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Thomas Mann's Death in Venice

Thomas Mann's Death in Venice: A Novella and Its Critics

Ellis Shookman
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Thomas Mann's Death in Venice
    Book Description:

    Thomas Mann's 1912 novella Death in Venice is one of the most famous and widely read texts in all of modern literature, raising such issues as beauty and decadence, eros and irony, and aesthetics and morality. The amount and variety of criticism on the work is enormous, and ranges from psychoanalytic criticism and readings inspired by Mann's own homosexuality to inquiries into the place of the novella in Mann's oeuvre, its structure and style, and its symbolism and politics. Critics have also drawn connections between the novella and works of Plato, Euripides, Goethe, Schopenhauer, Platen, Wagner, Nietzsche, Gide, and Conrad. Ellis Shookman surveys the reception of Death in Venice, analyzing several hundred books, articles, and other reactions to the novella, proceeding in a chronological manner that allows a historical perspective. Critics cited include Heinrich Mann, Hermann Broch, D. H. Lawrence, Karl Kraus, Kenneth Burke, Georg Lukàcs, Wolfgang Koeppen, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Thomas Mann himself. Particular attention is paid to Luchino Visconti's film, Benjamin Britten's opera, and to other more recent creative adaptations, both in Germany and throughout the world. Ellis Shookman is associate professor of German at Dartmouth College.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-611-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. viii-viii)
    E. S.
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    In English, the name of Thomas Mann’s novellaDeath in Venice(1912) seems to have become almost a household word. That is what one might think, at least, after finding the phrase “Death in Venice” in the headlines of sixteen relatively recent British and American magazine articles, not to mention the titles of two English mystery novels. The articles appeared in a broad range of magazines, and they treat topics as varied as film, art, architecture, and air pollution in Italy; crime, cocaine, and ailing ducks in Venice, California; and European views on capital punishment. Two of the articles, in...

  5. 1: Initial Reactions, 1913–14
    (pp. 12-43)

    Over forty reviews ofDeath in Venicewere written in the two years that followed its initial publication. That publication itself took three separate forms. First, in October and November of 1912, the novella appeared serially in a literary journal,Die neue Rundschau.Second, a prior and slightly different version of Mann’s text was published in a limited luxury edition by Hans von Weber in Munich. Third, the revised version that, oddly enough, had appeared first, inDie neue Rundschau,came out as a book published by Samuel Fischer in Berlin. Von Weber’s small edition is dated 1912; Fischer’s 1913....

  6. 2: Increasing Acceptance, 1915–55
    (pp. 44-82)

    Death in Venicetook on many new and different meanings in the changing historical and intellectual circumstances of the forty years between 1915 and Mann’s death in 1955. Most comments on the novella during these decades, however, developed approaches taken and issues raised in the initial reactions of 1913 and 1914. Heinrich Mann’s review had been the only expressly political interpretation among those initial reactions, but such interpretations became more frequent during and after the First and Second World Wars. They included remarks on German society and on Western culture in general. Psychoanalytic readings also became more common. These readings...

  7. 3: Posthumous Praise, 1956–75
    (pp. 83-136)

    The reputation ofDeath in Venicewas further reinforced in the twenty years between Mann’s death in 1955 and the centenary of his birth. During these two decades, scholars gained access to his archives and read his correspondence. Research based on these sources helped illuminate his ideas, his intentions, and the genesis of his text. Other research was more speculative and put the novella into broader perspectives. One group of studies treated it with regard to issues of aesthetics, artists, and Mann’s other writings. These studies debated the ethics of Tadzio’s beauty and its beholder; assessed Aschenbach’s art, criticized his...

  8. 4: Further Developments, 1976–95
    (pp. 137-218)

    Scholarly research on Mann’s novella, not to mention other forms of its reception, did not diminish in the two decades that followed the centenary of his birth. The scope and depth of such research increased, in fact, as did its volume. In part, this increase was due to the publication of his previously sealed diaries and his notebooks. Most studies ofDeath in Venicethat appeared in those twenty years, moreover, fall into the broad categories established in the previous chapter. First, there is the issue of aesthetics and artists, including comparisons drawn betweenDeath in Veniceand Mann’s other...

  9. 5: Recent Trends, 1996–2001
    (pp. 219-240)

    Research onDeath in Veniceconducted in the last few years falls into categories like the ones established in the previous two chapters to order the scholarly efforts made in the preceding four decades. First, there are remarks on aesthetics and artists, including insights into Aschenbach’s significance for modernity and decadence. Second, there are studies of the myths at work in Mann’s story and comparisons drawn between it and fiction by other writers. Third, there are analyses of his style, especially of his narrator’s irony. Fourth, there are readings that invoke philosophers, cite political history or cultural differences, or apply...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 241-248)

    In the ninety years since it was published, Thomas Mann’sDeath in Venicehas been taken, and sometimes made, to mean many things. The wide variety of all the reviews, articles, books, and other sources surveyed in the foregoing five chapters, in fact, not to mention their large number, make the reception of Mann’s story too complex to be summed up in a single narrative. Like any great work of fiction, that story is far richer than any one critical approach or scholarly method. When passed through the force field of its prose, so to speak, almost any such approach...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 249-298)
  12. Index
    (pp. 299-312)