Death in Venice and Other Stories

ISBN: 0451526090
ISBN 13: 9780451526090
By: Thomas Mann Jefferson S. Chase

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About this book

Tobias Mindernickel --Tristan --Tonio Kröger --The child prodigy --Hour of hardship --Death in Venice --Man and dog.

Reader's Thoughts


I've formed a book club in my neighborhood, and this is the selection for our next meeting, along with Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. In this, my second time reading it, I was impressed by the readability of Mann's style. I was somewhat reminded of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, also about middle-age passion for adolescence, but without Nabokov's finely calculated irony that sets the author at just the right esthetic distance to avoid unpleasant complicity with the subject matter. I had the uncomfortable feeling in reading Death in Venice that, despite the disdain for the protagonist in the narrative, there existed an underlying empathy and identification with Aschenbach.Also in contrast with Lolita, Aschenbach has far less control over his situation, which is perhaps more realistic than Humbert Humbert's seeming ease in navigating the course of his seduction. Aschenbach is a fly in the web of a destiny of which he's only dimly aware. Most uncomfortable reading.


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.


I'm going to be honest here, the only reason I read this book was because I have to study it for my German exam this year. I think this is also one reason as to why I did not enjoy this as much as I wanted to. I have to know this book pretty well, (inside out, back to front, forwards, backwards, sideways and diagonally), something that I think took the enjoyment out of my reading! My main dislike for the book was the lack of dialogue. Even if Aschenbach had simply talked to himself, I would have enjoyed the book more. The subject matter did not bother me, in fact, it intrigued me, and one plus for having little dialogue was the fact that we got to delve deep inside Aschenbach's thoughts and his views of Tadzio. I was desperate for some kind of verbal interaction between the two, but, unfortunately, it did not happen. I felt the end was right, if Mann hadn't finished it in the way that he had, we would have just been given more chapters of the same content, interjected with some new sightings of Tadzio. Ultimately, this was an okay book. Maybe in a couple of years time, when I don't have to read this for school, I might enjoy it more. Who knows?

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.


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.


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.


Though I found Mann's style to be a bit boring, I did find comfort in the similarities between his characters and my own ego. The motif of the outsider, the person who cannot fit in society's predetermined roles and must struggle to come to the facts that he will forever be on the outskirts, observing society rather than taking part in it, is one I am quite familiar with. But while I still keep optimism in the ideas I form for stories I will never write, Mann's work overwhelmed me with sadness. I found this tone to be accentuated more in the way the stories trailed off without a finality, as if to suggest that this struggle he's been carrying within him for so much time will never let him go, that he had long lost hope to ever find peace of heart. THow would I have loved to find out how the young Tadzio would react when his elder admirer finally approached him. But it was not written in the stars for the two to be acquainted and I suppose it was a parallel of sorts of the times that Mann lived in, when one was bound to keep their inner turmoils inside and though two kindred souls might recognize each other by their gaze, their association would be improbable.

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. you can tell, this short novella can be as deep as you make it. Excellent!!!

Daniel Pecheur

I just finished reading this and I was really blown away. Thomas Mann is an extraordinary writer who provides brilliant insight about the condition of the suffering artist. Using the character of Tadzio as the ideal of beauty, Mann describes the final days of a famous writer named Aschenbach, who while vacationing in Venice discovers this young male who becomes the apotheosis of all his ideals of beauty and intoxicates him in a rapture of emotion that carries him, like a sickness, to the throes of anguish and unremitting, fiercely irrational obsession. It brings to my mind some other works I've read this year, like Wilde's Picture of Dorian Grey and Camus' The Plague. Dorian Grey because like Wilde, Mann uses a young male to represent the ideal of beauty, though with far greater depth and penetrating language. Like Camus' Plague, Mann uses the motif of an omnipresent plague to parallel with the inner turmoil of his central character, who succumbs to the obliterating madness of his love for Tadzio, losing all sense of his inveterate rational composure. The Apollonian cedes to the Dionysian, Aschenbach stumbles into the abyss of passions and dies in the captivated sight of his fetishe, the godlike image of beauty. The ending yields an inevitable and yet powerful catharsis that the entire novella has been building up to and waiting to burst in some excruciating crescendo of despair, here seen as the physical death of Aschenbach which consummates the other "death" in Venice-- that of his life-long sober and contained artistic convictions that have burned up under the raging influence of an emotion that spells his annihilation, that undermines every belief he has lived by and sends him crashing impotently in the fires of uncontrollable passion. Aschenbach's inner struggle and ultimate death embodies the troubled soul of the artist that expends all its energy in wistful contemplation of the Ideal, and when it is finally seen in physical form, it results in a devouring pang of insatiable desire that can be nothing less than fatal.

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.


While on the quintessential backpacking-through-Europe trip in my early 20s, my traveling partner and I, of course, went to Venice. We arrived and were immediately charmed by the uniqueness of this mythic city, checked into a super cheap room and ventured out to explore. After a warm afternoon/evening of flirting with gondoliers, getting lost down tiny alleyways, admiring glass jewelry, and drinking inexpensive wine, we returned to our room. It was dark. We turned on the glaring overhead lights and were faced with something out of a horror movie. Dozens upon dozens of plump, well-fed mosquitoes had been squashed against the eerily blank white walls and the quivering shadows of their still-living counterparts could be seen hovering in the corners. Further investigation of the room turned up several swatters and some toxic-looking bug spray. The next day we checked into a place that cost slightly more, but that was air conditioned and had no need for opening the windows. We spent a lovely few days in Venice, exploring its many charms, but the insect-infested nightmares and itchy welts lingered like the reek of the canals...reminding us of the city's more gruesome underbelly. I was reminded of this experience while reading "Death in Venice." Aschenbach is both charmed by Venice, and troubled by it. Much like Aschenbach, I would go back to the city in a heartbeat. The first thing that drew me into this little masterpiece was his vibrant and well-balanced description of the setting through Aschenbach's eyes (perhaps partially because I have been there and could relate...and even all of these years later, Venice remains quite a bit the same.)Obviously, as I look toward teaching this book to my European Lit class in the fall, I'm wondering how to head off the "Eeew. He's a creepy pedophile!" comments before they even start. Admittedly, as I witnessed the development of Aschenbach's love for the young Polish boy, Tadzio, over the course of the book, I had my own moments of "ew," but I felt that Mann's candid and unguarded exploration of Aschenbach's psyche helped me to see that this story goes far beyond that of an older man obsessively stalking a beautiful young boy. As Aschenbach nears his final moments of his writing career (and his life), he is grasping for that perfect beauty that every artist hopes to achieve, represented in the symbol of Tadzio.I find it quite crafty that Mann is able to create such an intimate relationship between the reader and Aschenbach that, at times, the reader knows and understands Aschenbach's innermost feelings, intentions, and motives even better that Aschenbach does himself. I'm also anxious to go back and the story more slowly, in the process reading up on the many layers of mythological references that Mann makes. I read it quickly the first time--I almost couldn't help it--but it is clearly a book meant to be savored, reread, digested slowly. At the book's end, I found myself flipping back in search of this quotation, seeking something to help me make sense of it: "Yes, even on a personal basis art is an enhancement of life. It makes you more deeply happy, it wears you out faster. It engraves on the face of its servant imaginary, intellectual adventures and, with time...makes him spoiled and fastidious, producing a weariness and nervous curiosity that could hardly be generated by a lifetime full of extravagant passions and pleasures." Ultimately, and in its simplest terms, Aschenbach's story is about what it means to be an artist, what it means to pursue beauty. A hefty theme for such a slim volume, but one that he seems to explore adeptly in all of its complexity of pleasure and pain.


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.


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.


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.


Document of perilous aesthetic temperament.

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