Researchers examine multiple themes in ‘Doctor Faustus’

Professor James Martin and Samantha Frese ’20 allowed themselves to get lost in a world of literature during the 2018 Cornell Summer Research Institute.

Professor James Martin and Samantha Frese ’20 discuss their research
Professor James Martin and Samantha Frese ’20

The novel at the center of their studies was “Doctor Faustus” by Thomas Mann, which was written during World War II.

“My research is looking in that novel in many different directions,” Frese said.

“In a microscopic way we are learning how to do a close analysis of aspects of a novel,” Martin said. “In a macroscopic way, you could say this is a very interdisciplinary topic because it deals with the Faust legend. It deals with the history of music. It deals with German problems with politics [and] German obsession over Kultur, German Kultur.”

Through the story, the author comes to grips with what it means to be German during the reign of the Nazi party. He uses the popular Faust myth, the myth about someone trading their soul to the devil for success, to tell the story of a composer. Mann also borrows techniques from the German composer Richard Wagner, who Martin has studied extensively.

This English major and music professor are discussing and dissecting the novel and reading a variety of related books for additional points of reference.

“It’s a lot of reading,” Frese said. “It’s at least a book a day, sometimes more than that.”

This rising junior says the reading is okay, though, because she’s fascinated with all of the topics. She took Martin’s first-year seminar on opera and film, which opened the door to studying with him during CSRI.

“I really enjoyed that class, so I wanted to pursue some of the theories that we talked about in there,” Frese said.

“I singled out Samantha because I could tell she was so brilliant in class, the kinds of observations she was making, and the same thing is happening again,” Martin said.

CSRI is all about working closely with faculty to intensely study a topic for eight weeks. Samantha plans to present her research during the Cornell College Student Symposium in the spring of the upcoming school year.

“I feel very lucky to be here and to have gotten this opportunity,” Frese said.

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