Thomas Mann

By Elizabeth Freund

Born in 1875 into a newly unified Germany, Mann moved to Munich at the age of eighteen.  His first novel, Buddenbrooks, was published in 1901.  Living his life in the modern time, Mann was an avid reader of Nietzsche. Mann was also “modern in his mode of work, rejecting emotion and inspiration in favor of discipline, detachment, and application.” The story of Death in Venice was inspired by a vacation that Mann and his family took to Lido, Venice, from the 26th of May to the 2nd of June in 1911.  Mann completed the work in June of 1912.  Death in Venice is semiautobiographical not only because it is set at the site of Mann’s family vacation.  Mann also became intrigued by a boy similar to the character Tadzio on his trip, although he did not pursue this fascination to the same extent as Aschenbach.  Also, the character of Aschenbach possesses many of Mann’s qualities and traits.  Like Aschenbach, Mann labored over every sentence of his writing, and was a dedicated and disciplined “moralist of achievement.”  Also like Aschenbach, Mann felt out of place in Munich because the city’s easy-going southern character conflicted with Mann’s northern German sensibility.  Munich was the center of visual arts at the time, which Mann considered inferior to the written word.  In his opinion, visual art could only skim the surface of experience, while literature could explore its depths.  In some ways, Aschenbach was actually the embodiment of what Mann strove to become in his writing: Aschenbach’s fame in the story arises from works that Mann had not yet finished.  We can see Aschenbach as the fulfillment of Mann’s own desires to be a nationally recognized and respected writer.  The character plays the role of respected writer and then rejects it, losing belief in bourgeois morality and values while yearning for social destruction and nothingness, eventually giving in to intoxication and love.  In a way, the creation of Aschenbach was Mann’s attempt to achieve perfection in his own life.  In Aschenbach’s case, this perfection leads to destruction.