Death in Venice, Thomas Mann 1911
Finished this novella just minutes before leaving for Logan Airport for our flight to Venice. Timing questionable but literary worth beyond doubt! Mann has written a timeless tale of desire and Eros, knowledge and beauty, and obsession. Gustave von Aschenbach, a 50ish literary giant lives in Munich where one night he has a dream that he should travel and be a pilgrim to an exotic site. He goes to an island off Trieste, but finding it unsatisfactory, he heads to Venice where he stays at the Hotel des Bains on Lido. There, he becomes infatuated and then obsessed with a young Polish youth, Tadzio, probably 12 years old who is ‘god-like’ in his beauty and carriage. Aschenbach, resists his obsession, but the combination of Venetian sulty weather, his contemplation of the Plato/Phaedrus dialogues about beauty, and his own flight from the work of Art, lead him ever further into acting upon his desires. When Venice falls victim to cholera, he remains and ignores the warning signs. A demonic dream about desire and orgy precede his death on the beach, immediately after seeing the object of his desire be physically humiliated by a playmate. Mann, whose prior works The Magic Mountain and Buddenbrooks, I found to be quite wonderful, writes this story of desire and obsession in a totally different style from his other books, one that mimics the breathless tension of obsessive love. A Nobel Prize winner and a German expatriate to the U.S., Mann’s other works are in my future as well.