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.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.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.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.Sophie
** spoiler alert ** Ahhh short stories.. novellas.. not my favourite type of read - I hate the emotional cut-off between each story! However, this was a book that I've had on my shelf for many years now and have kept meaning to read. I bought the book because I wanted to read Death In Venice - probably Mann's most famous novella. However, since this edition had the other novellas included I also read those. Below are my thoughts on each story..Little Herr Friedman - A story of deformity, love, and suicide. Some parts are inferred rather than explicitly told, but still enjoyable.The Joker - a story about wanting to live free from the constraints of society - to shun societal companionship - and yet realize that it denies you love and contentment.The Road to the Churchyard - the shortest story in this collection, and yet still rather poignant. It is about a man who has lost his wife and 3 children - one was born dead, one died of illness, and the other malnutrition. Subsequently, he drinks. On his way to the Churchyard, he becomes angered with a boy who is riding his bicycle on the wrong part of the road. He becomes angered, and chases the boy down.The boy gets away, and a crowd gathers around the man as he rages once more, and then collapses, seemingly dying. I think it's not insignificant that the boy on the bike was called Life. The man chases after Life, and yet life runs away from him. Very simple symbolism, yet very effective.Gladius Dei - a short story about a cloaked man called Jerome who becomes enraged about a lustful painting of the Madonna on display in a popular art shop in the heart of Munich. A devout religious man, he confronts the shop owner with religious zeal, and demands the picture be burned, as it is a sinful, lustful painting in the cult of beauty. He gets thrown out, and sees before him all the sinful works of art that belong in the cult of beauty, and a righteous sword of God hanging above him in the sky. He shouts, "The sword of God over the Earth, swiftly and speedily."Tristan - Progressing though the book, it is clear that Mann's style is advancing. I enjoyed this tale of patients in a sanatorium, and their friendship that hints at romantic intrigue, and certainly jealousy from Herr Spinell. Fundamental to this story is that Spinell only wishes to see the beauty in everything, to the point that in his written confrontation to Herr Kloterjahn he invents a beauty vision of GabrielleTonio Kroger - one of the longer stories, it conveys, yet again the feelings of an outsider, literary genius, and stuck between the two cultures of his parents. Tonio is forever the outside - the richest kid in class, no social qualities, unconventional looking, always in a one-sided love, troubled by matters that appear largely due to his intellectual capabilities and over-thinking, outsider at the holiday ball.. forever ignored and feeling like he doesn't fit in. An extension of the author's own internal struggles?Death In Venice - yet again centered around an intellectual, and famous writer, who is stuck in this ugly routine and order, and so decides to holiday in Venice. One thing I noticed was that everything was ugly and vulgar in this story, apart from Tadzio - a Greek-like image of beauty, of poise and upper class behaviour, of youth and innocence. Aschenbach has an awful journey to Venice (the weather, the criminal gondolier), he is described as being old with a leather face, the heat is disagreeable to him and makes him ill, the sickness of cholera spreading (with the details of the symptoms expressed for effect).. so much vulgarity, and yet he becomes entranced with Tadzio, who shines bright against the vulgarity and infatuates Aschenbach. Aschenbach holds the boy on another level - he is god-like and nothing he does is unfavourable. It comes to the point where Aschenbach stalks the child and feels he should die if he fails to see him - in fact he stays on in Venice despite knowing of the sickness because he cannot bare to part with the child, and in so suffers illness, and as Tadzio and his family leave, Aschenbach dies from sickness.. but also seemingly from the inability to part with the child he has become so entranced by.I'm glad that I chose to read all of this collection because it certainly shows Mann's growth as a writer, but also chronicles how he revisits concepts and improves on them each time, or approaches the subject in an entirely different way. Nearly all stories included an intellectual, often a writer, and his struggles with the feeling of being an outsider, and yet each story was fresh and new and took on a different approach - many times showing the growth in Mann's maturity as a person and a writer.The introduction is well worth a read, though I would recommend reading it after you have read the novellas. It gives a great background to Germany and the literary scene at the time of these novellas, as well as Mann's life and how this influenced his work, particularly referencing his inspiration from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Wagner, and his interest in nihilism and naturalism. I will say, however, that if you haven't read Buddenbrooks then elements are revealed in the introduction which may spoil it for you..I would definitely recommend this! Very interesting and thought-provoking. I found the Germanic literary style difficult at times - the vocabulary! Amazing! But, nevertheless, this was brilliant,and it is understandable that Mann's literary talents were recognized with a Nobel Prize.I will definitely be picking up another Thomas Mann book in the future..Bruce
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.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.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.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.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.Ann L.
Prose style is superb. Top-notch writing skills and sentence structure for high impact. The plots are dynamic. I have read a lot and generally do not care for short-stories, but somehow these have so much quality packed into them that they shot up to the top of my list of all-time favorite author. In fact, I am writing a mystery series now and these short stories are one of my 5 go-to books for checking on writing quality. "Little Herr Friedeman" was my absolute favorite. I thought I was used to surprise endings until I read this.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.Jenny
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.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.Rebecca
Document of perilous aesthetic temperament.