Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Book Review of Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
Author: Thomas Mann
ISBN: (from Norton Anthology Vol F.) 0-393-97760-9
Publisher: Norton Company
Type of book: Venice, plague, homosexual love, philosophy, Germany, 1900s, travel, vacation
Year it was published: 1912
The novella Death in Venice was written by the German author Thomas Mann, and was first published in 1912 as Der Tod in Venedig. The plot of the work presents a great writer suffering writer's block who visits Venice and is liberated and uplifted, then increasingly obsessed, by the sight of a stunningly beautiful youth.
The author focuses a lot on the male character and his obsession with the Polish youth named Tadzio. I sense a bit of erotica in the story, and strangely enough there's a Lolita aspect in the fact that the male character is obsessed and in love with a youth who's barely a teenager! While the story is shocking, thankfully there aren't sexual scenes or anything of the kind. The male character, Gustav, is rigid and lives by a code of honor. He lives alone and decides to travel to Venice where he sees this handsome youth and secretly stalks and obsesses with him. Tadzio is portrayed as a wholesome playful boy, an ideal of Greek statues and whatever else.
The existing environment can prevent acceptance of self. In order to gain acceptance of self, whatever it may be, the environment needs to change.
The plot is minimal; an author decides to travel to Venice, meets a boy and falls in love with him. There are a great many details, however; for the author uses a lot of references to ancient Greek culture such as myths and even Phaedrus written by Plato (I haven't read Phaedrus.) This novella invites the reader to ponder and think. It is written as a third person narrative from Gustav's point of view. I wonder if in someway Gustav opens himself up or is on the verge of accepting himself. Ancient Greek culture is humanist based and there is a certain somnolence within the story, a relaxation of rigidity. It is a pity that as soon as Gustav began to accept himself, negative things started to happen.
Thomas Mann (6 June 1875 – 12 August 1955) was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual. His analysis and critique of the European and German soul used modernized German and Biblical stories, as well as the ideas of Goethe, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer. His older brother was the radical writer Heinrich Mann, and three of his six children, Erika Mann, Klaus Mann and Golo Mann, also became important German writers. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Mann fled to Switzerland. When World War II broke out in 1939, he emigrated to the United States, from where he returned to Switzerland in 1952. Thomas Mann is one of the best-known exponents of the so-called Exilliteratur.
While this story has a straight-forward plot, the author heavily focuses on the philosophy and, in particular, Greek influences in Venice such as stories of mythology, as well as Phaedrus by Socrates and so forth. In an odd way this can be thought of as delight for those who are interested in ancient Greek culture, but I think those who aren't familiar with Greek culture will either find it long and tedious as well as boring. The story also makes one ponder and think about why the author wrote it in the first place; it can be thought of as an abstract art in a story form.
3 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)