Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Death In Venice by Thomas Mann

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (1912, sixty pages)

Last year I read and was totally overwhelmed by the power and depth behind Thomas Mann's (1875 to 1955-Germany) The Magic Mountain.   It as if all of European culture were almost summed up in one work.    When I saw Ally from Snow Feathers and Dolce Bellezza were jointly hosting an event this month, February in Venice,  in which participants are asked to read books about or set in Venice I knew at once I wanted to read Death in Venice this month.  

The story is about a writer of highly regarded literary works who feels his creativity needs the stimulation that a trip to Venice has often brought him in the past so he books sea passage from Germany to Venice.   Shortly after his arrival in Venice, the author sees a stunningly beautiful young man of fourteen and develops and obsessive interest in him that may in fact be the results of the central character's latent homosexuality producing an erotic fixation on an idealized never to be realized love object.

Gustav von Aschenbach is a man of extreme refinement totally dedicated to his art.    He is held in the highest esteem in German cultural circles.   On the boat trip to Venice the author is somehow repulsed by a man about his age with a party of much younger man who is trying to act as if he were young.   I got the feeling this was an allusion to the other man being gay and this revolted Aschenbach.    Of course those most revolted by a life style other than their own are often acting out of fear of their own hidden impulses.

The author begins to follow the young man and his family all over Venice so he can see the boy.   He finds it necessary to speak of his fixation on the boy through the filter of the views on beauty expressed in Plato's Phaderus.   There are some very interesting comments on theories in the dialogue and I think I will have to reread this dialogue soon (it has been decades since I read any Plato).

I do not wish to tell more of the plot.    There are big themes, as one would expect, in this work.   The question as to whether or not Aschebach is a latent homosexual pedophile is central to the book.

I would endorse this book to anyone who likes a novel of ideas.   If you do not like works in which characters reflect in a fairly high level fashion on abstruse philosophical issues then Death in Venice might not work for you.    I really enjoyed this work a lot.   I must say I thought the ending was really brilliant and deeply ironic.   I think this book would repay well repeated readings.   Venice is beautifully described in many passages of Death in Venice.

Please share your experience with a Thomas Mann with us.

Mel u


JoV said...

Always wanted to have a read about Death in Venice. Glad you like it and all the more reason to read it. Cheers.

Mel u said...

Jov. I think based on your posts that you might like it alot. Hope you are well

Dwight said...

Mel, it's been a while since I read this but I remember both liking it and disliking it at the same time. I'll have to revisit it to remember why, though.

My experience, though...well, I'll link to this post for one of the eeriest book moments I've ever had.

carol said...

Sounds like one I'll skip, even though it does seem perfect for Venice in February. I generally tend toward lighter books.

Nancy said...

I will check out Thomas Mann. He has been recommended several times over. What I did for Venice in February is The Aspern Papers by Henry James, which I really enjoyed. I already made my post on it (so I hope you could drop by and let me know your thoughts). Have you read it? I learned from your latest post that you are reading a story by Henry James.