Paul S. Green and Judy Green
At the heart of Thomas Mann's novel, “Royal Highness,” is the courtship and eventual marriage of Klaus Heinrich, the heir to a fictional German principality, and Imma Spoelmann, the daughter of an American millionaire who has recently taken up residence in the principality. Imma attends lectures given by an eminent mathematician at the local university and the energy and determination with which she pursues her mathematical studies is emphasized at several points in the narrative. It should be noted that Mann's description of Imma's interests shows no knowledge of university level mathematics despite the fact that the character of Imma Spoelmann is largely modeled on his wife Katia Mann, who herself had studied mathematics at her local university, the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich, for several semesters before their marriage. Unlike Imma Spoelmann, Katharina (Katia) Hedwig Pringsheim studied with her father, Alfred Israel Pringsheim, who was her mathematics professor at Munich; furthermore Katia also studied experimental physics with Wilhelm Röntgen. In her “Unwritten Memories,” published when she was in her 90s, Katia Mann describes her university studies in a way that suggests that she did not take them as seriously as did her fictional counterpart.
Many thanks to Paul and Judy (who, by the way, is co-author of a book on women in mathematics) for bringing this book to my attention. I would like to add to their remarks that it is not only Imma's energy and determination that are noted in the book, but as I read it also the surprise and, perhaps, displeasure that others have to the discovery of her chosen field.
|(quoted from Royal Highness (Königliche Hoheit))
"And your coures of study?" he asked. "May I ask about it? It's mathematics, I know. Don't you find it too much? Isn't it terribly brain-racking?"
"Absolutely not," she said. "It's just spendid; it's like playing in the breezes, so to speak, or rather out of the breezes, in a dust-free atmosphere. It's as cool there as in the Adirondacks."