Eight complex stories illustrative of the author's belief that "a story must tell itself," highlighted by the high art style of the famous title novella.
About the Author
Thomas Mann (1875–1955) was from Germany. At the age of 25, he published his first novel, Buddenbrooks. In 1924, The Magic Mountain was published, and five years later, Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Following the rise of the Nazis to power, he left Germany for good in 1933 to live in Switzerland and then in California, where he wrote Doctor Faustus (first published in the United States in 1948).
Read an Excerpt
Death in VeniceAnd Seven Other Stories
By Thomas Mann
Vintage Books USACopyright © 1989 Thomas Mann
All right reserved.
Gustav Aschenbach or von Aschenbach, as he had officially been known since his fiftieth birthday, set out alone from his residence in Munich's Prinzregentenstrasse on a spring afternoon in 19.. -- a year that for months had shown so ominous a countenance to our continent -- with the intention of taking an extended walk. Overwrought from the difficult and dangerous labors of the late morning hours, labors demanding the utmost caution, prudence, tenacity, and precision of will, the writer had even after the midday meal been unable to halt the momentum of the inner mechanism -- the motus animi continuus in which, according to Cicero, eloquence resides -- and find the refreshing sleep that the growing wear and tear upon his forces had made a daily necessity. And so, shortly after tea he had sought the outdoors in the hope that open air and exercise might revive him and help him to enjoy a fruitful evening.
It was early May, and after a few cold, wet weeks a mock summer had set in. The Englischer Garten, though as yet in tender bud, was as muggy as in August and full of vehicles and pedestrians on the city side. At Aumeister, to which he had been led by ever more solitary paths, Aschenbach briefly scanned the crowded and lively open-air restaurant and the cabs and carriages along its edge, then, the sun beginning to sink, headed home across the open fields beyond the park, but feeling tired and noticing a storm brewing over Fohring, he stopped at the Northern Cemetery to wait for the tram that would take him straight back to town.
As it happened, there was no one at the tram stop or thereabouts. Nor was any vehicle to be seen on the paved roadway of the Ungererstrasse -- whose gleaming tracks stretched solitary in the direction of Schwabing -- or on the road to Fohring. There was nothing stirring behind the stonemasons' fences, where crosses, headstones, and monuments for sale formed a second, uninhabited graveyard, and the mortuary's Byzantine structure opposite stood silent in the glow of the waning day. Its facade, decorated with Greek crosses and brightly hued hieratic patterns, also displayed a selection of symmetrically arranged gilt-lettered inscriptions concerning the afterlife, such as "They Enter into the Dwelling Place of the Lord" or "May the Light Everlasting Shine upon Them," and reading the formulas, letting his mind's eye lose itself in the mysticism emanating from them, served to distract the waiting man for several minutes until, resurfacing from his reveries, he noticed a figure in the portico above the two apocalyptic beasts guarding the staircase, and something slightly out of the ordinary in the figure's appearance gave his thoughts an entirely new turn.
Whether the man had emerged from the chapel's inner sanctum through the bronze gate or mounted the steps unobtrusively from outside was uncertain. Without giving the matter much thought, Aschenbach inclined towards the first hypothesis. The man -- of medium height, thin, beardless, and strikingly snub-nosed -- was the red-haired type and had its milky, freckled pigmentation. He was clearly not of Bavarian stock and, if nothing else, the broad, straight-brimmed bast hat covering his head lent him a distinctly foreign, exotic air. He did, however, have the customary knapsack strapped to his shoulders, wore a yellowish belted suit of what appeared to be loden, and carried a gray waterproof over his left forearm, which he pressed to his side, and an iron-tipped walking stick in his right hand, and having thrust the stick diagonally into the ground, he had crossed his feet and braced one hip on its crook. Holding his head high and thus exposing a strong, bare Adam's apple on the thin neck rising out of his loose, open shirt, he gazed alert into the distance with colorless, red-lashed eyes, the two pronounced vertical furrows between them oddly suited to the short, turned-up nose. Thus -- and perhaps his elevated and elevating position contributed to the impression -- there was something of the overseer, something lordly, bold, even wild in his demeanor, for be it that he was grimacing, blinded by the setting sun, or that he had a permanent facial deformity, his lips seemed too short: they pulled all the way back, baring his long, white teeth to the gums.
Aschenbach's half-distracted, half-inquisitive scrutiny of the stranger may have been lacking in discretion, for he suddenly perceived that the man was returning his stare and was indeed so belligerently, so directly, so blatantly determined to challenge him publicly and force him to withdraw it that Aschenbach, embarrassed, turned away and set off along the fence, vaguely resolved to take no further notice of him. A minute later he had forgotten the man. It may have been the stranger's perambulatory appearance that acted upon his imagination or some other physical or psychological influence coming into play, but much to his surprise he grew aware of a strange expansion of his inner being, a kind of restive anxiety, a fervent youthful craving for faraway places, a feeling so vivid, so new or else so long outgrown and forgotten that he came to a standstill and -- hands behind his back, eyes on the ground, rooted to the spot -- examined the nature and purport of the feeling.
It was wanderlust, pure and simple, yet it had come upon him like a seizure and grown into a passion -- no, more, an hallucination. His desire sprouted eyes, his imagination, as yet unstilled from its morning labors, conjured forth the earth's manifold wonders and horrors in his attempt to visualize them: he saw. He saw a landscape, a tropical quagmire beneath a steamy sky -- sultry, luxuriant, and monstrous -- a kind of primordial wilderness of islands, marshes, and alluvial channels; saw hairy palm shafts thrusting upward, near and far, from rank clusters of bracken, from beds of thick, swollen, and bizarrely burgeoning flora; saw fantastically malformed trees plunge their roots through the air into the soil, into stagnant, shadow-green, looking-glass waters ...
Excerpted from Death in Venice by Thomas Mann Copyright © 1989 by Thomas Mann. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I am not used to modernist prose. This story, however, is crystal-clear in its intentions - you know the end before you even start reading it. The narrator makes his own comparisons very obvious, and goes to the lenght of explaining his own mythology. It was an enjoyable read, however not among my favourites.
I haven't read all the stories in this book but loved "Death in Venice," very deep story, yes, a bit depressing but you really got into Acshenbach's mind & psyche, ...plus I love the setting, Venice is gorgeous!!
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann is a story of obsession and isolation. Aschenbach, a writer of rarefied fictions, takes a holiday to Venice where he sees a beautiful youth of 15 years. He is immediately taken in by the boy's beauty and very quickly becomes obsessed with him. Aschenbach finds he is staying at the same hotel as the boy, so he studies the boy's daily habits, making sure that he is at the beach when the boy will be, ready for breakfast when the boy is, he even follows his family when the boy goes on tours of the city. He never attempts to meet the boy or to speak with him though he does learn his name, Tadzio, and quite a bit of his family history.Is Aschenbach a man in love or just a man obsessed? He learns as much as he can about Tadzio from secondhand sources like the hotel barber, but his knowledge remains so limited that the Tazio he comes to love is largely a Tadzio of his own imagination. Aschenbach can see what the boy looks like, but he does not know him in any real way. Aschenbach indulges in his obsession, staying on at the hotel as long as he can, in spite of the very real threat of a cholera outbreak in the emptying city.The city becomes a metaphor for Aschebach. Its decay, its age, its vulnerablity to disease are all mirrored in Aschenbach. The facade Venice puts on to attract visitors is mirrored in the fancy suits the fifty plus man wears in an attempt to make himself attractive. Neither the city nor the man can do much to really attract the attentions of a beautiful youth, those days are gone for both. The city provides attractions for the boy's aging mother and aunt who've brought their children in tow; the man can do nothing more than follow along trying to steal a glimpse of the youth he will not have again in any form.For all of its melancholy, all of its atmosphere of decay and the fact that the main character never talks to the object of his desire, Death in Venice is a highly readable story. While I did not really like Aschenbach at first, and I honestly can't say that I'm too fond of him by the end either, his story does become compelling. He does become a sympathetic character in spite of it all. By then end our understanding of what is happening to him has deepened making his story a haunting one.I'm giving Death in Venice by Thomas Mann five out of five stars.