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

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.


'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.


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??

Josh Mings

I enjoyed Tonio Kroger and A Man and His Dog greatly, but the rest missed the mark for me. It was interesting to see the links to The Magic Mountain in the short stories.

Mr. Brammer

Exposition, exposition, exposition. Mann is the painterly sort of writer who seems to think that if you describe a setting with enough detail, then the conflict will naturally emerge. This seems like an impressionistic mode of writing - we learn a lot of odds and ends about each protagonist in each story before we understand what the story is actually about. The author in the title story spends time traveling in southern Europe and eventually ends up in Europe, has an encounter with a gondolier, ends up in a hotel where he becomes obsessed with a young Polish boy. The point? Well, the point seems to be create a mood of unresolved foreboding. Readers who need clear plot structure will probably be frustrated by Mann. This collection of stories makes me want to investigate his novels. Thanks for reading my review.


This review isn't going to make sense. I should just say that right now. I have never read Mann before. Of course one keeps hearing about "Death in Venice" and then one feels guilty about not reading it and so on. Finally, in terms of this year's late resolution of doing something about my TBR pile and book buying addiction (though I didn't buy this. My friend put it on a pile of books he was giving away) and because of a buddy read (thanks Jeanette) I read it.It is poetry, really truly. You just want Mann (who the Nazis hated) to keep writing and writing because it is wonderful.Many of the stories in this book deal with loss, but they are not sad. There seems to be something hopeful in the tone, something human and humane about that hope. Even in 'The Blood of the Walsings" which has a wonderfully sharp and witty ending, one that any well read reader will know. While the title story might be the most famous and the most rich in terms of symbolism and metaphor, I enjoyed "Tonio Kroger", "Disorder and Early Sorrow" and "A Man and His Dog" the best. In many ways, "Tonio" is very much like the work of Karen Blixen (DinV reminded me of Updike's short story "Bluebeard in Ireland" for some reason"). "A Man and his Dog" is a heartfelt story about a man and his dog that any dog lover will love (and no, the dog does not die). "Disorder and Early Sorrow" was the most beautiful story in the collection to me. All the stories are about the human condition and human loss and hope. Absolutely stunning.


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.


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?


Golly. I can't believe how much I hated the title novella here. Surprising, I know. Usually, if it's a classic, having stood the test of time, I can find SOMETHING to enjoy about it... and eventually I guess I did find something, but CRAP! it was hard to find, because, through most of the book, I was thoroughly distracted with plans for building a time machine so I could go back and kick Mr. Mann in the nuts (BTW while I'm there I'd like to kick Freud in the nuts too). Mann constantly confuses bloated high diction for beautiful writing, and hoity-toity high-mindedness for art. Mainly, the problem is, he's dizzy on the Greeks. Like the highest thing a story can possibly do is evoke some sense of relation to the classics. Aschenbach, the main character, is set on a playing field with a number of thinly-veiled deities... and I swear: constantly referring to the sun as a chariot wheeling daily across the sky should be outlawed unless you actually wear a toga and burn lamb guts to Zeus. Otherwise, all this classic-ophilia, it doesn't add to the story at all; it only adds to your pompousness, Mr. Mann. This story could've been really funny and really tense (not to mention half as long), but it was so self-consciously wrapped up in being a greatly nobly symbolic poetic wonderwork it was just boring. And, honestly, how can a story about pedophilia be boring? I dunno, but Mr. Mann, you did it.Okay now I did find some stuff, some adept symbolizing to admire here. The parallels between the faded glory of the main character, a *great* writer, and the once great sea republic of Venice; the ephemeral and disinterested qualities of Tadzio, god of youth... okay that stuff is good. You didn't get a Nobel for nothing I guess, so go ahead and pat yourself on the back (which you kind of do when you're lead character is a *great* influential writer who is obviously just you with a different name). And some of the imagery is fun, like the old codger who dresses too young and dyes his hair and wears carmine on his cheeks, like some kind of comical clown corpse, who Aschenbach eventually becomes — that was pretty strange in a good way. And the ending was, I admit, pretty awesome. But I'm still holding you guilty, Mr. Mann, for smashing all the life out of your story with a heavy load of contrived, "high"-minded bullcrap.I gave it two stars, but realize that one of those stars is actually a black hole sucking up all the light radiated by the other star. That other star might as well not exist at all.So... I wonder how the rest of the stories in this collection are?


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... ?


I think I'm fonder of the other Mann I've read, but I would never deny Mann's skill in writing. Some of these stories were a little more contemplative in approach than lived for me, perhaps more intellectualized than suited me at the moment. Still I enjoyed a number of these stories a great deal. After all, Mann is the man.

Yair Bezalel

It can be a joy to be wrong sometimes. Going into this collection I didn't have much to go on regarding Thomas Mann. I'd heard some biographical details and titles of works, but nothing more. I'd heard his name mentioned in the same breaths and sentences as Kafka, Goethe, Hesse, in German literature particularly, and in the same vein along some of the writers of the highest echelons of the world generally, but I, for lack of a better term, never got around to him. I expected him to be the runt of the German litter, the one who came late to the party and only made it in by the skin of his teeth. I was wrong beyond words.But one early evening segueing languidly into night in Jerusalem, I popped into a used bookshop (which, wonderfully, Jerusalem has plenty of) and picked up a few tomes for my soon to be coming move back to America. I was in an odd state of mind as I was tremendously relieved to be traveling back to the country of my upbringing with all that that entailed...but I was also more than a bit sad, troubled even, that I hadn't succeeded in Israel. Not getting into the army, not learning Hebrew quickly enough to get a job to improve it further and also being unable to attain the Masters degree I had to set out to obtain...I was tired, so tired, in so many ways.On that night though, I picked up (if I recall correctly) Peer Gynt, a copy of A History of Ancient Philosophy, and this Thomas Mann collection.A lot happened between my buying the collection and my actually reading it. For one thing, I left Israel and spent an eventful and infinitely memorable six days in Estonia. After that I made my way back home to California. It was there I started thumbing through Death in Venice.It was a slow process. I thought after reading Saul Bellow I'd be ready for languid prose that took it's time and suffused the pages as well as nearly overwhelmed the reader with no acquiescence to ease or convenience. But Bellow would be the speaker at the dinner party, the man surrounded by onlookers throwing out as many cultured references and allusions as he can muster in an attempt to do through force what a writer like Mann, the one sitting around a fire place with a sparse but intimate number of friends can do easily, casually, with no less effort, but with infinitely more grace, calculation, and, dare I say, skill.Death in Venice is haunting to me because it acts, completely knowingly, as a collapsing bridge between two exclusive worlds beyond joining, that are also inexorably linked. The ancient world of the classics, of Greek, of Latin, of Gods and and passion and feeling more fluid, more primal than what we have now. And the second world, our ostensible world, a world trying harder and harder to divest itself of its more flexible, even more sylvan past, and maintain everything through repetitious, near dogmatic assertions of reason, logic, philosophy, science, all of it meant to make explicable, make real, make palatable our reality. But Mann in this story, depicts a man torn in half who vacillates between straddling the line and, finally, inevitably, letting it cut him in two, destroying him utterly. It's a fecund and feverish story that's relentless in its artistry. Objectionable due to the content? Of a grown man fallen in hopeless love and lust for a boy? Oh, most definitely. But that's the point. It's from this vantage point Mann shows us two worlds colliding, and all the passionate and destructive fallout that ensues. It's a lush and even deadly story.Now, as for the rest of the collection. What can I possibly say? They are all excellent. And considering this is a short story collection that's doubly impressive. I don't think I've ever given a perfect score to any collection like this before, not even Joyce's Dubliners. Tonio Kruger is as beautiful an authorial and even artistic manifesto as one is likely to find (hand in hand with Portrait of the Artist), Man and his Dog is a humble and warm slice of life, Tristan is a maddening look at human frailty and the power coupled with futility of the written word, Blood of the Walsungs is a masterwork of decadence and narcissism and an incredible depiction of an empty and superficial generation descending into apathy and slow irrelevant death. Mario and the Magician is a deft satire about the rise of character based cults in German leadership and chilling given its context. Disorder and Early Sorrow feels like a blueprint for later works, a slow and drawn out exhalation that still holds true and still shows the keenness of Mann's vision. And finally Felix Krull, while funny, is also unexpectedly tragic, so much so that I believe the last few lines of it, of a son paying tribute to a dead father through the gift of his tears, will stay with me for quite some time, if not for the rest of my time I read and think.It's a powerful collection, at times, many times, even sublime. Please devote yourself to it when you get a chance, make the time for it even. It's worth far and beyond the time and energy needed to read it and will pay you back emotionally, even spiritually, in dividends, as an affirmation or possibly a reaffirmation of the awesome and necessary power of true words written by a divinely skilled hand. And now, as per a friend's advice, I must start the Magic Mountain, possibly even putting my life on hold until it's finished and appreciated fully.

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.

Jerry Auld

In the age (1911) before TV this style of writing was probably the only game in town, and it may be that this was the first time that a story had delved into madness and obsession in such a metaphorical way for the demise of a man who is yearning for the innocence of his youth, but today, and to me, it reads thick and overwritten, clunky at times and not at all delivering the bang for the work. Mann is subtle, but it would work better with a lighter touch on the exposition. Perhaps I was not the right audience, but I struggle to see how his reputation is deserved.

Matthew Balliro

Whether you're going to call it a novella, a short story, or something in between, "Death in Venice" is simply an ensnaring work. It's nothing groundbreaking or experimental (from what I can tell; but I'm not an expert in pre-War short German fiction), but that doesn't mean it isn't fascinating. It's the story of an aging German writer's vacation to Venice and his reflections and encounters with beauty, youth, and illness when he's there. That's a much-simplified description of what's going on, and it really needs to be read to be experienced. Recommended for everyone.

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