Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann

Knocking another one down for the novella challenge, I finished Death in Venice this evening. I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting when I choose this story, but it certainly wasn’t the tale of a respected older writer gentleman who falls in love with a fourteen year-old demigod boy and eventually dies of cholera because of it. Nope. That’s not what I expected at all.

Gustav von Aschenbach sees a strange red-headed man in Munich and suddenly decides to go on vacation. Before retiring to his summer house, he stops in Venice, a city he has visited often. The red-headed man makes numberous appearances throughout the story as a man on the ship, a gondolier, and a street musician. Aschenbach arrives at the hotel and sees Tadzio, a young polish boy, “[p]ale and elegantly reserved, with ringlets of honey-colored hair, a straight sloping nose, a lovely mouth and an expression of divinely belseed solemnity, his face called to mind Greek sculputres of the best period.” Aschenback falls in love with the boy and begins to follow him around Venice. Meanwhile, Venice is suffering from the plague. Aschenback knows this but keeps the secret along with the government officials of Venice. Becoming further and further debased, Aschenback falls ill with the cholera and dies.

I did enjoy the progression of the story, though there, at times, seemed to be a number of digressions that slowed down the plot. However, the story is packed with metaphors and literary allusions to Greek mythology and other arresting techniques. For example, the health of the city of Venice declines at the same rate as does the mental health of our hero. Also, our hero’s greatest written achievement is a short story entitled “A True Wretch.” I think you can guess by this point who turns out to be that True Wretch. The best part about the story is that a second reading would reveal a number of insights that I missed the first time.

Here are a few of my favorite passages:

“But he discovered in the end that his thoughts and inspirations were like the intimations of a dream, which always seem inspired at the time but prove utterly shallow and useless to the waking mind.”

“His nerves lapped up the tooting and jangling, the vulgar pining melodies, for passion criples taste, solemnly following the lure of pleasures that sobriety would either laugh at or reject altogether.”

“Ultimately, we are only as old as we feel in our hearts and minds.”

Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann [rating:4]