Death in Venice & Seven Other Stories

ISBN: 067960040X
ISBN 13: 9780679600404
By: Thomas Mann Helen T. Lowe-Porter

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About this book

Death in Venice -- Tonio Kröger --Mario and the magician --Disorder and early sorrow --A man and his dog --The blood of the Walsungs --Tristan --Felix Krull.

Reader's Thoughts


It's intellectually lazy to review a book and say, "No one writes like this anymore." Promulgating this false nostalgia is just puffery, a proclamation that one (save the speaker) appreciates the finer things that are no longer produced. But that sentence kept running through my mind while I read this collection of novellas (they are much more than short stories), so what was this feeling?Thomas Mann's novellas start very slowly and as I read each of these, I would begin to think that finally I'd found the collection's clunker. After about fifteen pages, I would begin to find myself increasingly eager to go where this was going and eventually some aspect of it would seep into me and I would find myself absorbed in its narrative world. This was especially true of Mario and the Magician and The Blood of the Walsungs, but even the quiet simplicity of "A Man and His Dog" drew me in.So what struck me was not just the way Mann lets his narratives unfold at a pace suited to the story at hand but also the completely matter of fact aesthetic of the retelling. These are not stories begging for attention, eager to demonstrate how clever they are; they are self-assurred and clever simply because they are. There is no meta-narrative, Mann is not winking from behind a curtain in the room, there is only the tales, well-told, engaging you on their own terms.Thinking back to my first thought, it's tempting to compare this literary confidence with its modern antitheses on my bookshelves, but it doesn't really serve a purpose. Just read these novellas.


Holy hell, Death in Venice is fucking amazing. If, like me, you somehow just never got around to reading it, pull yourself together and do something about that now.


if thomas mann were alive today, he'd be a screenwriter churning out Saw movies... well, i don't know about that, since i've never actually seen a Saw movie, and these stories are amazing while Saw is probably terrible. But these stories have these mean little moral truths in them, and after you read them, you're grossed out for a bit, and then you get it, or maybe not, but you definitely are left with images in your head.Not all of the stories are gross, though. Some are sad, and Mann speaks to outsider-y ness and introverted-isness and all sorts of life of the mind kind of stuff. So German! intense!


It took me a long time to get to Mann, but I feel in good company with him. Lots influence of Poe and Conrad and clearly in company with Dineson, who he obviously influenced, an operatic tone, ironic, comic, erudite, and seemingly a strange mix of a 19th century feel with more modern concerns and anxieties. Paul Bowles and Bruno Shultz, who are two of my favorite writers, also claim Mann as an influence, and I can see parallels in their work. “Death in Venice” is a masterpiece of symbolism and foreshadowing with a sense of growing apocalyptic dread, strange events, odd characters (the old man pretending to be young, the weird smelling clown), a mysterious epidemic, a Dionysian dream/vision, and the obsessive quest of narcissism/pedophilia. It brings to mind Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, Machen’s “The Great God Pan”, and “Lolita; and of course a wealth of mythic allusion. “Mario and the Magician” is an eerie parable of fascism with a sinister mesmerist that reminds of character from Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables. Hawthorne troublesome parables/allegories is good touchtone for this story. “Disorder and the early sorrow” is satire of the changing social order set during the Weimar republic, examining the poverty and changing/blurring social classes. Told through the viewpoint of the history Dr. Cornelius who refuses to see his era as part of history as it lacks dignity. This is a plenty telling metaphor. The Wagner meets Poe in “The Blood of the Walsungs” a tale with elements of the gothic and decadent, and filled with opera, incest, and misanthropy. So if you like Gogol, Hawthorne, Poe, Dineson, Dante, Greek myths and drama, Conrad, Voltaire, Bowles and Shultz; then you should like Mann. And consider these lines from the opening paragraph in “Mario and the Magician”; “Luckily for them, they did not know where the comedy left off and the tragedy began; and we let them remain in their happy belief that the whole thing had been a play up till the end.”

Robert Scafe

Great writer who sees art as the disciplined, rational pursuit of beauty gets a mysterious hankering to leave gloomy Munich and get some sun in Venice. There his detached approach to art is challenged by his growing infatuation with a beautiful Polish boy he sees around the hotel and on the beach. In a Freudian manner, this clenched fisted artist's repressed Dionysian tendencies explode into a self-annihilating obsession with the boy. I hope I'm not spoiling anything by revealing that he dies. In Venice. It's a great book, particularly if you're interested in the cultural paradoxes that informed extreme political movements in early 20th-century Europe. This was written in 1912, but it predicts the Fascists' seemingly contradictory embrace of irrational, violent manifestations of collective "will" out of their regimented, disciplined social ideology. It's a short book and probably a good starting place for Mann. I'm going to tackle Dr. Faustus this Winter if I can find the time.


'A level of literary quality,' says the blurb on the back cover of my Bantam Classics paperback edition, 'that Mann himself despaired of ever again matching.' Well, perhaps it's better in German. I tried the first three stories; they all seemed to be about solitary young men of straitened means and aesthetic if depressive inclinations living rather uneventful lives in Bavaria. I managed to finish the first story; the second seemed to be a variation on the first, and I abandoned it when, on turning the third page, I found myself faced with another expanse of solid prose unbroken by quotation marks. I had hopes for the third story, Gladius Dei, because it is very sort, yet the first part of it appeared, to my skipping eye, to be nothing but a travelogue description of Munich. Several pages passed before an actual character made his appearance. By then I had lost interest.In despair, I turned to the last story, the acknowledged masterpiece, Death in Venice. It seems to be about one of those young Bavarians, now mature and artistically successful, who decides to take a break from his work and travel to Venice, where he falls in love with a boy and falls to pieces. I never got as far as the boy. The prose was more muscular than in the other three stories I read, but after a few pages I had to throw it down for sheer dullness.I know Mann is heavy going. I have read Doctor Faustus , and though it was a struggle, it was one I found rewarding indeed. I wish I could say the same for these early stories of Mann's, but honesty compels me to admit I found them over-ruminative, stodgy and dull as ditchwater.


In my opinion, more than anything, Death in Venice is about the struggle of the artist as she (or in this case he) gives his art. Gives it as a piece (and the most important piece) of himself. Concisely, its about the artists battle of the undone, from within. The context and plot of this story are striking: notes of homosexuality and stalking carry throughout this pre WWII german's life. There is also a very interesting sub-plot about how those that are from the broken seem so much more unbreakable. Being great despite awful circumstances is greater than great in decent circumstances. Take that approach as you may -- this story is "important" in those big ways. So glad I read it. Now onto read Little Herr Friedmann, Tonio Kroger, and... ?


Full disclosure: I only read "Death in Venice," not the other stories. I know this was published before the so-called "Great War" (or WWI), but I couldn't help reading this as an allegory (or a warning) to the war in question. Aschenbach, a famous author, decides to go on holiday to Venice. (Venice being a veritable playground wonderland for Victorian/Edwardian men). He's suffering from a crisis in his life, his wife is dead, and he's very unhappy. Venice is lovely and beautiful and blah blah blah, until a cholera epidemic strikes many dead. hmmm... perhaps Mann was in the business of prophet-izing?


Yes, Mann really was a good writer. This collection of short stories written between 1902 - 1929 shows quite a bit of variety. Some are just plain outstanding; Mario and the Magician gave me goosebumps, and Tonio Kroger is a masterful vignette of the artistic personality coming of age. Some seem overdone for their content, such as A Man And His Dog. [And yet, the windup scene from this story sticks with me still and makes me shake my head and ponder.]Mann's specialty is detailed exposition of different personalities from middle and upper class Europeans, and he lets them take the lead. He does not shy from eccentricity and his eye for detail is relaxed. The pieces in this book are clearly dated, but that did not diminish my enjoyment of them.

Todd Johnson

"Death In Venice" is not a great way to stay awake on an airplane that you had to be up at 4:30 to catch, but with the help of some crappy airline coffee I was able to get past the first 15 pages, and at that point it becomes a really touching story. If I had read it as a senior or a junior in high school, it probably would be one of my all-time favorite stories. But, as I've gotten older, it's gotten harder for me to get as excited about fiction which contains extended narratives about Art. This is much more an issue with my taste than it is with the writing. Opting for something lighter on the return flight, I didn't get to the rest of the stories.


The title story and "Mario and the Magicians" are easily the best in this book. The rest of the stories are alright, but in light of his other works, they're inferior. Still, I wouldn't go so far as to say any of them are bad... well, except for the one about the dog.


Had to put it down--After reading the first three "short" stories - "Death in Venice," "Tonio Kroger," and "Mario and the Magician" - I simply could not slog through Mann's turgid, discursive, and sometimes anachronistic prose that did way more telling then showing without any success at all (some authors, most prominently Nabokov, Chabon, and Marquez, can do a lot more telling than showing successfully).On top of the clunky prose comes the boring story.With the possible exception of "Mario and the Magician," his storytelling was glaringly lacking as he spends way too much time on anything but the story in a gushing self-indulgent overflow of lengthy Latinate words and misplaced archaic words that make up the pale intimations of philosophical concepts derived from Nietzsche, Schopenhauer et al.To make a long story short, Thomas Mann's "short" stories are poorly written and badly told; in short, they are insufferable.Since short stories are significantly different from novels, however, I still have some hopes for his gigantic novels - The Magic Mountain and Doctor Faustus - and sincerely hope that what other reviewers had to say about them is true.Just stay away from his short stories.


It's always so very difficult to rate a collection of stories. I think I'll star them separately with brief comments on each story below.'Death in Venice' (4)Reads like the fascination of a train wreck -- the awfulness that you can't take your eyes away from.'Tonio Kroger' (4)Love not lived, life not lived. Art...expression and appreciation and how very different they can be. The last three paragraphs are fantastic.'Mario and the Magician' (4)Reminiscent of 'World of Wonders' by Robertson Davies in the creepy illusionist persona genre. (Or perhaps Robertson Davies is reminiscent of Thomas just happens that I read Davies' story first). Again this one reads like a train wreck fascination except this time the narrator is aware of it in the telling.'Disorder and Early Sorrow' (5)A story for all father's to read, especially fathers of little girls. Sweetness and beauty in the big sorrows of little people.'A Man and His Dog' (5)Wonderful opening sentence, paragraph and chapter; one I wish I could memorize for it's beauty since this is a borrowed library book that I won't have quick access to. It's the kind of chapter that you would re-read to lift your spirits.'The Blood of the Walsungs'(2)I never really understand these story lines of incestuous narcissism. But I did learn a lot about Norse Mythology, Richard Wagner, and his operas trying to figure out who Siegmund and Sieglinde were. :)'Tristan' (3)Again interesting usage of Wagner's operas in these short stories. It's possible I'm getting more out of some of my research around Mann's writings than from the writings themselves. :) Typical Mann juxtapositioning with Herr Spinell as the hero, but a cowardly one at that.'Felix Krull' (2)This is a short story written in 1911 to which Mann further expanded into a larger work in 1955. If I were a psychiatrist, I bet I could diagnose Felix Krull with something. There is nothing endearing about him...perhaps the longer version will flesh that out??

Rosemarie Herbert

This review has been crossposted from my blog Review from Rose's Book Reviews Please head there for more in-depth reviews by me.'Death in Venice' is an assigned text for one of my literature classes. It is a collection of short stories by Thomas Mann, including his possibly most famous - the same titled Death in Venice. Mann is the perfect example of a Modernist writer, and by no means are his works comfortable to read. But read on!The title story, Death in Venice, is about Aschenbach, an aging writer who falls in lust with a younger boy when taking a holiday. The work is resplendent with images and symbols, and to be fair, it is a very good text to analyse. I didn't particularly enjoy it, but it wasn't bad either.I couldn't tell you whether it is a great example of Modernism - but it is according to my tutor. The story lacks a concrete feeling to the ending, which is something I personally hate. I'm also not very fond of short stories, as I feel like I never get to know the characters well before they are killed off. This story is more like a short novella though, and there is room for some 'plot' development.Although not required for my class, I read a number of the other short stories in the book. I found them all to expand on the same themes of death and wanton destruction, and felt like once you had read one, you would expect the ending of the next to be the same (and indeed it is, with some subtle twists).This book of short stories is certainly not suitable for younger readers. Adults may struggle with the uncomfortable, and often graphic, contents of the novel. This is not something I would normally read, and I probably wouldn't seek out any of his other works.


european men, stay put. seriously, nothing good ever happens to you when you leave whatever small european town you are from and venture into the wider world. whether it is gide and tunisia, conrad and the congo, robbe-grillet with wherever that was, various graham greenes; statistically, there will be temptations which you are not equipped to resist and you will either succumb or drive yourself to humiliation and despair with the wanting to succumb. and i totally get it - different surroundings, absence of judgmental peer group, it's vacation morality. when i was in prague, i totally stole a guinness mug from the irish pub i fell in love with. so i am no stranger to a wild life of crime and transgression. i left the children alone, though... (for the record, lawrence durrell is totally exempt from this advice, although since he is dead, it doesn't really matter...)and just so we're clear - i only read death in venice. the other seven stories can go screw for now - this is just book club fare, and if i have time in my life to read more troubled intellectual germans, i will know where to turn. but for now, i must bake book club cake and enjoy my free snow day.readers, thinkers, and drinkers feb 2010

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