Death in Venice


Thomas Mann

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Death in Venice Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann was born in Lübeck, Germany in 1875. His father was a senator and merchant, and his mother was a Brazilian of German ancestry who had emigrated to Germany at a young age. Mann’s father died when he was only 16, and shortly after he moved with his mother to Munich, where lived for much of his life. He disliked formal education and school, but attended university and studied to become a journalist. He wrote a collection of short stories, but achieved significant notoriety for his celebrated novel Buddenbrooks, published in 1901. In 1905, he married Katia Pringsheim and eventually had six children with her, though since his death it has become apparent that he may have been homosexual. Mann continued to write stories and published Death in Venice in 1912. He began writing The Magic Mountain (probably his best known novel after Buddenbrooks) shortly after, but was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. After the war, Mann’s fame spread internationally, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929. He continued to live in Germany until the Nazis came to power, and left in 1933 for Switzerland. He became an American citizen and lived in the U.S. for some time before returning to Europe after the war. He died in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1955, widely recognized as one of the premier writers of the 20th century.
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Historical Context of Death in Venice

In 1911, Thomas Mann himself went on a vacation to Venice with his wife, where he became fascinated by a sickly young Polish boy. Death in Venice was partially inspired by this experience, and the famous writer Aschenbach can be seen as a version of Mann himself, who had achieved notoriety in his literary career by the time he wrote Death in Venice.

Other Books Related to Death in Venice

Mann often alludes to classical Greek mythology, as Aschenbach compares Tadzio to various attractive male mythical figures like Narcissus and Hyacinthus. Additionally, Death in Venice is heavily influenced by Plato’s Phaedrus, a philosophical dialogue in which Socrates teaches Phaedrus about beauty and desire. Not only does the novella take up the same themes as this work, but Aschenbach also deliriously imagines himself as Socrates and Tadzio as Phaedrus.
Key Facts about Death in Venice
  • Full Title: Death in Venice (Der Tod in Venedig, in German)
  • When Written: 1911
  • Where Written: Munich, Germany
  • When Published: 1912
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Novella
  • Setting: Munich, Germany and Venice, Italy.
  • Climax: Dressed in new clothes and wearing makeup in an attempt to appear younger, Aschenbach follows Tadzio through Venice and then becomes delirious in the heat in a city square. He talks as if he is Socrates talking to the young Phaedrus, in Plato’s Phaedrus, and asks whether beauty is the path to virtue or sin.
  • Antagonist: Aschenbach can be seen as his own antagonist. He struggles against his own repressed desires and, as he chooses to stay in Venice and keep pursuing Tadzio, he leads himself to his own downfall.

Extra Credit for Death in Venice

Deaths in Venice. Mann’s novella has been proven popular both with readers and with other writers eager to create their own versions of the story. It has been adapted into both a film and a ballet, and Benjamin Britten created a celebrated opera version of the story in 1973.