Death in Venice and Other Stories

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

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Genres

Classic Classics Currently Reading Favorites Fiction German German Literature Literature Short Stories To Read

About this book

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

Reader's Thoughts

Ally

I've only read 'Death in Venice' so my review is only on that novella even though the book I bought has the other stories in it I have not and at this moment in time, intend not to read them.Gustav von Aschenbach, a famous author in his early fifties has a carefully structured way of life that is suddenly and unexpectedly threatened by sexual passion for a young boy while on holiday in Venice. The first three chapters were quite hard to get into after that though the story flowed quite well. However, I really didn't enjoy or even like Death in Venice, I felt confused and had the sense of 'is this it?' about the whole story. From reading Death in Venice it has currently put me off reading anymore of Mann's work. It was rather strange to find out that Mann had written about the young Polish boy, that Aschenbach becomes obsessed with, was actually a real person that Mann and his wife had come across while on holiday themselves. A few other aspects from the storyline where also taken from Mann and his wife's holiday.I'll be honest I'm keeping this review short because a] I didn't like it, b] it's classed as a classic and I'd feel wrong to bash it and c] mainly because I just really felt confused and let down, with the whole is that all there is to it feeling at the end of it. I guess Death in Venice works for some people and not for others.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Stevoukos

I bought a collection of Mann's stories in order to read Death in Venice. I wasn't so thrilled with that one in the end but I was fascinated by Little Herr Friedemann. As a man who always believed that feeling tranquil is more important that happiness and joy, I felt pretty connected to Johaness. A beautiful read and a perfect insight into the mind of someone who dismisses all earthly joys in favour of peace of mind but ends up dying after being hurt by love. A tragical story which ends with the realisation that a life that is not filled with strong emotions,bad decisions,pain,suffering,love and happiness is a "lie". I definitely have to rethink my priorities..

Raluca

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

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.

Ugh

Basically I just advise that you not read this book from back to front, like I did. I bought it for Death in Venice, so I read that first, then I read the other stories, and then - because most introductions are really annoying and give away crucial aspects of the plot, and I know it's probably really lowbrow of me to care even a mote about what actually happens in books, rather than purely revelling in the manner of it all, but I just fucking do, okay? - I read the introduction.But Mann basically tackled the same two themes in each of these stories - sensuousness vs a more moral, less base approach in the arts, and whether the act of creating art distances the artist from humanity - and built and evolved as he went, and the introduction provides fairly crucial context for people who aren't well versed in Naturalism and Nietzsche. So I essentially read the lot ass-over-tit and without any background knowledge.The rating is based on my ill-informed impressions. Having now read David Luke's superb introduction, I realise I'm in no position whatsoever to comment, but on the other hand certain authorial approaches Mann took, which Luke explains he took for a reason, still got on my tits: e.g. the repetition, and the prissiness of the narration. Context is everything.Favourite quote (from the introduction by David Luke): aesthetic epicurianism cannot in the end compensate for human isolation.

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.

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.

David

This collection of Thomas Mann's novellas and short stories thematically exhibits the alienation of being a passionate artist in a bourgeois society. "We artists despise no one more than the dilettante, the man of life who thinks that in his spare time, on top of everything else, he can become an artist," the title character tells a sympathetic friend in "Tonio Kroger," a story which seems at least partially autobiographical. Tonio, who has become a renowned writer as an adult, recalls an instance when he was a boy in which he tried to entice the interest of a friend -- a popular, athletic boy, everything that Tonio was not -- by enthusiastically explaining to him the plot of Schiller's "Don Carlos." The attempt was futile, however, and Tonio was left spiritually alone with his unusual love of literature."Tristan" takes the artist-bourgeois conflict to a setting that presages Mann's definitive novel "The Magic Mountain." The protagonist, an offbeat writer named Spinell confined to a tuberculosis sanatarium, takes an interest in a fellow patient, a businessman's wife who, he discovers, is a sensitive and tasteful amateur pianist. He writes her husband a derogatory letter, deploring him as a philistine who does not deserve to share his life with this secretly artistic woman, which results in a heated confrontation between the two men. In "The Child Prodigy," Mann's tone turns satirical as he focuses on an eight-year-old concert pianist giving an electrifying public performance to an audience whose various reactions -- wonder, jealousy, indifference -- are reflections upon themselves more so than on the performer. "Death in Venice" is the boldest piece in this collection, unambiguously presenting homosexuality in an artistically positive light but also showing something of a German fascination with Italian culture and scenery. Gustav Aschenbach, the protagonist, again seems to reflect Mann to an extent as a middle-aged, widowed, respected author from Munich who becomes infatuated with a teenage boy while vacationing in Venice. Whether this love ever becomes mutual or physical is not as important as the mood Mann invokes about European cultural and moral decadence, possibly symbolized by the cholera epidemic that sweeps through the city. "Man and Dog: An Idyll" is a brilliant meditation on the narrator's affectionate and occasionally difficult relationship with his pet pointer and also allows a glimpse of life in the industrialized and suburbanized Germany of the early twentieth century. To say that Mann gives the dog a human personality may seem a cliche, but few writers could achieve his level of empathy in relating a dog's behavior and desires in man's terms without resorting to outright personification. A disturbing inversion of this story is told in "Tobias Mindernickel," in which a lonely old man, given no personal background by Mann, ostracized in his neighborhood by adults and taunted by children, buys a dog and demands from it the obedience and respect he has never earned from people.Mann is truly one of the most important figures in twentieth century literature. What he chose to portray, and the talent with which he portrayed it, brighten the legacy of a century that threatened to destroy art in so many ways for so many insane reasons.

Bruce

What are we faced with here? A writer, Aschenbach, past 50 years of age, apparently with a degree of renown, driven and obsessed, tiring, feeling the need of a break or a rejuvenation, sees a young man from afar near a cemetery and experiences a burst of wanderlust, a vision of something different in his life, and decides on a month’s vacation somewhere different from his usual summer retreat in the mountains. We know nothing of what kind of writing the protagonist does, nothing of the significance of this particular young man.Aschenbach’s literary accomplishments are chronicled, and he turns out to be a genuine man of letters, having written extensively and authoritatively in a number of different genres. “His entire being was geared to fame.” There seems to be a stoici quality about his life and approach to his art, a fierceness with dignity that perseveres despite all obstacles and repeatedly triumphs, an intensity that ignores all personal discomfort, indeed a grimness in the face of all challenges. His art conceals an inner weakness with solid and undaunted surface overlying a disintegrating core. How much of this picture is autobiographical, one wonders. At any rate, this art appealed to the spirit of his age, to the many who succeeded despite and in the face of exhaustion and despair, again, a stoic picture. With his aging and artistic ripening came a moral inflexibility labeled as purity, an absolutism impatient with relativism, a “moral resoluteness transcending knowledge.” This tenacity simplifies the world and psyche but at the expense of strengthening its opposite. But this process led in Aschenbach’s later life and writing to a sort of ossification, a conventional formal glibness and predictability. Finally, his monastic stillness led to fussiness and weariness, and he yearned to escape, if only for a holiday.After a couple of abortive attempts at finding just the right location, he set sail for Venice. Disembarking into a gondola, he had premonitions of death, viewing the gondola as a coffin. After a mildly disagreeable confrontation with the gondolier, he arrived at his hotel on the Lido, aware that his solitude made him more aware of sensations than would be a traveler with a companion. And then, while waiting for dinner, he was captivated by the appearance of a 14-year-old Polish boy with his family. Encountering the boy repeatedly during the next day, he seemed to become increasingly intrigued, not to say infatuated. Yet in less than twenty-four hours, convinced that the atmosphere of Venice was making him ill, Aschenbach decided to leave the city, going so far as to send his luggage on ahead and himself going to the train station, during the ride to which he began having second thoughts, wishing to remain in Venice after all. To his joy, his luggage had been mis-routed, so he returned to his hotel to await the retrieval of his goods. Once back, he acknowledged to himself that the reason for his reluctance to leave Venice had been the boy, Tadzio, whom he again glimpsed.Days pass, filled with glorious weather, and Aschenbach no longer considered leaving; throughout the days he watched Tadzio, his observations and descriptions deeply sensual; he was infatuated. All of creation was intensified and transformed by his infatuation, his mood and language being expressed in flowery tropes and Classical allusions. He extended his holiday in order to remain in Venice with Tadzio, still never having spoken to the boy. Finally, upon receiving a smile from the youth, Aschenbach acknowledged to himself that he was in love.Four weeks passed, during which Aschenbach was now stalking Tadzio. At the end of this time Aschenbach became aware that an epidemic was spreading throughout Venice, noting that German-speaking tourists were leaving the city. Mann’s language becomes gradually more voluptuous, sickening, rotting in its metaphors, steamy, exotic and fetid, suiting the mood of the story as Aschenbach became more and more obsessed, more reckless in his behavior. All this time, Aschenbach realized what was happening but justified it to himself. And at the same time, he continued to try to find out more about the spreading illness in the city, even as he seemed not to contemplate leaving. Discovering that the problem was cholera, that increasing numbers of people were dying, and that Venice officials were hushing the matter up, he contemplated warning Tadzio’s mother to take her children and flee. But he decided not to do so, and with that decision began his further and more rapid moral decline, his descent into a deeper irrationality complete with nightmares in which he abandons his Apollonian life into a Dionysian frenzy, the psychic working out of his dissolution. He even went so far as to alter his appearance to appear more youthful, dying his hair, using makeup. Becoming increasingly tired, increasingly disoriented, increasingly ill, he fantasizes a speech by Socrates to a young lover to justify his own obsession as he lolls exhausted in a Venice square, having lost sight of Tadzio. A few days later, Tadio and his family left, but before they did Aschenbach once more watched Tadzio on the beach and, watching, died.This is a powerful and masterfully written novel, outstanding in its creation of a mood and process.

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