Death in Venice

Review From User :

A short review because there are 1,500 others!

A well-established older German man visits Venice and falls in love with a 14-year-old boy on the beach. Here is a key passage very early in the novella (about 75 pages) that illustrates the author's writing style:

"He [the 14-year old Polish boy] entered through the glass doors and passed diagonally across the room to his sisters at their table. He walked with extraordinary grace - the carriage of the body, the action of the knee, the way he set his foot down in its white shoe - it was all so light, it was at once dainty and proud, it wore an added charm in the childish shyness which made him twice turn his head as he crossed the room, made him give a quick glance and then drop his eyes. He took his seat, with a smile and a murmured word in his soft and blurry tongue; and Aschenbach, sitting so that he could see him in profile, was astonished anew, yes, startled, at the godlike beauty of the human being. The lad had on a light sailor suit of blue and white striped cotton, with a red silk breast-knot and a simple white standing collar round the neck - a not very elegant effect - yet above this collar the head was poised like a flower, an incomparable loveliness. It was the head of Eros, with the yellowish bloom of Parian marble, with fine serious brows, and dusky clustering ringlets standing out in soft plenteousness over temples and ears."

He constantly monitors the boy in the hotel dining room and at the beach and eventually starts stalking the boy as he travels through Venice with his family.

But a plague is also stalking Venice. He considers leaving the city because of the 'miasma' but decides to stay because of the boy - a bad decision.

Mann uses many classical references: in just a few pages Achelous, Phaedrus, Eros, Cleitos, Cephalus, Orion, Poseidon, Pan and others are mentioned.

Truly a classic - from 1911. I first read it many years ago.

Mann (1875-1955) was a German writer who won the 1929 Noble Prize. He fled Germany for Switzerland and then the USA, not because he was Jewish, but because he opposed Hitler's ideology and his sexually-charged writings didn't help. He lived in the US (Princeton and then Los Angles) from 1939 to 1952 and became a US citizen. However he was hounded by the McCarthyites as a 'communist' and went back to live his final years in Switzerland.

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Photo of the author from the Thomas Mann archives at

Published on the eve of World War I, a decade after Buddenbrooks had established Thomas Mann as a literary celebrity, Death in Venice tells the story of Gustav von Aschenbach, a successful but aging writer who follows his wanderlust to Venice in search of spiritual fulfillment that instead leads to his erotic doom.

In the decaying city, besieged by an unnamed epidemic, he becomes obsessed with an exquisite Polish boy, Tadzio. “It is the story of the voluptuousness of doom,” Mann wrote. “But the problem I had especially in mind was that of the artist’s dignity.”

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