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Death in Venice and seven other stories by…

Death in Venice and seven other stories (1954)

by Thomas Mann (Author)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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I was recommended this book on the basis that I would like the main character. Which I did, as I have a horrible weakness for old stoic men. Death in Venice was fascinating, and I highly recommend it as Modernist (or Post, I don't remember) reading. ( )
  cendri | May 30, 2014 |
On the second page of this fine short novel the protagonist, Gustave von Aschenbach, goes on a walk to "refresh" himself and soon finds himself in a cemetery whose mortuary is "a structure in the Byzantine style". Like a wind from the East the place mesmerizes him with mystical symbols until he is "brought back to reality by the sight of a man standing in the portico". This man presents an exotic visage with red hair and represents a motif that will recur several times during the story. The image of this man, perhaps, leads Aschenbach to a simple longing for travel and then a hallucination that suggests the impulse of Eros or the throes of Dionysus. Whichever it is the setting is ominous as we are reminded that "his life was on the wane" and he plans to travel south on a journey.

The narrative takes the writer Gustav von Aschenbach to Venice, where he falls in love with an adolescent boy before subsequently dying in the cholera-stricken city. Mann’s masterly command of language and play with mythology, his psychological profile of the artistic mind, and the novella’s contrast between cold artistic discipline and the power of Eros is magnificent both in its form and substance.

Aschenbach is introduced as an esteemed author who has produced literary works known for their formalism and neo-classical style. He has chosen an ascetic, disciplined life, a life of “noble purity, simplicity and symmetry”, for the sake of his creativity, success and national reputation. At the beginning of Death in Venice, we find the fifty-three year old writer unable to write a perfectly balanced work. The walk he takes at the beginning of the narrative occurs in an unnamed town that can be identified as Munich. The year, presented in the text as “19—”, is actually 1911. Since Mann opted not to provide a precise date, the narrative contains a timeless, ahistorical dimension despite being grounded in contemporary events.

In the figure of a stranger whom Aschenbach sees at the mortuary, Mann alludes to medieval personifications of death, and also to the Greek god Hermes, the guide to the Underworld. But the messenger of death is also a messenger of life. The text links him to the cult of life and the god of Asian origins, Dionysus. Mann's original intention was to write a treatise on the Nietzschean contrast between the god of reason, Apollo, and the god of unreason, Dionysus. In his description of Aschenbach’s journey into Venice, Mann includes encounters with a Charon-like figure, and an old queen of a man bereft of dignity. These characters echo the original man he met in the cemetery and serve as messengers signalling Aschenbach’s looming fate, and as conspicuous representations of the transience and ugliness of life.

The Venice depicted by Mann is "the fallen queen, flattering and dubious beauty . . . half fairy tale, half tourist trap". It is a vision presented in its sordid reality and in its mythical splendor. At the hotel Aschenbach catches sight of a beautiful, fourteen-year-old Polish boy named Tadzio who is vacationing with his family. Aschenbach is immediately attracted to his idealized perfection, comparing him to a Greek statue and an artistic masterpiece. Although the sultry air of Venice makes him feel unwell, he reverses his intention to leave the city. From now on, his life is controlled by Eros, his desire, as he continues to observe Tadzio.

With references to the Platonic idea that physical attraction inspired by Eros leads to spiritual knowledge, Mann diverts readers from the fact that Aschenbach’s attraction to Tadzio is primarily physical, not metaphysical. The ability of Thomas Mann to weave together character and theme and setting to achieve this perfection is uncanny and I do not believe he achieved any better in his longer fictions, great as they are. This is also one of the few novels that received a superlative treatment on film though, in the end, Visconti's film does not surpass the original.

Among the several stories included in this volume The Blood of the Volsungs is another one that stands out in its differences and its use of music as a foundation.

This little drama begins at the dining-room table where both the theme of generational conflict between the parents and children of the Aarenhold family and 'racial' conflict between the family and an outsider, a government bureaucrat named Beckerath who is engaged to Sieglinde, the elder of two daughters in the family. In this story music is intertwined with the plot beginning with the twin brother, Siegmund, who with his sister mirror the siblings in Act One of Wagner's opera Die Valkyrie. But the musical influence goes beyond this as when, for example, one of the children taps out Hunding's motif (Sieglinde's husband from Valkyrie) when Beckerath appears for lunch; through the musical interlude at the opera which the siblings attend; and the ensuing incestuous behavior of the same upon returning home.

These themes are played out over a single day in the life of this family. We see the children, turning away from the valetudinarianism of their father and mother, focusing on their own interests. These interests do not include the sort of hard work that Beckerath represented and they looked down on him as well. And from his perspective "they contradicted everything--as though they found it impossible, discreditable, lamentable, not to contradict."
The importance of race is most intense for Siegmund whom is presented as contemplating his racial characteristics as he prepares for the evening with Sieglinde. But also he is depicted as completely lacking in any interest in creating anything with his life; instead he is consumed with a passion for maintaining his toilette, for preparing himself for the day, as the day passes away quickly with no actual happenings. This was no surprise to the family for they exhibited a "lack of expectations" that conspired to rob him of any "actuality".

This may sound like a strange story. Perhaps it is, but Mann succeeds in presenting high tragedy in the form of melodrama. His satire seems well-suited to critique the superficial nature of the bourgeoisie at the end of the nineteenth century (Mann wrote the story in 1905). The strength of the story comes in great part from the high art of the operatic drama that underlies it. It may be that Mann in an indirect way was indicating how powerful Wagner's genius really could be. ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | Dec 21, 2013 |
read Death in Venice and Mario & the Magician
  FKarr | Apr 6, 2013 |
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. ( )
1 vote Rosemarie.Herbert | Feb 26, 2013 |
contents: 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
  dankhaus | Mar 28, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mann, ThomasAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cohen, Marc J.Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dekle, MerrittCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lowe-Porter, H. T.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Contains: Death in Venice, Mario and the Magician, Disorder and Early Sorrow, A Man and His Dog, Felix Krull [short story], The Blood of the Walsungs, Tristan, and Tonio Kroeger. Do not combine with other collections containing different stories.
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Book description
Includes 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.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679722068, Paperback)

Eight complex stories illustrative of the author's belief that "a story must tell itself," highlighted by the high art style of the famous title novella.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:32 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Translates twentieth-century Nobel Prize-winning German writer Thomas Mann's novella "Death in Venice," as well seven of his short stories: "Tonio Kroger," "Mario and the Magician," "Disorder and Early Sorrow," "A Man and His Dog," "The Blood of the Walsungs," "Tristan," and "Felix Krull."… (more)

» see all 5 descriptions

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