Death in Veniceis Thomas Mann's novella concerning the dangers of sexual obsession. Gustav von Aschenbach, a famous middle-aged author travels to Venice. He takes up residence on Lido Island, and during dinner one evening at his 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 grows into an unhealthy obsession. As the weather in Venice turns hot and humid, an outbreak of cholera overtakes the city. 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. A classic depiction of emotional suffering, Death in Venicebrilliantly depicts the tragic intensity of inner psychological torment.
In my opinion, the true subject of his story is the artist’s search for perfection and the impossibility of ever possessing it. At the moment he achieves absolute fulfillment, the artist’s life is snuffed out. It is a story where the quest for perfection leads to physical and moral decay. He knows he must escape the putrid atmosphere of a city steeped in cholera, but instead of fleeing to save his life, he is held captive there by his own desire. He cannot bear to absent himself from the Tadzio. Thomas Mann leaves the cause of death open. Does the protagonist succumb to the disease, or is he simply not able to live without the beauty he has fallen in love with?
A masterpiece in both plot and language. In my opinion, it is a must read for anyone interested gay fiction. Mann is one of the greats, and this is perhaps his greatest story.