Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I first heard of Thomas Mann in a literary calendar, via a quote from his son-in-law, W.H. Auden: "Who's the most boring German writer? My father-in-law."
In a 2012 episode of The Simpsons (as I wrote about here), Bart's fourth grade class is about to read "Death in Venice" with their substitute teacher, Waylon Smithers. This was what caused me to wonder what the short story was about. I read about "Death in Venice" years ago, but I never actually got around to reading it until now.
It's really inappropriate for average fourth graders; the dense prose is difficult even for adults. According to the end notes, it's quite a challenge to translate from the German.
I enjoyed this highly symbolic and sensually detailed sketch of the last days of a highly honored German literary figure, largely based on Mann himself. Gustav is a Capital-A Artist, and his last (and, perhaps, greatest) artistic act is a dance of chaste but erotically charged poetic interaction with the 14-year-old son of an aristocratic Polish family. (In my earlier post, I referred to Tadzio as "an Italian boy." I misspoke.)
Tadzio is physically perfect, like a statue of antiquity, and Gustav philosophizes grandly about whether his swiftly-kindling love for the boy makes him more or less of an Artist, whether it makes him moral or immoral. As the title gives away, the relationship - never consummated with anything more intimate than eye contact - ultimately takes Gustav's life.
This is hardly a surprise, since foreshadowings of death have stalked Gustav at every turn of the Venetian canals. Even the coffin-black gondolas warn him that Venice is a tomb. The hush-hush cholera epidemic that stalks the city may or may not directly contribute to Gustav being found slumped in the beach chair where he had settled to watch Tadzio play on a sand bar. Truly, Gustav died for love. The prospect of Tadzio leaving his life and returning to Poland made Gustav's continued existence in the world unbearable.
I didn't get quite all of the allusions to the philosophical circle of Socrates or of the Greek mythological stories, although the broad strokes are not too hard to infer from context. Fortunately, the Dover Thrift Edition explains these references in the end notes.
I checked this ebook out of the library at HooplaDigital.com. I was not obligated in any way to review it.
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