Death In Venice was published in 1912 and is the tale of Gustav von Aschenbach, a famous and successful ageing author, who goes on holiday to Venice, and falls in love with a 14 year-old boy. I only read Death in Venice, and not the other short stories in "[b:Death in Venice and Other Stories|8866641|Death in Venice and Other Stories|Thomas Mann|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320480426s/8866641.jpg|3458170]".
Death In Venice is one of those stories that, for the average reader, needs some explanation from an informed commentator. It's a brief, albeit dense, tale and (thanks to Wikipedia) I can confidently report that the novella is rife with allusions from antiquity forward, especially to Greek antiquity and to German works (literary, art-historical, musical, and visual - from the 18th century onwards).
Prior to heading off to Venice, Gustav von Aschenbach's life is very disciplined and work-orientated. Once in Venice, Aschenbach slowly changes and eventually starts to experience passionate feelings for Tadzio, a 14 year-old Polish boy staying with his family at the same hotel. It's unclear what has prompted these feelings in Aschenbach. Is it a reaction to the constraints of Aschenbach's life prior to Venice? Is he simply just moved by Tadzio's youth and beauty?
According to Wikipedia, Mann's original intention was to write about "passion as confusion and degradation", after having been fascinated by the true story of Goethe's love for 18-year-old Baroness Ulrike von Levetzow, which had led Goethe to write his Marienbad Elegy. The May 1911 death of composer Gustav Mahler in Vienna and Mann's real life interest in a Polish boy during a holiday in Venice were additional experiences occupying his thoughts. He used the story to illuminate certain convictions about the relationship between life and mind, with Aschenbach representing the intellectual. Mann was also influenced by Sigmund Freud and his views on dreams, as well as by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who had visited Venice several times.
To what extent is Aschenbach's decline a punishment and does it reinforce the social order? Some cultures would accept Aschenbach's feelings, therefore to what extent might they be considered "natural"? Thomas Mann poses various questions in this story without appearing to come to any definitive conclusions, except that Achenbach's passion, and his illness, appear to be linked and this is presumably the cause of the death in Venice.
It's well written and, whilst dense, easy to follow. Thomas Mann evokes the faded grandeur and decay of Venice, and achieves an increasingly ominous tone as the story progresses. The tale is slight though and the book's preoccupations are too esoteric for my tastes. I doubt I'll bother reading it again though and was expecting to enjoy it more than I did.