Death in Venice and Other Stories (Paperback)

ISBN: 0451530322
ISBN 13: 9780451530325
By: Thomas Mann Jefferson S. Chase Martin Swales

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Reader's Thoughts

David

In this collection of stories Thomas Mann has one subject, and one alone: the provincialism and decline of the bourgeoisie of late Wilhemine Germany. The stories exude a brooding sense of decay that is symbolized in the lives of their protagonists, who are all troubled by an inability to merge cultural idealism with the material requirements of daily life. The practical men are cut off from the artists, and the artistic men are cut off from society as a whole. The result is, for the artist primarily, a disabling and often unbearable social alienation. Two character types reappear in most of the stories: the properly bourgeois individual, and the bourgeois révolté -- or the artist. What distinguishes these two types one from the other is their soundness of health: the bourgeois proper lives in a concrete world of practical ends and objective attainments, and is unselfconscious and ruddy with life. The révolté is a product of the same bourgeois civilization, but rejects its requirements of cultural conformity and practical discipline. In pursuit of art, the bourgeois révolté suffers from a self-imposed ostracism. In Mann’s portrayals, Aschenbach chief among them, the révolté is sterile and, in a few of the stories, quite literally physically defective. They cannot reproduce either physically or culturally, and they fail to integrate either themselves or their work with the culture from which they were born. This mood of pessimism is precisely what led Marxist literary critic Georg Lukacs to praise Mann as the greatest novelist of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Lukacs valued Mann’s ability to portray the subjective experience of alienation as it resulted from the (often unspecified) contradictions of bourgeois civilization. The European literary establishment shared Lukac’s esteem, if not his politics, awarding Mann the Nobel Prize for literature in 1929 for his 1901 novel, "Buddenbrooks". Yet, unlike near contemporaries such as Joyce, Proust, and Maupassant – none of whom received the Nobel Prize – the range of Mann’s stories is much more limited, and his prose style much more conventional. For all the suffering of his protagonists, cut off from their friends, families, and lovers on account of their heightened sensitivity to artistic beauty, they are still very much creatures of the dark and padded nineteenth century bourgeois interior, unable or unwilling to make the gesture of complete rejection, just as Mann himself steered well clear of modernism and its experiments. The world-consuming appetite of modernism, its urge to take in the whole of human experience, is missing in these stories. Joyce aims to embrace his native city, his “race,” and the whole of language within his fiction; Maupassant spreads his observations of noblemen, peasants, sailors, soldiers, mothers, wives, and lovers across his hundreds of compact stories. With Mann, we have the same story, told skillfully and with great variation in detail, over and over again.The result is a fiction of decline, of blocked egress, symbolized in the fate of Aschenbach himself. Mann’s most famous character is a man who is driven to extremes by his desire, but is unable to either abandon or fulfill it, a contradiction that is only resolved by his extinction.

Tommy

So spoiler alert...Basically this was an older man's ultimately lethal obsession with a young boy. Wish I knew that ahead of time because that's not exactly my thing. It was short, that's about all I can say about it that was good. Besides that, there just wasn't anything that hit me as exceptional about this. Maybe it's just personal as I just don't get off or see much in the old person sexual obsession with youth, regardless of sex. I mean I'm pretty liberal about things like this and welcome everyone to get the most out of life as long as all parties agree and it doesn't exploit children. Fantasies about young children even as literature strike me as a bit creepy and I wonder if they don't get more credit for that than their actual literal merit.This is just sticking in the back of my mind I guess as I read Lolita recently too and was equally underwhelmed. The writing was better at times there, but not nearly as good as One Hundred Years of Solitude. If you feel the need to read a classic that deals with this type of relationship, I'd read that and let it go there.This is getting long, so try to wind down and get off the soapbox. I'm not convinced that literary arguments or the amount of symbolism discussed actually redeem these works as much as they're hyped. I guess I'm cynical enough to believe it's just a dated PG sexual fantasy regardless of what others say. So to wrap up, in this day there's much better porn out there on the internet if that's your thing. I wish we'd just call this type lit what it was, risque soft porn of the time, that way I don't accidentally waste time reading more of these type "classic works of literature".

Michael

i stalk mr. mann's corpse. one of the first serious writing exercises i gave myself was to write death in venice from gustav's p.o.v. and that story is only the beginning - i have a big soft spot for all of his work.

Becca

In 'Death in Venice', Thomas Mann allows his readers to view a respectable man's descent into madness, into a dark, disturbing obsession where reason and logic have no impact on actions - where passion reigns sovereign... and it's jarring to *witness*.The story begins with such attention taken to establish the story's protagonist (*Gus von A*) as hyper-disciplined, possessing the utmost aplomb and self-mastery - only to have him come undone as the book progresses. This is one of those stories where syntax and diction play as much a part in the reader's investment as does the plot itself. Mann's sentences are at first long, and intricate - with far too many dependent clauses (seriously, try to diagram some of these suckers!)... but by the story's end, peppered amongst the ornate are an equal number of staccato phrases (often the protagonist's hurried and ill-considered decisions to act on whim). I love the art of writing and Mann's style is the equivalent of literary porn. The subject matter isn't lacking scandal either. GREAT read. It's short enough to read quickly, but why rush. Savor it a bit.

Joseph Raffetto

Death in Venice is a story of repression and beauty and youth and obsession more than decadence or eroticism.Gustave von Ashenback is a repressed, aging German writer, battling the demon of living a cerebral and repressed life. Becoming run down, he decides to travel to Venice for some Italian charm, romance and beauty. It is there that he first sees a fourteen-year-old polish boy of rare beauty named Tadzio. Tadzio is an age where beauty and youth radiate perfect skin, hair and androgynous beauty. The sight of Tadzio begins to stir the lifetime of repression in Gustave.Gustave soon spends his days watching Tadzio on the beach and following him around Venice. Even though there is a cholera plague in Venice, Gustave goes out openly obsessed the boy. The boy understands the man's attention and seems pleased with the old man's adoration. The boy poses and smiles for Gustave, before his guardians notice the lonely old man's obsession and work to protect Tadzio from the old man.Although he never speaks or touches the boy, Gustave's obsession had turned erotic. On the beach the boy half-turns to him. Gustave rises but collapses and dies.I believe all beautiful young men and women have experienced a mild obsession or a sense of admiration from their youth from an adult who obviously is attracted to him or her in an innocent or not so innocent way.

WK

How this story is told is masterful, but what is told I don't appreciate.

Schmacko

I know, it’s a crying shame I haven’t read this classic years ago. And now, having read it, I can say, “What a fascinating, disturbing little melodrama, ” set this brief but dense book aside, and then never pick it up again.Death in Venice by Thomas Mann was published in 1912. It’s about Gustav von Aschenbach, a successful septuagenarian German author who leaves his very staid, regimental life for a whim-filled holiday in Venice. While there, Aschenbach slowly shrugs off his straightjacket existence and starts to feel fiery passion. This is brought on by another vacationer to the island – a 14-year-old Polish boy named Tadzio.Death in Venice is about what 70-year-old Aschenbach’s passion means. Is it an artist’s appreciation of physical beauty? Is it the sickly old author longing after his own youth, acknowledging that that Tadzio takes youth for granted, not even realizing that his beauty is fleeting. Is Aschenbach a pedophile? Is his unnatural lust brought on by Aschenbach’s previously restrictive existence?Mann does a beautiful job of balancing all these complicated questions in a story that is both prosaic and tense. The book veers from being a confessional of sickness to an uncomfortable apologist creed for pedophilia as an education for the youth and an appreciation of physical beauty by older men. I happen to be a strong believer in social structure and propriety on this given subject, so I found myself a little squeamish, even the though the book itself is otherwise chaste. I was frustrated by Mann’s ability to both vilify the emotion and then create a shaky logic for why it exists. In that sense, the book is very successful.In another sense, this book is pure 1912 melodrama. A horrible plague has befallen Venice, a mysterious malady that becomes a major plot point. Aschenbach plummets from his formerly logical and lofty moral values into an obsessed and passion-controlled wisp of a thing. Achenbach is erudite enough that he goes into long narratives about the history of man-boy love and its acceptance in other cultures. You can feel the German trying to justify his own increasingly senseless emotions as he grows both physically and mentally sicker. Finally, it’s blindingly clear that the mystery disease and Achenbach’s lust are parallel metaphors, in which Mann gives his final judgment on the overarching subject of the book – the appreciating of youthful beauty versus pedophilic lust.I get it. I read it. I can move on.

David

I stand between two worlds, am at home in neither, and in consequence have rather a hard time of it. You artists call me a commoner, and commoners feel tempted to arrest me ... I do not know which wounds me more bitterly. Commoners are stupid; but you worshippers of beauty who call me phlegmatic and without yearning, ought to reflect that there is an artistry so deep, so primordial and elemental, that no yearning seems to it sweeter and more worthy of tasting than that for the raptures of common-placeness.IT'S SO HARD TO BE AN ARTIST, YOU GUYS!Oh, God, I have heard Thomas Mann described as this towering literary genius, a monumental figure of German literature. So I was kind of looking forward to Death in Venice and other stories as a sampler before maybe I try one of his novels. Well, his short stories have killed that desire stone cold dead.Okay, he's great with language. I won't deny it. He slowly, painstakingly, verbosely paints the inner and outer lives and pained souls of all these lugubrious connoisseurs of truth and beauty, who are all just so woeful and tormented and woe! woe! woe! But each and every story was slooooooow and went basically nowhere. It's like staring at a painting. And staring. And staring. And staring. The first few minutes, yeah, it's beautiful, and I suppose if you are a true lover of fine arts you can probably stare at it for hours and be entranced, but I would like to move on and look at something else.The most interesting part of this collection was the translator's notes on how difficult it was to render Thomas Mann's elegiac German into equally elegiac English. The linguistic structures of German, which Mann makes proficient masterful use of, are different enough from English that translation requires nearly as much artistry as that possessed by the original writer. A straightforward idiomatic translation simply won't capture Mann's use of language.I mean, for a bunch of racy tales about incest and an old writer who becomes so infatuated with a young boy that he stalks the kid all over Venice while moping about how unbearably beautiful the boy is, Mann managed to bore me out of my mind and also make me squirm at what a creeper he is, and it's not like I'm some short-attention-span teenager who can't stand literary fiction.Oh yes, there are also lots and lots of allusions and metaphors. Death in Venice is a protracted exercise in literary allusions, as are Sieglinde and Siegmund in The Blood of the Walsungs.She kissed him on his closed eyelids; he kissed her on her throat, beneath the lace she wore. They kissed each other's hands. They loved each other with all the sweetness of the senses, each for the other's spoilt and costly well-being and delicious fragrance. They breathed it in, this fragrance, with languid and voluptuous abandon, like self-centred invalids, consoling themselves for the loss of hope. They forgot themselves in caresses, which took the upper hand, passing over the tumult of passion, dying away into sobbing...Aww, that's so sweet and kind of steamy.Oh, by the way, they're brother and sister.So, from the incestuous Sieglinde and Siegmund to the tormented, angsty, artist Tonio Kröger to the doomed writer Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice, there are an awful lot of whiners and people who are either having inappropriate sex or wallowing in misery thinking about people they want to have inappropriate sex with. This is stroke fiction for tormented German intellectuals. I really, really wanted to like this collection 'cause like I said, Thomas Mann is supposed to be epically great and I can't even...This collection included the following stories, of which only a couple left an impression on me and the rest kind of passed over me as I sank into a glazed stupor:The Will for HappinessTristanLittle Herr FriedemannTobias MindernickelLittle LizzyGladius DeiThe Starvelings: A StudyThe WunderkindHarsh HoursTonio KrögerThe Blood of the WalsungsDeath in VeniceOkay, go ahead and tell me I'm an uncultured peasant. But I'm starting to think I just don't like German literature. I still need to give Hermann Hesse one more shot, and maybe, maybe, I will try one of Thomas Mann's novels. But not any time soon. I am giving this 2 stars, which I'm sure is a crime against the Aesir, but even though I normally rate books based on a combination of how well I enjoyed them and how well-written I think they are, and Mann is a great writer, I can see that, 3 stars would mean that I didn't find the experience completely unenjoyable, and frankly, I was dying to be done with this.

Ray

I only read the title story. I keep reading the gay canon backwards. I am sure comparisons to Isherwood abound. But really this reminded me more of a gussied up Dennis Cooper. I did enjoy it. I wonder why so many gay authors longly peer through the windows to look at lives they can not lead. Well actually I know why but all the isolation does get tiresome.

Rebecca

Document of perilous aesthetic temperament.

Michael Armijo

Literally, A Beautifully Written Escape...This is a remarkable short story classic that will stay with you a few days after you finish reading it. Thomas Mann, the author, in a well renown German-born author who gained success from his novellas. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1929. He left Hitler's Germany in 1933 & settled in the US in 1938 until he eventually returned to Europe & died in Switzerland in 1955. This 'Death In Venice' story had a curious draw for me at is was referenced in the book Density Of Souls by Christopher Rice and in another book I'd read. The story is short and very philosophical about an aging artist on vacation in Venice, Italy. It is literally a beautifully written 'escape'. You feel the aura of Venice as you conjure mythic images in what the artist sees as beautiful. It really is a magical book in more ways than one. I loved reading the following lines in the book (just to pick a few): To persevere through all, however, had always been his motto.; To know is to forgive.; Art-understood as personal experience, too--is life raised to the higher power.; ...the foreign tongue turned the boy's speech to music...; Ultimately, we are only as old as we feel in our hearts and minds.; ...passion is our inspiration, and our true longing must always remain a desire for love. So...as you can tell, this short novella can be as deep as you make it. Excellent!!!

Thomas

I don't think I know enough about German aesthetic philosophical traditions to truly appreciate everything in this story. But then, I seriously doubt even Kant or Nietzche himself would have caught everything in here.For such a short story (just over 60 pages), Mann manages to cram in a lot of stuff. I'll leave all the dissecting to literary scholars, and here say that I enjoyed the story immensely. And I'm sure I'll come back to it again. In fact, I look forward to picking it up years from now and not only enjoying it again, but finding some fresh nugget or being inspired to think about something entirely different than I was the first time around.If you've not read any Mann, this is the place to start. It's short enough to get through easily (but don't rush, there's so much to take in), and the themes and literary devices (most notably, leitmotif) are rich and easily digested. You also don't have to have a Ph.D. in philosophy to understand it.Just don't assume it's a story about a homosexual pedophile.

Melissa

Death in Venice is a philosophical examination of the plight of the artist. Aschenbach--the fallen artist--has lost his soul in his pursuir of success. He goes on vacation, where he falls in love with Tadzio, a young boy. As cholera overtakes Venice, Aschenbach slips deeper and deeper into his love affair. This novella is a really masterful combination of action and philosophy, seemlessly interwoven through Aschenbach's character.

Erik Hanberg

I didn't have a clue about what to expect when reading this novella except that someone would die in Venice. Partway through, I started to wonder if the death would be allegorical. It wasn't. Someone dies.I did like this story, but then again, I'm an English major, and I like picking up some of the harder-to-read classics now and then. Written in 1911, so it's a slower read, with lots of Greek allusions that went over my head. But the core of it was compelling.Not as much Venice in it as I would have liked.

Suzanne

4.5 for the collection as a whole, definitely 5.0 for the novella "Death in Venice." Any quibble I have with this book is about the collection, not the stories within. Reading them all together made me notice how very similar many of them were in characters and theme and it all got a little one-note: the tortured artist, self-consciously contemplating his alienation from the rest of “life." Same tortured artist is often tormented by the unavailability of some nearby beauty, often encountering cruelty from said beauty. I think if I’d encountered these stories one at a time it would not have been as issue. The individual stories were beautifully, beautifully written. And I cannot say enough about the last story/novella, “Death in Venice.” There’s a reason it’s a classic. There is so much going on here, so much ambiguity of meaning and motives, I would not try to say much more with only two readings. But definitely a fascinating read. And the writing! Janet Fitch said it best in her GR review of this book: “Ravishing.” Kudos to translator Joachim Neugroschel.

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