Death in Venice and Other Tales

ISBN: 0141181737
ISBN 13: 9780141181738
By: Thomas Mann Joachim Neugroschel

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About this book

Published on the eve of World War I, a decade after Buddenbrooks had established Thomas Mann as a literary celebrity, Death in Venice tell the story of Gustav von Aschenbach, a successful but aging writer who follows his wanderlust to Venice in search of spiritual fulfillment that instead leads to his erotic doom. In the decaying city, besieged by an unnamed epidemic, he becomes obsessed with an exquisite Polish boy, Tadzio. "It is the story of the voluptuousness of doom," Mann wrote. "But the problem I had especially in mind was that of the artist's dignity.

Reader's Thoughts

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.

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.

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.

Jenny Blounts

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.

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..

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.

Rebecca

Document of perilous aesthetic temperament.

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.

Barbara

When I was in college, I read Death in Venice for the first time. I can't imagine what I made of it then. Of course, the story of an older man drawn to a beautiful young boy is compelling, but the sense of time running out can't have meant much to me at that point in my life. I read the novella again recently and was struck by its power. Mann captures so effectively the emptiness of Von Aschenbach's life. Though the story is full of people, he is apart, alone, a writer, a recorder of life, not a participant. His growing infatuation with Tadzio threatens his safe world, but his desire for contact with the boy overwhelms everything else. Here is part of how Mann describes Tadzio when Von Aschenbach seems him for the second time. "It was the head of Eros, with the yellowish bloom of Parian marble, with fine serious brows, and dusky clustering ringlets standing out in soft plenteousness over temples and ears." In the beginning, he is a statue, something beautiful to admire. Yet at the end of the book, Mann writes, "Once more he paused to look: with a sudden recollection, or by an impulse, he turned from the waist up, in an exquisite movement, one hand resting on his hip, and looked over his shoulder at the shore. The watcher sat just as he had sat that time in the lobby of the hotel when first the twilit grey eyes met his own. . . It seemed to him the pale and lovely Summoner smiled at him and beckoned"

WK

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

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.

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".

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.

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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