Death in Venice

Mann, Thomas

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice
  • Date of entry: Mar-19-2002


Gustave Aschenbach, renowned German scholar and historian, reaches a crisis in his previously austere and celibate life. Exhausted from the pressures and the seemingly sterile quality of his aesthetic endeavors, he seeks respite and pleasure. Through a series of misadventures, he eventually arrives in the summer city of Venice, a city he knows and has always longed to visit again.

The reader observes the progressive moral alteration in the rigidly self-controlled man as he succumbs to his long repressed desire to experience the types of passion that art, rather than reason, allows. His transformation extends to the worship of a beautiful young boy--Aschenbach's vision of a doomed Greek god.

As Aschenbach becomes progressively obsessed with his longing, he assumes the role of a lover gone amok. Venice is under siege by a plague, and given the chance to escape--and to warn his object's Polish family of his knowledge about the dangers facing them all--he chooses to take the ultimate risk of death rather than give up his passionate obsession.


This is a densely complex narrative in the best of Mann's ability to create layer upon layer of meaning and symbolism. Each reading evokes a new revelation. The story seems to be the essence of the eternal struggle between the passions of nature and the restraints of rational man.

The plague--presumably cholera--is the metaphor for the question of passion as disease versus passion as natural and desirable. Mann takes the reader through the roller-coaster of doubt: is it better to have loved obsessively and died, or to never have known this passion at all? For the medical reader, the response of the officials of the city of Venice, and the response of Aschenbach himself, to the recognized dangers of the plague provide interesting questions without clear answers.


First published by Knopf in 1930; this edition translated from the German by H. T. Lowe-Porter.

Primary Source

Death in Venice and Seven other Stories by Thomas Mann



Place Published

New York



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