The Black Swan (1954 book)

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First UK edition (publ. Secker & Warburg)

The Black Swan (in German, Die Betrogene: Erzählung) is a German novella written by Thomas Mann, first published in 1954.

A period work, it takes place in Düsseldorf, Germany, in the late 1920s.

Plot summary[edit]

Rosalie, a 50 year old widow, finds her youthful manner diminished by the "organic phenomena of her time of life," or menopause. She lives with her adult unmarried daughter and an adolescent son, both of whom juxtapose youth to her "superannuated" purpose in life.

The family hires a young, American-born man to tutor for her son. Rosalie is strongly attracted to him and is soon infatuated. Her daughter disapproves more strongly now of her still socializing mother. Then, seemingly miraculously, Rosalie's menopause reverses. Where her vitality, and sexual awareness would be in decline, she is in a heightened state of sexual awareness including the return of menstrual bleeding.

Rosalie plans a family trip and declares her intentions and availability to the young man. They plan a liaison in the Rhine castle Schloss Benrath, but it never takes place. She is found dead of a hemorrhage caused by a metastatic tumor in her uterus.

The surgeons' commentary include a discussion on the possible causes of Rosalie's newfound youth. Cancer was an obvious cause of her tumor, but one doctor supposes that it could have been the yearning for love and her altered or re-awakened erotic personality that stimulated her ovaries thereby causing the cancerous growth.


The setting for the story and Europe in transition after the First World War creates the old-fashioned and modern age comparisons which are developed strongly in the characters of Rosalie's family. The graphic descriptions in female biology, symbolic and overt sexuality and death create a dark picture for life's twilight. He revisits mortality and like Death in Venice, of 1912, comments on societal attitudes and age. As in that work, Rosalie dies before any interest is consummated.

Cultural impact[edit]

It stands as one of the first works to bring hard medicine into popular culture.

See also[edit]

  • Medicalisation of falling in love: medical students' responses to Thomas Mann's The Black Swan