First published in 1912, “Death in Venice” is Thomas Mann’s novella concerning Gustav von Aschenbach, a famous middle-aged author who in order to alleviate a terrible case of writer’s block decides to go on holiday. Gustav first travels to the coast of Austria-Hungary but soon is overcome with the feeling that he is meant to travel to Venice. On Lido Island he takes up residence in a suite at the Grand Hotel des Bains. During dinner one evening at the hotel he sees a family at a table nearby and becomes fascinated by the beauty of their adolescent fourteen year old boy named Tadzio. His interest in Tadzio at first enlivens in him an uplifting and artistic spirit, however as the days pass his interest begins to grow into an unhealthy obsession. As the weather in Venice turns hot and humid, Gustav, feeling his health to be in decline, decides to travel to a cooler locale, however a mix up with his luggage, draws him back to the hotel and Tadzio, which he inwardly rejoices. Though Gustav never acts on his feelings regarding the boy he nevertheless feels himself drawn down a path of ruinous inward desire.
“Death in Venice” depicts the tragic intensity of inner psychological torment and is charged with the melancholy and decadence of the crisis years before 1914. When Aschenbach dies, so does old Europe, which is represented by the cosmopolitan bathing public on the Lido.
On a seperate note: Tadzio, the boy in the story, is the nickname for the Polish name Tadeusz and based on a boy Mann had seen during his visit to Venice in 1911.