Blue Angel, The (1930): Literary Source–Heinrich Mann’s 1905 Novel

“Professor Unrat” was originally published in 1905, and then, unfortunately, translated by Ernest Boyd into English as “Small Town Tyrant.”  The title, in fact, translates directly as “Professor Unclean.”

One of the most important works of Heinrich Mann, the book has achieved further fame and notoriety through film adaptations, most notably the 1930 The Blue Angel (Der blaue Engel) with Marlene Dietrich.

The book’s intent was to caricatures the upper-middle and upper class educational system of Wilhelmine Germany, and the hypocritical double standards of the title character.

In the U.S., after the success of the movie, an abridgment of the English translation was published in 1932 under the title “The Blue Angel.”

In the nook, the protagonist, Raat, is a 57-year-old reclusive, widowed school teacher, estranged from his son because of the latter’s academic laxity and scandalous trysts with women.

Though everyone around is either a former student of his or a descendant thereof, Raat is not held in high regard by his students. He takes the nickname “Unrat” (literally meaning “garbage”) as a personal affront, treating every school day as  one long ongoing battle with (or rather against) the students, using tough assignments and punishments as means of achieving authoritarian victory.

One of Raat’s most formidable adversaries is the student Lohmann, 17, whose quick-thinking allows him to escape punishment and enrage his teacher. Raat discovers a poem in the student’s notebook addressed to “Fräulein Rosa Fröhlich,” and tracks him down.

At the “Blue Angel,” he finds a placard promoting the “barefoot dancer” Rosa Fröhlich. Trying to avoid his students, Raat goes to the dancer’s dressing room, where he commands her to stop corrupting his students and leave town. In response, she offers the professor wine, and attempts to charm him with a glass of wine.

The next day is relatively calm between the students and the professor; he is afraid of being made a fool of in the classroom, and they are afraid of being written up by the principal.

That night, he returns to Fröhlich to explain that it’s unacceptable for her to accept wine, champagne, and flowers from students. She claims to sending them back.

Thus begins a relationship with Raat, in which she dominates and he caters to her every wish: expensive restaurants, new clothing, furnished flat, even sorting her laundry.

Eventually he is fired from his position, marries her, and discovers she has a daughter.

After two years, Raat is financially ruined. A friend suggests that he give “lectures,” which actually serve as cover for his wife to entertain men in the professor’s formerly respectable home.

Reentering Raat’s life, Lohmann offers to pay his wife’s debts, but the jealous Raat tries to strangle her and makes off with Lohmann’s wallet. Lohmann reports to the police, and both Raat and his wife are arrested.

The movie ends differently than the novel, with the professor all alone and collapsing in his former classroom.