Thomas Mann: Death in Venice

Last night I finished reading Death in Venice by Thomas Mann. I enjoyed the read tremendously. The story is considered to be Mann’s masterpiece. I read the Dover Classic edition, which surprisingly had a fascinating introduction and critical notes after the story. He was Nobel laureate in 1929. Set in 1911, the story touched on these particular areas of interest to me:

1. The city of Venice: This is a city I must see someday, if I can see it in the right circumstances and in the right company. I don’t want to see it alone like Aschenbach. The details Mann provides are rich and thought provoking. I particularly liked the reference to the “Bridge of Sighs” that is also mentioned by Byron.

2. The psyche and creative life of intense writers and artists: Aschenbach was “the poet of all those who labor on the brink of exhaustion . . .” Some of the phrases Mann uses are quite suggestive and may give me ideas for my own future writing. For example, some phrases that struck my fancy are: “the productive machinery within him,” “burdened with the obligation to create,” and “sacrifice upon the altar of art.”

3. The power of love and obsession: Mann’s thoughts on this are filled with mythological allusions. He implies it occurs to artists because they have a “life lived under the spell of art.” The narrator says, “we poets cannot travel the path of beauty without Eros joining company with us and taking over the lead.” He also says artists are not suitable for other jobs because they are born with “an incorrigible natural penchant for the abyss.” Throughout, leitmotifs and symbols are used powerfully.

Mann is a writer you must read with attention, but he will teach you more than you expected to learn, and his writing will move you and make you think. Mann’s biography is another one I must add to my reading list.