Death in Venice

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Are There Lesbians? No

What Happens?
After an awkward encounter in a cemetery, ascetic novelist Gustav von Aschenbach travels to Venice. There, like all white, 50-something men, he has a midlife crisis and becomes obsessed with strawberries and a young boy staying at his hotel. It doesn’t end well.

The Verdict
It’s finally happening, I’m reviewing things that I have to read for Uni out of a simple lack of time to do anything else. As Uni readings go however, I didn’t find Death in Venice all that bad. There’s at least one gay in it, although his Gay Panic has made him so repressed he can only watch some young boy from afar while breathing heavily. And of course, he dies for this – not the heavy breathing thing, the gay thing. Because apart from that, pederasty in and of itself is totally fine and normal.

I say pederasty rather than paedophilia for the simple reason that Death in Venice has more Greek influence than a humanist’s wet dream. The Apollonic and Dionysic (don’t know if that’s a real word… but I just made it one) references have been the subject of an exhaustive number of essays, which is kind of weird since Mann beats you over the head with them and anyone with the most basic knowledge of either Greek myth or Nietzsche’s philosophy would find them painfully obvious. Really, Mann isn’t even remotely subtle about this:

           He trembled, he shrank, his will was steadfast to preserve and uphold his own god against this stranger who was sworn enemy to dignity and self-control. But the mountain wall took up the noise and howling and gave it back manifold; it rose high, swelled to a madness that carried him away. (p.38)

I mean honestly. Although with such a wealth of evidence at your fingertips I suppose it would be difficult to hold off on writing yet another essay about them. But if the male academics up in the back row could please not? That would be lovely.

Mann is also given over to paragraphs of lurid description – of emotions, memories or events – and not always in the current timeline. While pretty, and sometimes quite enthralling, this creates a rather jarring effect once he finally decides to return to the main text as you’re not entirely sure where you’re up to or what just happened, or even what is happening now. This is particularly the case when Aschenbach is considering the boy Tadzio. Like, we get it, he’s a modern-day frikken Adonis or Hyacinth or whoever. Please stop, it’s getting weird for the rest of us who are sick of reading about your midlife crisis. Not to mention Death in Venice is based on Mann’s own experience. Yikes.

After getting rather scathing and sarcastic you may be now be thinking “If you hate it so much why did you say it wasn’t that bad?” Because it isn’t! Sure, it’s spinach literature that you know you should read, but don’t really get around to reading until you have to, but it definitely shows why Mann has achieved such fame. Even if he does epitomise the white, male writer, his prose is definitely worth reading for the sheer beauty of the sentence structure (although I don’t know how much of that exactly can be put on the translator). So if you’re looking for something to read so you can lord it over your friends for the few seconds between “I read Death in Venice” and “Shut up, wanker” this is the book for you.

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