Death in Venice is a novella by German author Thomas Mann. I read the translation by H.T. Lowe-Porter, which I liked, though I’d love to eventually read this in its native tongue because there were some parts that seemed awkward. It could just be Mann’s own style, but it might be the translation. My teacher also did mention that there are parts that the translator changed up a bit. I’m pretty sure that Lowe-Porter’s translations of Mann’s works are the most widely read and accepted.
Death in Venice follows Gustave von Aschenbach from Munich, Germany to Venice, Italy. He is a famous writer who is known for his hard work ethic and beautiful prose. One day he is out walking near his home and sees a foreign-looking man. Aschenbach, about 50 years old, suddenly has a yearning to travel, and so he eventually ends up in Venice. He stays for quite a while in a hotel, where he becomes obsessed with a tennage boy named Tadzio. Aschenbach can’t take his eyes off of the god-like yet sickly young man. Even rumors of a cholera outbreak can’t diminish his obsession and love for the boy.
I really liked Death in Venice, though the beginning was super slow for me and it took me some time to get into. Aschenbach ponders a lot about his profession as a writer and what it means to be an artist. Which was fascinating the first time and then got a little old. The story picks up once he gets to Venice, and it’s interesting as you read to notice how he slowly loses parts of himself and becomes more and more obsessed with Tadzio. There are also hints throughout about him slowly becoming ill. I pitied Aschenbach a lot until I realized he was happy in Venice. He could leave and go back to his old life, but after a certain point, it’s too late and you realize taht Aschenbach is never going back (and let’s face it, I didn’t give anything away, since the title states that this story is about a death in Venice).
The imagery in Death in Venice is beautiful. I’ve never been to Venice, but I could easily picture parts of the city as I read. This is a very quick read, but it’s a great one once you get past the slower parts. I thought it was very profound in that Aschenbach has this brilliant and successful career, yet he doesn’t seem to want to go back to it. I think it just wants to be at piece and not toil with his perfect writing any longer. At any rate, the passages about being an “artist” I think are super important, especially if you are going to read more Mann because it seems to be a recurring theme in his writing, even though it gets old after you’ve read the same thing already.
Some favorite quotes:
Page 18: Wrapped in his cloak, a book in his lap, our traveller rested; the hours slipped by unawares. It stopped raining, the canvas was taken down. The horizon was visible right round; beneath the sombre dome of the sky stretched the vast plain of empty sea. But immeasurable unarticulated space weakens our power to measure time as well: the time-sense falters a grows dim.
Page 45: Thought that can merge wholly into feeling, feeling that can merge wholly into thought-these are the artist’s highest joy.
Title: Death in Venice
Author: Thomas Mann
Date of Publication: Originally in 1911, my copy is from 1989
Number of Pages: 73
Source: Personal Copy