like a man of science. Good-naturedly he reassured the boy, telling him that he was not hurt at all, he should simply go into the water again to relieve the smart. Instead of which, Fuggiero was borne off the beach, followed by a concourse of people. But he did not fail to appear next morning, nor did he leave off spoiling our children’s sand-castles. Of course, always by accident. In short, a perfect terror. –Mario and the Magician, Thomas Mann, 1929


  1. Conor Neill says:

    June 17th, 2011at 8:57 am(#)

    That is brilliant. What a great passage of text. What a find 😉 Thank you.

  2. Nathan says:

    June 17th, 2011at 2:44 pm(#)

    Yes, he’s got it. I think I saw that same kid at the playground a couple weeks ago :-)

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