Richard Derus's Reviews > Death in Venice and Other Tales

Death in Venice and Other Tales by Thomas Mann
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Feb 23, 2012

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Read in January, 1976

The Book Report: I feel a complete fool providing a plot précis for this canonical work. Gustav von Ascherbach, literary lion in his sixties, wanders about his home town of Munich while struggling with a recalcitrant new story. His chance encounter with a weirdo, though no words are exchanged between them, ignites in Herr von Ascherbach the need to get out of town, to get himself to the delicious fleshpots of the South. An abortive stay in Illyria (now Bosnia or Montenegro or Croatia, no knowing which since we're not given much to go on) leads him to make his second journey to Venice. Arriving in the sin capital of the early modern world, and even in the early 20th century possessed of a louche reputation, brings him into contact with two life-changing things: A beautiful teenaged boy, and cholera. I think the title fills you in on the rest.

My Review: I know this was written in 1911-1912, and is therefore to be judged by the standards of another era, but I am bone-weary of stories featuring men whose love for other males brings them to disaster and death. This is the story that started me on that path of dislike. Von Ascherbach realizes he's in love for the first time in his pinched, narrow life, and it's with a 14-year-old boy; his response is to make himself ridiculous, following the kid around, staying in his Venetian Garden of Eros despite knowing for sure there's a cholera epidemic, despite being warned of the dangers of staying, despite smelling decay and death and miasmic uccchiness all around, because he's in love. But with the wrong kind of person...a male. Therefore Mann makes him pay the ultimate price, he loses his life because he gives in and falls hopelessly, stupidly in love. With a male. Mann makes his judgment of this moral turpitude even more explicit by making it a chaste, though to modern eyes not unrequited, love between an old man and a boy. Explicit references to Classical culture aside, the entire atmosphere of the novel is quite evidently designed to point up the absurdity and the impossibility of such a love being rewarding or rewarded. It's not in the least mysterious what Mann's after: Denial, denial, denial! It's your only salvation, faggots! Deny yourself, don't let yourself feel anything rather than feel *that*!

This book offends my sensibilities. Gorgeously built images and sonorously elegant sentences earn it all of its points.
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Quotes Richard Liked

Thomas Mann
“Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous - to poetry. But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd.”
Thomas Mann, Death in Venice and Other Tales

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Donna (last edited Feb 23, 2012 09:43PM) (new)

Donna are you kidding? I live for your précis, especially when they're classics.

Richard Derus Donna wrote: "are you kidding? I live for your précis, especially when they're classics."

The précis of a classic is always risky. This one got me quite some several nastygrams when I posted it on LibraryThing a couple years ago.

message 3: by Donna (last edited Feb 24, 2012 09:32PM) (new)

Donna I adored this book, but your précis is accurate, and some. The review also makes welcome sense in that, it points out a certain kind of melodrama at play I hadn't seen as clearly, and you're right about it.

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