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3.5 out of 5 stars
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3.5 out of 5 stars
Death In Venice And Other Stories (Vintage Classics)
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on 20 June 2013
One of the great European writers of the twentieth century, Thomas Mann is one of those figures who still looms large over literature. 'Death in Venice' is (rightly) regarded as one of his finest works, forming an appropriate ending to this collection, but many of the other stories in this volume are also excellent and everything here is worthy of any thoughtful reader's time.

Aside from collecting so many of Mann's finest early works, this collection is worth commending for its excellent introduction, which does much to illuminate Mann's life and work and the cultural context which gave birth to his extraordinary writing. Not knowing what to expect, I delved into the introduction first and already found that a certain sadness pervaded my view of Mann, merely from the biographical aspects of it. This became very potent as I read through the stories, and it was hard not to make comparisons between the life described in the introduction and the lives we glimpse in the stories.

Many of the stories in this collection form variations on a similar theme: that of young men who waste their lives only to come to their senses all too late. Naturally, this makes it a rather melancholic read at times but the death (or non-birth) of youth is a fascinating theme. Although this may make some of the works seem like templates, this is definitely not the case - Mann's real skill is his gift for relating the high emotions of his characters, even when they are not obvious to those around them. Because of this, the reader has to approach them with empathy; although Mann's writing is not as formally inventive as some of his contemporaries, perhaps the 'difficulty' of his work lies in its emotional nuances. Fortunately, he shares the empathy of the reader in bringing his characters to life.

No matter how good the likes of 'Little Herr Friedemann' are, the two best works come last. 'Tonio Kroeger' is the archetypal kunstlerroman (novel of artistic development). This novella forms something of an analogue for Mann's own development as a writer, setting up sublimation as a key aspect of Mann's writing. The idea of sublimation becomes even more important in 'Death in Venice' itself. Deservedly regarded as a literary classic, the final part of this collection forms one of Mann's greatest achievements. Amidst a world of decay, Gustav von Aschenbach goes on holiday to Venice only to develop an obsessive infatuation with Tadzio, a young Polish boy staying in the same hotel. The protagonist's obsession is so great that even a cholera outbreak is not enough to drive him away from the object of his desire as he becomes increasingly in thrall to his infatuation and loses touch with everything else. In spite of the obvious sadness of von Aschenbach, the experience creates something of an artistic awakening in him, giving us a glimpse of the strange genesis of artistic inspiration.
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on 20 September 2015
“A solitary, unused to speaking of what he sees and feels, has mental experiences which are at once more intense and less articulate than those of a gregarious man. They are sluggish, yet more wayward, and never without a melancholy tinge. Sights and impressions which others brush aside with a glance, a light comment, a smile, occupy him more than their due; they sink silently in, they take on meaning, they become experience, emotion, adventure. Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous - to poetry. But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd.”
― Thomas Mann, Death in Venice and Other Tales

This book is a warning to the reader and to artists, of the price paid for artistic success, and the hidden in the beauty of art, that is the center of culture but also the rejection of culture by the individual that is exploring new possibilities outside the shared reality of a society. this tension of a shared common view and the exploration of possibilities outside the norm tear the peace of one's soul or for dose of us who have no soul our minds. The displacement does not have to be great , it only takes one step to be standing at the edge of the abyss, for it to look back at you with all its fury, and enchantment. For art is the breaking of taboos, and the establishment of new ones, it is reimagining what we are as a group, bubble, culture.

“Even in a personal sense, after all, art is an intensified life. By art one is more deeply satisfied and more rapidly used up. It engraves on the countenance of its servant the traces of imaginary and intellectual adventures, and even if he has outwardly existed in cloistral tranquility, it leads in the long term to over fastidiousness, over-refinement, nervous fatigue and overstimulation, such as can seldom result from a life of the most extravagant passions and pleasures.”
― Thomas Mann, Death in Venice and Other Tales

Gustav von Aschenbach the main character of the book is a famous writer, in his fifties; while walking past a cemetery, while observing the edifices and religious motifs, he reads “THEY ENTER THE HOUSE OF GOD” “THE ETERNAL LIGHT MAY SHINE UPON THEM” (the caps is the way the writer wrote the passages) he observes a wild looking foreigner with read hair this makes him fantasize of a wild kind of eden described in detail. there are three more encounters on his travels they all infer his dislocation from society his fear of the otherness within him, some like this one are obviously religious, others are more of societal and sexual in nature. Thomas Mann eloquently warns us of his intentions in a description of the writer.

“What did one see if one looked in any depth into the world of this writer's fiction? Elegant self-control concealing from the world's eyes until the very last moment a state of inner disintegration and biological decay; sallow ugliness, sensuously marred and worsted, which nevertheless is able to fan its smouldering concupiscence to a pallid impotence, which from the glowing depths of the spirit draws strength to cast down a whole proud people at the foot of the Cross and set its own foot upon them as well; gracious poise and composure in the empty austere service of form; the false, dangerous life of the born deceiver, his ambition and his art which lead so soon to exhaustion ---”
― Thomas Mann, Death in Venice

And so he takes as by the hand into secret passion, the depravity of Gustav von Aschenbach. His very open fascination with a fourteen year old boy, that is staying in his hotel.
He regards him, absorbs him with every look, escalating into obsession or as he sees it love.

“For passion, like crime, is antithetical to the smooth operation and prosperity of day-to-day existence, and can only welcome every loosening of the fabric of society, every upheaval and disaster in the world, since it can vaguely hope to profit thereby. And so Aschenbach felt a morose satisfaction at the officially concealed goings-on in the dirty alleyways of Venice, that nasty secret which had merged with his own innermost secret and which he, too, was so intent on keeping “
Thomas Mann, Death in Venice

Little by little this passion consumes him, and physically transforms him into one of his most disdained visions and makes him risk it all, as he falls deeper into visions of the other God.

“But the dreamer was now with them, within them: he belonged to the stranger god. Yes, they were now his own self as they hurled themselves upon the animals, lacerating them, slaughtering them, devouring gobbets of steaming flesh, as they dropped to the trampled mossy ground for unbridled coupling, an offering to the god. And his soul savored the debauchery and delirium of doom.“
Thomas Mann, Death in Venice

This a book laden with allusions to antiquity and rich in allegory and symbolism, no word is wasted, not a sentence is there fluf or just adorn, it is a masterpiece delivered powerfully and succinctly.
This book was published in 1911 the world is silently spinning into an abyss of death and destruction unbenounced to all its contemporaries, but here you can feel, almost a premonition a warning, of a malaise a stink in the middle of the best of civilization.
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on 11 June 2017
Usually regarded by scholars and critics as a novella, Death in Venice has the characteristics of a long short story. It features one central character, and we view all the others from his perspective.
Gustav von Aschenbach – the ‘von‘ is a recent ennoblement for his services to literature – is unwell and takes a sabbatical from his writing. Traveling first to what is now Croatia, he eventually settles on a holiday in Venice and books an hotel on the Lido island. He is not long there when he sees and falls in love with a fourteen-year-old Polish boy, Tadzio, holidaying with his mother and sisters.
That Aschenbach’s love is sexual as well as spiritual and artistic is made quite clear in the narrative. Descriptions of Tadzio’s features and dress seem designed to titillate and they create an uncomfortable feeling in the mind of the modern reader. In 21st century terms, we might well consider Aschenbach a paedophile and experience disgust at his weakness. He wants to communicate – to speak, to touch – though, to be fair, he does neither of those things. In one episode, he gets a smile from the boy but otherwise he just follows the family around. Realising how old and grey he looks to the outside world, he goes to a cosmetic artist for a makeover in an effort to make himself more attractive.
The fine weather, the busy beaches and the festive holiday atmosphere prove deceptive. Venice hides a deadly secret which the authorities for commercial motives seek to play down. When Aschenbach goes from the Lido into the city, he sees warning notices everywhere and the ‘hospital smell’ of disinfectant wafts through the lanes and alleyways. No one wants to talk about it but when Ashenbach persists, he discovers that an epidemic of cholera has reached Venice from the orient and that people are already dying from it.
He returns to the island. The resort seems emptier than before. The final scene is played out on the private beach of the hotel. Watching Tadzio at play from his deck chair, Aschenbach succumbs to the epidemic and dies alone.
So, what kind of story is Death in Venice? It was published in 1912, ten years after Buddenbrooks and seventeen before Mann received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Probably the best known of his short works, Death in Venice is a daring novella for its time. A whole library of essays and commentaries have been written in an effort to find historical and artistic parallels and, so it seems to me, to seek ways of softening the explicit sexual nature of the story.
I’m not at all sure that one can do that. The narrative moves through colourful descriptions of the Venetian scene to moments of deep introspection by the central character, from rather obscure classical allusions to haunting nightmares. However, always at the core is that obsession of an elderly man for a beautiful youth. The sort of ‘love’ portrayed here would not be out of place in the Greece of Socrates and Plato, but in the modern world it has a disturbing feel.
Death in Venice is a work I always intended to read but until now never managed to do so. Some time ago, I bought a book of the shorter Thomas Mann stories in the German language, with the promise to myself that I WOULD read it in the original. I was told by a German friend that I was probably just a shade short of crazy (or words to that effect). She pointed out to me that Thomas Mann’s writing can be ‘schwer’ (difficult) even for a native speaker.
After a few false starts, I managed to make some progress, only to find that my friend was right. In despair, I acquired this English translation with the idea of reading the two side by side. The problem was that some of the sentences of Death in Venice are almost equally incomprehensible when rendered into English. The translation itself was bad – which doesn’t help, the translator never quite getting to grips with German adjectival nouns and omitting phrases (it seemed) when it suited him.
To quote from a classic translation of Buddenbrooks by HT Lowe-Porter (1924)
‘…It was necessary to recognise that the difficulties were great. Yet it was necessary to set oneself the bold task of transferring the spirit first and the letter so far as it might …’
This was a goal which I felt the translator of my Death in Venice didn’t quite manage to achieve.
This is an important work of German literature by an author with an international reputation. If your language skills are up to it, read the German version. Otherwise, make sure you read an authoritative translation with annotations.
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on 14 May 2017
I find no credit for the translator! It is as well that he/she wears the cloak of anonymity. Why employ for the translation of a master stylist someone who appears to have no true appreciation of the German language and who writes English with all the grace of a warthog? It is unfortunate that the lack of proofreading in a medium at the mercy of illiterate typists compounds the infelicities of the hack translator so that for a sensitive reader the kindle experience of Tod in Venedig auf English becomes the equivalent of eggshells in pate de fois gras.
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on 23 October 2014
I haven't read it yet. The quality of this book is really bad. It's like it was made by someone at home. The paper and writing looks like it has been printed out at home. The cover is really horrible and plastic feeling. I didn't think I would care about the quality of a book, as long as the contents are good. Apparently I don though.
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on 7 December 2015
Nearly unreadable due to OCR errors, the worst one of which is every instance of inverted commas is replaced with either 'F' or 'G'! Hopeles.
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on 7 February 2016
I had to give it 1 star to open the page! But this is truly abysmal, 'translated' by someone with a very poor command of English, full of misprints and grammatical errors, a complete inability to deal with nuances -- one has to guess what the original expresses. A waste of money and no pleasure to read.
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on 14 December 2014
My own fault. I did not realise that my copy way an American translation and some of the words grate - gotten - for example.
The writing is sublime. Its an examination of perfect beauty exemplified by a young boy whose ethereal beauty affects the protagonist. A great read, but you need to concentrate as the writing is full and intense. Beautiful. Cant wait to get the Dvd.
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on 21 July 2017
A book of its time, a bit heavy going but extremely well written.
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on 26 August 2015
Finally managed to read this after years of promising myself to do so. It did not disappoint.
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