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Literature / Death in Venice

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Death in Venice is a 1912 novella written by the German author, Thomas Mann (original title Der Tod in Venedig). The story is about an aged writer, Gustav von Aschenbach, who travels to Venice on advice of his doctor and falls in love with a stunningly good-looking, aristocratic boy of fourteen, Tadzio, to whom he never speaks. Gustav finds himself drawn deeply into a ruinous inward passion, which has bad consequences for him as there is a cholera epidemic currently going down in the city.

The novella is highly autobiographical: while holidaying in Venice, thirty-seven-year-old Mann, a married father, had crushed from afar on a ten-year-old Polish aristocrat, Wladyslaw Moes. Benjamin Britten has adapted this into an opera, and director Luchino Visconti made a 1971 film adaptation of the novella (Morte a Venezia) starring Dirk Bogarde and Björn Andrésen. It also served as the main inspiration for the 1990 novel Love and Death on Long Island, a more humorous take on the novel that also gives it a Setting Update to 1990s America, which in turn received a 1997 film adaptation made by director Richard Kwietniowski, starring John Hurt and Jason Priestley.


This work provides examples of:

  • Blue Blood: The boy was born into nobility; Aschenbach was recently raised to nobility for his artistic achievements.
  • Bury Your Gays: Aschenbach ultimately dies.
  • Downer Ending: Because of Gustav's reluctance to leave Venice (because it will mean leaving Tadzio), he contracts and dies of the cholera that is sweeping the city.
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: Tadzio.
  • Longing Look: The way Aschenbach looks at Tadzio throughout his stay.
  • Lover and Beloved: Aschenbach constructs a complex fantasy life around the boy.
  • Love at First Sight: Aschenbach is instantly struck by Tadzio's beauty.
  • Love Epiphany: The boy's beauty makes Aschenbach aware of true artistic beauty.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Gustav starts to do crazy things, like dye his hair and wear makeup, in order to appear younger for the boy.
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  • Most Writers Are Writers: Tells of the downfall of a successful novelist.
  • Pretty Boy: Tadzio
  • Stalker with a Crush: Gustav's obsession with Tadzio has more than a few shades of this.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Aschenbach's desire is painted in non-sexual terms, but c'mon...
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Tadzio's most striking feature, at least according to Gustav.
  • Wretched Hive: Pre-World War I Venice is portrayed as a Crapsaccharine World version of one, a city that hides growing corruption under a pretty face.
  • Younger Than They Look: Both Mann and his wife estimated the age of the fascinating boy who was the inspiration for Tadzio was around 13-14. He was actually only 10 years old at the time.