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Death in Venice and Other Tales

de Thomas Mann

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Presents a new translation of the twentieth century's greatest novellas, the story of a German writer's affair with a Polish boy, along with eleven other stories.

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Tristan:
Richard Wagner saw the premier of his revolutionary opera Tristan und Isolde at the Königliches Hof- und Nationaltheater in Munich on 10 June 1865 with Hans von Bülow conducting. It was revolutionary for the music was unlike any the audience had heard before; specifically the "Tristan chord" with which the opera begins and which remains unresolved until the final moments of the opera, and marked the beginning of a new age of music that would see the rise of composers from Mahler to Debussy, and Schoenberg with the second Viennese circle.

But this music, and the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer with which it is imbued, influenced the artistic world beyond music. One of those influenced was a young author from northern Germany who, at the age of twenty-six in 1901, had just published a major family saga and a handful of short stories. This author, Thomas Mann, would write a novella entitled Tristan, setting it in a sanatorium called Einfried, "Enclosure", beside which "the mountains, massive, fir green, and softly rugged, tower toward the heavens."
Mann uses music as an integral part of this short story about a middle-class woman, Gabrielle Kloterjahn, who comes under the spell of a writer, Detlev Spinell, who in addition to his writing (he had published one book) was an affable, affectionate, and even enthusiastic aesthete. He was often "carried away in sheer admiration for something beautiful: the harmony of two colors, a vase with a noble shape, the mountains illuminated by the sunset." His response would be simply "How beautiful!" While he is a vain and pompous man, he is capable of great influence with is intense pursuit of his own aesthetic purity.

Gabrielle found herself alone in the sanatorium as her burger husband had departed and she was interested to find that there was a "writer" present for she "had never before met a writer face-to-face." It was not long before Herr Spinell was socializing with her and moved quickly from being merely "helpful" to being "devoted" to her. For Gabrielle was an artist herself, as a amateur musician who played the piano. She is at Einfried to rest and recover from a general malaise and weakness following giving birth to a child. She was prescribed a rest cure as part of her potential return to health. While this precluded playing the piano she could not resist the insistence of the charming Spinell to play the piano for him. What harm could there be in yielding to the enjoyment of a simple, yet beautiful, nocturne by Frederic Chopin.

This moment that seems so innocent is ironically the moment when the story turns; when the yearning of Gabrielle for something beyond reality, beyond "mere appearances", that has been suggested by her conversations with Her Spinell, becomes something much darker. Mann is not subtle with the coming of sunset yielding phrases like "darkness is already setting in." And Gabrielle observing that "yesterday we still had broad daylight at this time; and now it's already dusk." Thus playing a nocturne is quite appropriate, but she moves on to play another and another. Then Spinell offers her a piano transcription of Wagner's liebestod music from Tristan und Isolde.
"the yearning motif, a lonesome and wandering voice in the night, softly utters its anxious question. A stillness and a waiting. And lo, a response: the same timid and lonesome strain, only clearer, only more delicate. Another hush. And now, with that muted and wonderful sforzando, which is like passion rousing itself and blissfully flaring up, the love motif emerged, ascended, rapturously struggled upward to sweet interlacing, sank back, dissolving, and, with their deep crooning of grave and painful ecstasy, the cellos came to the fore and carried the melody away . . . ."

This moment, this music, is the signal that Gabrielle will not recover, that the love she and Spinell have will only last till her death. Her husband is asked to return and, is presented with a strange letter written by Spinell to Herr Kloterjahn, a letter in which Spinell describes his vision of beauty as experienced in and with Gabrielle, but also condemns Herr Kloterjahn as the enemy, the antithesis of true beauty and love. Herr Kloterjahn really has no idea what Spinell means, yet Spinell is also a sickly example, a pale imitation of the true aesthete. The beauty of Wagner's magnificent motif merging Eros and Thanatos is wasted on the merely melodramatic and overwrought pair. The novella ends not just with the death of Gabrielle, but also with Spinell trying to mentally escape from the aesthetic moment he had experienced at Einfried. ( )
  jwhenderson | Apr 30, 2015 |
This book was assigned for a college course that I ended up dropping but I had already purchased the book. I decided to keep it because the book buyback/refund was ridiculous and because Mann's work is hailed as a quintessential part of German literature as well as insight on the concept of literature as art and of the relation between art and reality/humanity. Now years later, I finally picked the book up and worked through the dozen stories it contains.

From a high level I can say that I found the stories very evocative, descriptive and full of detailed emotion. A common tone that I felt throughout the reading was one not necessarily of despair but of longing...of a desire or yearning for something more. The exact focus varied somewhat from story to story but generally speaking we were usually presented with a protagonist who was an artist of some kind and who is struggling with balancing his passion and desire with the mundane and disappointing real world around him. That tone produced an overarching depressive feel that lingered throughout my entire reading. Even the happy and vibrant moments had a shadow of sadness behind them that I just couldn't escape.

A lot of the depressive nature came from the conflict between the desire and the ability to fulfill on those desires. In most cases, the yearning of the character in question was for something inaccessible or forbidden. Specifically, in the title story the artist/writer is an older man who is having romantic longings towards a younger boy...thus a yearning that is taboo and forbidden on multiple levels. By making these desires more taboo or forbidden, I felt less directly tied to the protagonist but Mann still presented the situation in a way that allowed me to feel the oppressive emotions of the struggle. In other cases the struggle is just one between a desire to create that great artistic masterpiece and the feeling of constantly falling short. It's hard to be an artist and it's easy to be hard on yourself as an artist.

Random review interlude -- A couple of favorite quotes:
"We are only as old as we feel in our hearts and minds."
"Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous - to poetry. But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd."

I certainly appreciated the artistry of the story and I was impressed by the depth and detail added to the environments, characters and stories of this book. Some of the stories were a bit more engaging to me than others but generally I felt a bit disjointed from the stories and had a hard time really appreciating the various plots. What I probably enjoyed most (beyond some of the beautiful descriptions) were the semi-frequent existential and philosophical moments. Mann puts together some interesting thoughts that sat with me after closing the book. Mostly he left me feeling unsettled and dissatisfied and like I should get out and do something productive and worthwhile. To that extent, I applaud the effort of the book. Otherwise, this is a bit of classical literary artistry that I can appreciate but really don't feel like it was a "must read" or that my life is significantly improved by reading. I didn't hate it but I didn't love it. Overall, it just sort of exists on a menial plane for me.

***
3 out of 5 stars ( )
  theokester | Oct 8, 2014 |
In this collection of stories, and two novellas, by Mann, the mood is almost uniformly grim, sometimes even horrifying, and often claustrophobic. Most of the stories deal with people who are in some way misfits, at time physically stunted, at times psychologically stunted, and of course at times both, and the ways they are tormented by others and by their own minds. For example, in the stunningly depressing "Little Herr Friedemann" (a story that led me to buy this book because it was recommended by a friend), the protagonist winds up deformed after he is dropped on his head as an infant. As the story progresses, he falls in love with a beautiful woman who toys with him by encouraging him to play the violin for her, leading to a shocking, but foreshadowed, conclusion. In "Little Lizzy," a woman and her lover torment her fat and hated husband by making him sing wearing women's clothes at a community party they are sponsoring. The unpleasantness just doesn't stop in these stories.

Like these two stories, many of the tales in this collection involve music. In "Tristan," which takes place at a sanatorium (giving some idea of where Mann might got with The Magic Mountain), a patient falls in love with a new patient, schemes to be able to be with her, and convinces her to play the piano (something the doctors have forbidden her to do). As she plays music stacked on the piano, she comes upon the music for Wagner's Tristan, specifically a piece called the Liebstod (as a non-opera lover, I had to resort to Google) -- their emotions build to a climax, and tragedy results. In "The Blood of the Walsungs," a thoroughly creepy and borderline anti-Semitic story, a twin brother and sister, named after the twins in Die Walküre (another trip to Google), and who treat each other very inappropriately for a brother and sister, go to a performance of that opera just before she is to get married. And more.

Other tales, including the two novellas, "Tonio Kröger" and "Death in Venice," focus on writers, and the distance they feel from ordinary people. In both of these novellas, the protagonists feel compelled to take journeys away from the places they live and work, seeking some comfort they are unable to find at home. In "Death in Venice," the writer, who has always prided himself on his austerity and self-control, finds himself enraptured by a young boy and tormented by complex and unbidden feelings he has never experienced before, or has always repressed. He is both confused and entranced. There is a lot of philosophy in this novella, and I don't think I understood it all.

I found it interesting that Mann transformed some of his personal history in some of these stories; in "Tonio Kröger," Tonio's mother came from Italy, and much is made of this mixture in his parentage, while Mann's mother was half Brazilian. The contrast between the north and the south, in atmosphere and personality, is another theme of some of these stories.

I had never read any of Mann's shorter works before I picked up this book, and I have to say I much prefer his longer works. Although these tales were intense, they didn't engage me as much as Buddenbrooks, Joseph and His Brothers, and The Magic Mountain did. They seemed claustrophobic and, even in the claustrophobic atmosphere of The Magic Mountain, Mann has more room for expansiveness and complexity. I'm glad I read his novels first, because reading this collection would not have inspired me to read more Mann.
6 vota rebeccanyc | May 10, 2014 |
This Recorded Books collection included The Will for Happiness, Tristam, Little Her Friedermann, Tobias Mindernickel, Little Lizzy, Gladius, Dei, The Starvelings - A Study, The Wunderkind, Harsh Hour, Tonio Kruger, The Blood of the Waslungs, and of course, Death in Venice. This audio performance by Paul Hecht made the long, complex, drawn-out sentences easy to understand. I'm sure that the audio worked better for me.

So, these stories included, artist angst, passion, melancholy, loneliness, righteousness, homosexual urges, heterosexual urges, incestual urges, anti semitism, neurosis in sanitoriums, and all the usual happy, upbeat Thomas Mann fare. ( )
  Sandydog1 | Jan 17, 2009 |
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Nom de l'autorCàrrecTipus d'autorObra?Estat
Mann, ThomasAutorautor primaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Neugroschel, JoachimPrefaciautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Neugroschel, JoachimTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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ISBN 0141181737, 0670874248 : The will for happiness - Little Herr Friedemann - Tobias Mindernickel - Little Lizzy - Gladius dei - Tristan - The starvelings: a study - Tonio Kröger - The wunderkind - Harsh hour - The blood of the Walsungs - Death in Venice.
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Presents a new translation of the twentieth century's greatest novellas, the story of a German writer's affair with a Polish boy, along with eleven other stories.

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