Death in Venice

Death in Venice

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by Thomas Mann

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The world-famous masterpiece by Nobel laureate Thomas Mann -- here in a new translation by Michael Henry Heim

Published on the eve of World War I, a decade after Buddenbrooks had established Thomas Mann as a literary celebrity, Death in Venice tells the story of Gustav von Aschenbach, a successful but aging writer who follows his wanderlust


The world-famous masterpiece by Nobel laureate Thomas Mann -- here in a new translation by Michael Henry Heim

Published on the eve of World War I, a decade after Buddenbrooks had established Thomas Mann as a literary celebrity, Death in Venice tells the story of Gustav von Aschenbach, a successful but aging writer who follows his wanderlust to Venice in search of spiritual fulfillment that instead leads to his erotic doom.

In the decaying city, besieged by an unnamed epidemic, he becomes obsessed with an exquisite Polish boy, Tadzio. "It is a story of the voluptuousness of doom," Mann wrote. "But the problem I had especially in mind was that of the artist's dignity."

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
New versions of 12 celebrated stories, including the famous title novella, many previously collected in Mann's seminal Stories of Three Decades. Neugroschel's persuasive "Preface" makes a strong case for fresh translations, given both this century's inevitable linguistic shifts and Mann's employment within individual works of specific vocabularies and styles (e.g., those of Wagnerian opera in the hair-raising "The Blood of the Walsungs"). And Neugr"schel essentially finesses the issue of revealing the stories' inherent sexuality; their author was, after all, a master of elegant indirection dedicated to muted presentations of matters that were anathema to both his public and his own sedulously respectable persona. That said, it's wonderful to have vivid, lucid English versions of Mann's sophisticated portrayals of sexual obsession and humiliation ("Little Herr Friedemann"), illness- as-metaphor in a tale ("Tristan") that concisely prefigures The Magic Mountain, and the transfiguring intersection of artistic with homosexual passion (Death in Venice, Tonio Kr"ger). Brilliant work, in any case, from one of the century's great writers.

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Death in Venice

By Thomas Mann

Buccaneer Books Inc

Copyright ©1983 Thomas Mann
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0899664555

Chapter One

Gustav Aschenbach or von Aschenbach, as he had officially been known since his fiftieth birthday, set out alone from his residence in Munich's Prinzregentenstrasse on a spring afternoon in 19.. -- a year that for months had shown so ominous a countenance to our continent -- with the intention of taking an extended walk. Overwrought from the difficult and dangerous labors of the late morning hours, labors demanding the utmost caution, prudence, tenacity, and precision of will, the writer had even after the midday meal been unable to halt the momentum of the inner mechanism -- the motus animi continuus in which, according to Cicero, eloquence resides -- and find the refreshing sleep that the growing wear and tear upon his forces had made a daily necessity. And so, shortly after tea he had sought the outdoors in the hope that open air and exercise might revive him and help him to enjoy a fruitful evening.

It was early May, and after a few cold, wet weeks a mock summer had set in. The Englischer Garten, though as yet in tender bud, was as muggy as in August and full of vehicles and pedestrians on the city side. At Aumeister, to which he had been led by ever more solitary paths, Aschenbach briefly scanned the crowded and lively open-air restaurant and the cabs andcarriages along its edge, then, the sun beginning to sink, headed home across the open fields beyond the park, but feeling tired and noticing a storm brewing over Föhring, he stopped at the Northern Cemetery to wait for the tram that would take him straight back to town.

As it happened, there was no one at the tram stop or thereabouts. Nor was any vehicle to be seen on the paved roadway of the Ungererstrasse -- whose gleaming tracks stretched solitary in the direction of Schwabing -- or on the road to Föhring. There was nothing stirring behind the stonemasons' fences, where crosses, headstones, and monuments for sale formed a second, uninhabited graveyard, and the mortuary's Byzantine structure opposite stood silent in the glow of the waning day. Its façade, decorated with Greek crosses and brightly hued hieratic patterns, also displayed a selection of symmetrically arranged gilt-lettered inscriptions concerning the afterlife, such as "They Enter into the Dwelling Place of the Lord" or "May the Light Everlasting Shine upon Them," and reading the formulas, letting his mind's eye lose itself in the mysticism emanating from them, served to distract the waiting man for several minutes until, resurfacing from his reveries, he noticed a figure in the portico above the two apocalyptic beasts guarding the staircase, and something slightly out of the ordinary in the figure's appearance gave his thoughts an entirely new turn.

Whether the man had emerged from the chapel's inner sanctum through the bronze gate or mounted the steps unobtrusively from outside was uncertain. Without giving the matter much thought, Aschenbach inclined towards the first hypothesis. The man -- of medium height, thin, beardless, and strikingly snub-nosed -- was the red-haired type and had its milky, freckled pigmentation. He was clearly not of Bavarian stock and, if nothing else, the broad, straight-brimmed bast hat covering his head lent him a distinctly foreign, exotic air. He did, however, have the customary knapsack strapped to his shoulders, wore a yellowish belted suit of what appeared to be loden, and carried a gray waterproof over his left forearm, which he pressed to his side, and an iron-tipped walking stick in his right hand, and having thrust the stick diagonally into the ground, he had crossed his feet and braced one hip on its crook. Holding his head high and thus exposing a strong, bare Adam's apple on the thin neck rising out of his loose, open shirt, he gazed alert into the distance with colorless, red-lashed eyes, the two pronounced vertical furrows between them oddly suited to the short, turned-up nose. Thus -- and perhaps his elevated and elevating position contributed to the impression -- there was something of the overseer, something lordly, bold, even wild in his demeanor, for be it that he was grimacing, blinded by the setting sun, or that he had a permanent facial deformity, his lips seemed too short: they pulled all the way back, baring his long, white teeth to the gums.

Aschenbach's half-distracted, half-inquisitive scrutiny of the stranger may have been lacking in discretion, for he suddenly perceived that the man was returning his stare and was indeed so belligerently, so directly, so blatantly determined to challenge him publicly and force him to withdraw it that Aschenbach, embarrassed, turned away and set off along the fence, vaguely resolved to take no further notice of him. A minute later he had forgotten the man. It may have been the stranger's perambulatory appearance that acted upon his imagination or some other physical or psychological influence coming into play, but much to his surprise he grew aware of a strange expansion of his inner being, a kind of restive anxiety, a fervent youthful craving for faraway places, a feeling so vivid, so new or else so long outgrown and forgotten that he came to a standstill and -- hands behind his back, eyes on the ground, rooted to the spot -- examined the nature and purport of the feeling.

It was wanderlust, pure and simple, yet it had come upon him like a seizure and grown into a passion -- no, more, an hallucination. His desire sprouted eyes, his imagination, as yet unstilled from its morning labors, conjured forth the earth's manifold wonders and horrors in his attempt to visualize them: he saw. He saw a landscape, a tropical quagmire beneath a steamy sky -- sultry, luxuriant, and monstrous -- a kind of primordial wilderness of islands, marshes, and alluvial channels; saw hairy palm shafts thrusting upward, near and far, from rank clusters of bracken, from beds of thick, swollen, and bizarrely burgeoning flora; saw fantastically malformed trees plunge their roots through the air into the soil, into stagnant, shadow-green, looking-glass waters ...


Excerpted from Death in Venice by Thomas Mann Copyright ©1983 by Thomas Mann. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

German essayist, cultural critic, and novelist, Thomas Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929. Among his most famous works are Buddenbrooks, published when he was just twenty-six, The Magic Mountain, and Doctor Faustus.

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Death in Venice 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
carlosmock More than 1 year ago
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann Plot: Gustav von Aschenbach is a famous author in his early fifties who has recently been ennobled and thus acquired the aristocratic "von" to his name. He is a man dedicated to his art, disciplined and ascetic to the point of severity, who was widowed at a young age. As the story opens, while strolling outside a cemetery, he sees a coarse-looking red-haired man who stares back at him belligerently. Aschenbach walks away, embarrassed but curiously stimulated. Soon afterwards, he resolves to take a holiday. He decides on Venice, reserving a suite in the Grand Hôtel des Bains on the Lido island. Aschenbach checks into his hotel, where at dinner he sees an aristocratic Polish family at a nearby table. Among them is an adolescent boy in a sailor suit; Aschenbach, startled, realizes that the boy is beautiful. Soon afterward, after spying the boy and his family at a beach, Aschenbach overhears the lad's name, Tadzio, and conceives what he tells himself is an abstract, artistic interest. Soon the hot, humid weather begins to affect Aschenbach's health, and he decides to leave early and move to a more salubrious location. On the morning of his planned departure, he sees Tadzio again, and a powerful feeling of regret sweeps over him. When he reaches the railway station and discovers his trunk has been misdirected, he pretends to be angry, but is really overjoyed, for he did not want to abandon Tadzio; he decides to remain in Venice and wait for his lost luggage. He happily returns to the hotel, and as his admiration for Tadzio continues to grow, Aschenbach wishes to leave Venice dissipate. Over the next days and weeks, Aschenbach's interest in the beautiful boy develops into an obsession, comparing his situation to Socrates wooing Phaedrus on desire and virtue. Aschenbach watches Tadzio constantly, and secretly follows him around Venice. One evening, the boy directs a charming smile at him, looking, Aschenbach thinks: like Narcissus smiling at his own reflection. Disconcerted, he rushes outside, and in the empty garden whispers aloud, "I love you!" Aschenbach next takes a trip into the city of Venice, where he sees a few discreetly worded notices from the Health Department warning of an unspecified contagion and advising people to avoid eating shellfish. He smells an unfamiliar strong odor everywhere, and later realizes it is disinfectant. However, the authorities adamantly deny that the contagion is serious and the tourists continue to wander round the city, oblivious. Next, Aschenbach rallies his self-respect and decides to discover the reason for the health notices posted in the city. After being repeatedly assured that the sirocco is the only health risk, he finds a British travel agent who reluctantly admits that there is a serious cholera epidemic in Venice. Aschenbach decides to warn Tadzio's mother of the danger; however, he decides not to, knowing that if he does, Tadzio will leave the hotel and to his own amazement, Aschenbach realizes that he would not be able to go on living without Tadzio. One night, a dream filled with orgiastic Dionysian imagery reveals to him the sexual nature of his feelings for Tadzio. Afterwards, he begins staring at the boy so openly and following him so persistently that Aschenbach feels the boy's guardians finally notice, and take to warning Tadzio whenever he approaches too near the strange, solitary man. But Aschenbach's f
Mrjonz97405 More than 1 year ago
In looking at the really, really good translation of this work, I was struck (on page 3 of the three page sampling) that they, the translators, I presume, transiliterated "PrinzeregenzenstraBe" using the "B" instead of "ss"....sloppy, guys, sloppy. Made me not want to spend the $1 on a different translation. Had hoped to see something new, and, yes, I did!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Death in Venice is somewhat less disturbing than its subject matter might have you believe. Aging writer Gustav Von Auschenbach vacations at a beachfront resort in Venice, admiring the idyllic life but more and more becoming fascinated with the beautiful young son of fellow vacationers. Similar territory is traversed by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the recent Memories of My Melancholy Whores, in which an aging writer finds himself fascinated with an underage virginal girl. Mann got there almost a century earlier, of course. Both books bear more similarities than differences -- the relationships are unconsummated and mostly in the imagination and desire of the protagonist, who is likely a thinly-veiled alter-ego of the author (Mann battled homosexual urges throughout his life, and the setting and characters of Death in Venice were inspired by a vacation taken by Mann and his wife). In both cases, it could be argued that the fascination is with the youthful verve and vitality of the subject rather than a purely sexual urge. Both stories are very slow-paced, relying on characters and exposition to drive the narrative. As a story, I found Death in Venice merely passable -- but as a work of literary art it is undeniably noteworthy.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this book is magnificent. It is very well written, the plot escalates in an astounding manner, and well Mann is just sincerely a genius. Despite the fact that this is a pedophiliac/homoerotic work, it truly talks about true love. Well atleast true love on behalf of the writer, because young Tadzio is oblivious to what Auschenbach truly feels, or even to his existence. I truly recommend this book, you will not want to put it down, once you start reading. TRULY AN AMAZING READ!!!
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Old style prose with a good story of unreqited lust
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This was my first encounter with Thomas Mann and his haunted protagonists who all seem to possess delicate blue viens as an integral part of their appearance. The stories that were especially memorable were 'Tobias Kruger' and of course 'Death in Venice', although all of the stories included in the collection were very readable. I felt that this edition was a good introduction to Thomas Mann, and my only critism was the front cover which solicited second looks from many fellow travellers on the subway.