Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. I. LIFE (). 1. The making of an artist. “ When I ask myself the hereditary origin of my characteristics I am fain to recall. Thomas Mann was born in Lubeck in northern Germany in. His father, a o, one year before Death in Venice was written, his sister. Carla committed. points. First of all, this is a brief study on Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, that is to say, on a p) already says that Thomas Mann read Plutarch's Eroticus.
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Thomas Mann. Death In Venice. Gustave Aschenbach - or von Aschenbach, as he had been known officially since his fiftieth birthday-had set out alone from his . For a handful of the greatest writers, Thomas Mann among them, the process of translation continues even further. Occasionally a book like Death in Venice. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann Translated from the German edition by Martin C. Doege Chapter I Gustav Aschenbach.
Cigarette smoke hung in one place and only gradually escaped. She could have been the wife of a high-ranking German official. Was it a consequence of that "rebirth", that newfound dignity and severity, that at the same time an almost extreme enhancement of his sense of beauty was observed, that kind of noble purity, simplicity, and well-proportionedness of form, which from then on gave his works such a deliberate air of mastery and classicism? They kissed their mother's hand, who looked above their heads with an aloof smile of her well-groomed but slightly tired and sharp-nosed face and addressed a few words in French to the governess. Here is Mrs. Aschenbach was seated on the circular bench at the bow, leaning with his arm upon the handrail, shading his eyes from the Sun.
Obviously he was not Bavarian: Of course he wore the common kind of rucksack strapped on his shoulders, a yellowish suit of loden fabric, as it appeared, a gray coat over the left underarm, which he had stemmed into his side, and in the right hand a stick with an iron tip, which he had pushed diagonally into the ground and on which he, feet crossed, leaned with his hip. With raised head, so that on his scrawny neck which stuck out from his sport shirt the Adam's apple projected forcefully and well-defined, he looked into the distance, with colorless, red-lashed eyes between which there were two vertical, definite furrows, which strangely complemented his short and stubby nose.
His demeanor — and perhaps his elevated and elevating standpoint contributed to this impression — was that of cool survey, audacious, even wild; because, be it that he was grimacing against the brightness of the setting Sun or that it was a more permanent physiognomic disfigurement, his lips seemed too short, the teeth were entirely uncovered, so that they, quite long and bare to the gums, gleamed white between his lips.
Possibly Aschenbach had not exerted much discretion in his half-distracted and half-inquisitive study of the foreigner; because suddenly he noticed the other one returning his glances and in such a war-like fashion, so straight into the eye, so obviously determined to carry this to the extremes and to force the other one's gaze to retreat, that Aschenbach, slightly embarrassed, turned around and began ambling along the fences, with the passing decision not to regard that person again.
He had forgotten him the very next minute. If it was the wayfarer-like air of the foreigner working on his imagination or some other corporeal or mental influence that caused it: It was wanderlust, nothing more; but verily coming in the form of a fit and ardently intensified, even to the point of an illusion. Because he saw, as a sample of of all those wonders and horrors of the diversity on Earth which his desire was suddenly able to imagine, an enormous landscape, a tropical swamp under a moist and heavy sky, wet, lush, and unhealthy, a primordial wilderness of islands and mud-bearing backwaters that men avoid.
The shallow islands, the soil of which was covered with leafs as thick as hands, with enormous ferns, with juicy, macerated and wonderfully flowering plants, ejected upwards hairy palm trunks, and strangely formless trees, whose roots sprung from the trunks and connected to the water or the ground through the air, formed disorienting arrangements.
On the brackish, glaucously-reflecting stream milk-white, bowl-sized flowers were floating; high-shouldered birds of all kinds with shapeless beaks were standing on tall legs in the shallow water and looked askance unmoving, while through vast reed fields there sounded a clattering grinding and whirring, as if by soldiers in their armaments; the onlooker thought he felt the tepid and mephitic odor of that unrestrained and unfit wasteland, which seemed to hover in a limbo between creation and decay, between the knotty trunks of a bamboo thicket he for a moment believed to perceive the phosphorescent eyes of the tiger — and felt his heart beating with horror and mysterious yearning.
Finally the hallucination vanished, and Aschenbach, shaking his head, resumed his promenade along the fences of the stonecutters.
He had, as far as he had possessed the means to enjoy the benefits of sojourn to far-off countries, regarded travel as a hygienic necessity, which had to be observed against will and inclination.
Too much occupied with the duties imposed by his ego and the European soul, too overburdened with the duty of production, too little interested in distracting himself to be a faithful lover of that gay outside world, he had contended himself wholly with that knowledge of the Earth's surface that can be gained by anyone without ever having to abandon his circle and was never even tempted to leave Europe.
The more so since his life was approaching its conclusion, since his artist's fright of not being able to finish his work, that fret that his time had run out, could no longer be called purely a delusion, so that his life had mostly been limited to the beautiful city, which had become a home to him, and the spartan country house, which he had erected in the mountains and where he spent rain-soaked summers. Also that which had of late so suddenly touched him was soon tempered and corrected by the reason and restraint that he had exercised from his younger years on.
He had intended to continue the work for which he lived up a certain point before he moved to the country and the thought of an aimless wandering around the world, which would cost him several months of time allotted for his work, seemed too carefree and at odds with his plans, it was not to be considered in earnest. And yet he was quite aware what was the cause of that affliction.
It was a desire to flee, he had to admit to himself, this yearning for the distant and the novel, this desire for liberty, for being free of burden, for being able to forget — the desire to escape his work, the commonplace location of a rigorous, frigid, and ardent duty.
Although he loved it and also almost the unnerving, daily-repeating struggle between his tenacious and proud, so often tested willpower and that growing weariness, of which nobody was allowed to know and which was not allowed to betray the product by any sign of impotence or defeat.
But it seemed reasonable not to overdo it and not to suffocate such a lively desire hardheadedly. He thought of his work, thought of the point at which he had to terminate his effort today, just like yesterday, and which seemed to yield neither to patient care nor a decisive blow.
He inspected it again, tried to break or dissolve the stoppage but aborted his attack with a feeling of disgust. These were no insurmountable hindrances, what immobilized him were the scruples of listlessness, which masqueraded as an insatiable discontent. Discontent had already been considered by the adolescent as the character and innermost nature of genius and he had sought to restrain his emotions because he had realized that they are too easily contented with approximations and half-hearted perfection.
Was that repressed sentiment now avenging itself by leaving him, by refusing to carry his art and by taking away all his delight with form and meaning? Not that he produced bad art: That was one of the advantages of his age, that he could be sure of his mastery in every moment. But he himself, while his nation honored it, was unable to enjoy it and it seemed to him as if his work lacked those characteristics of fiery inventiveness which, as creations of joy, contribute more to the pleasure of the readership than some inner meaning.
He was afraid of the summer in the countryside, alone in that little house with the maidservant who prepared the food for him and the manservant who served it; he feared the familiar sight of the mountains and steep cliffs that would surround his listless dullness.
And so there was a need for something different, some living without a set plan, some fresh air from remote places, an infusion of fresh blood to make the summer more tolerable and productive. So travel it would be — he was content with himself. Not that far, certainly not to the tigers. A night in the sleeping car and a siesta of three or four weeks in one of the usual places for holidays in the lovely South.
So he thought to himself while the noise of the electric tram approached along the UngererstraBe and when he got in he decided to spend the evening with the study of maps and schedules. On the platform it occurred to him to look for the man with the bast hat, his comrade during that rather fateful stay. But the man's whereabouts remained unknown, as he was neither to be found in his former location, nor at the next station, nor in the car.
Chapter II The author of the articulate and powerful epic prose poem about the life of Frederick the Great; the patient artist, who had industriously weaved the tapestry called "Maja", a novel rich in characters that combined so much human fatefulness under the overruling shadow of an idea; the creator of that mighty narrative titled "A Miserable One" that demonstrated to a thankful generation the possibility of moral resoluteness in the presence of deepest knowledge; the writer, finally, and that concludes the list of works of his most mature period of the impassioned treatise about "Arts and the Intellect", which due to its organizing force and antithetical eloquence could be compared to Schiller's reasoning about naive and sentimental poetry: Gustav Aschenbach had been born as the son of judicial officer in the district town of L.
His ancestors had been officers, judges, and bureaucrats, men who in the service of king and country had led their strict and decently simple lives. Intellectual tendencies had once taken shape among them in the form of a preacher; quicker, more sensual blood had been added through the poet's mother, daughter of a Bohemian bandmaster. From her the characteristics of a different race in his appearance had been derived.
That marriage between businesslike, spartan sedulity and darker, more fiery impulses had created an artist, and this artist in particular. Since his entire persona had a disposition towards fame, he, even though not really precocious, had presented himself from an early age on with maturity and skill, thanks to his decisiveness and laconic use of words.
Still little more than a student, he had already made a name for himself. Ten years later he had learned to represent from his desk, to administrate his fame in concise letters because the one who is successful and trustworthy is met with many demands every day , and to be generally benevolent and meaningful. Even in his forties he had had, already exhausted from the strains and vicissitudes of his actual work, to cope with a daily correspondence bearing postage stamps from all over the world.
In that way, from his adolescent years having been prepared for extraordinary achievement from all sides, he had never known the idleness and carelessness of youth. When he fell sick in Vienna around his thirty-fifth year, are careful observer said of him: That was indeed true; and the brave thing about it was that his nature was not at all robust and had been made to yield to frequent concentrated effort only by calling, not by birth.
The doctor had demanded that the boy stay home from school and instead advised that he be schooled at home. He had grown up solitary, without comrades and had to recognize in due time that he belonged to a family in which not so much the talent but the necessary physical basis which talent needs to unfold had been a rarity — a family in which the capable gave all their gifts early on and infrequently reached old age.
But his favorite phrase was "keep a stiff upper lip" — in his novel about Frederick the Great he saw nothing less than the apotheosis of that command, which he considered the essence of virtue at work.
He also wished mostly dearly to live a long life, because he had always though that an artist could only be considered truly great and honorable if he had been a success in all stages of his life. Therefore, since he had to carry the duties which his gifts burdened him with on tender shoulders and intended to go a long way, discipline was most important to him — fortunately, that kind of discipline had been running in his father's side of the family.
At forty or fifty years, at an age when others are still wasteful and enthusiastic and delay the carrying out of bigger designs, he started his day by dousing his breast and back with cold water and then sacrificed the creative impulses he had gathered during his slumber during two or three hours of intensive work in the candlelight. It was pardonable, and even signified the victory of his morality when those without more intimate knowledge considered the world of "Maja" or the epic construct in which Frederick's heroic life found its expression products of an enduring force, while in reality they had been built up in tiny daily portions from hundreds of inspirations, and when they only reached a certain degree of excellence because their master had endured the imposition of a certain work for years with the same tenacity and willpower that had helped conquer his home province and had only invested his most powerful and noble hours into their creation.
For an important intellectual product to be immediately weighty, a deep relationship or concordance has to exist between the life of its creator and the general lives of the people. These people are generally unaware why exactly they praise a certain work of art. Far from being truly knowledgeable, they perceive it to have a hundred different benefits to justify their adulation; but the real underlying reason for their behavior cannot be measured, is sympathy.
Aschenbach had once mentioned it in a place where it might easily have been overlooked, that all truly great works exist despite of things, despite distress and pain, despite poverty, abandonment, weakness of the body, vice, passion, and a thousand obstacles. But it was more than just a remark, it was an experience, was almost the formula of his life and fame, the key to his work; and so it was not surprising if this was also the moral disposition, the demeanor of his most memorable characters.
About that novel, always recurring kind of heroic type so favored by this writer, a keen essayist had remarked once: Because grace under pressure is more than just suffering; it is an active achievement, a positive triumph and the figure of St Sebastian is its best symbol, if perhaps not in art generally, but certainly in the art of writing. Gazing at the written world, seeing the elegant self-restraint that guards an inner decomposition, a biological decay until the last moment from the prying eyes of the world; that bilious, sensually disadvantaged ugliness that is able to kindle its smoldering fire into a pure flame and to even usurp the throne in the kingdom of beauty; the pallid impotence, which retrieves from the glowing depths of the soul the power to prostrate an entire wanton people before the cross, before its own feet; the amiable attitude in the empty and severe employ of the form; the counterfeit and dangerous life; the quickly unnerving yearning and art of the born fraud: And what kind of heroism would be more timely than this one?
Gustav Aschenbach was the poet of all those who were laboring on the brink of exhaustion, the overburdened and worn out, who still tried to keep upright, those moralists of performance, who, being lanky and of limited means, through willpower and clever management can conjure the effect of greatness at least for a time.
They are numerous, they are the heroes of our age. And they all recognized themselves in his work, they found themselves vindicated, elevated, celebrated in it, thanked him generously and spread his name. He was young and had been rough with time, listening to its bad advice he had made mistakes, had compromised himself, had trespassed against good behavior and prudence, both in his words and works.
But he had gained that dignity towards which every genius has an inner drive, one could even say that his whole development had been a conscious and defiant ascent towards dignity, an ascent that defied all those hindrances of doubt and irony. Lively, yet non-binding concreteness of formation is the foundation of the delight of the bourgeois masses, but the absolute ardor of youth is only interested in the problematic: He had indulged in the mind, ruthlessly mined for knowledge, had milled his seeds, given away secrets, brought talent under suspicion, betrayed art — and while his creations were entertaining and reviving and elevating the pious epicures, he, the young artist, had kept the twenty- year-olds breathless with his cynicism about the questionable nature of art and artists.
But it seems as if nothing dulls the noble and able mind quicker than the biting and bitter taste of awareness; and it is certain that the melancholy sedulous thoroughness of the youth is nothing in comparison to the deep conviction of the man who has become a master, his decision to deny that knowledge, to decline it, to completely ignore it when he finds it in the least capable of paralyzing, discouraging, and degrading. How else could the famous story of the "Miserable" be interpreted than as an outburst of disgust against the indecent psychologizing of the time, made flesh and blood in the figure of that soft and ridiculous scoundrel, who tries to trick fate by sending his wife, perhaps out of profligacy, out of moral weakness into the arms of a beardless one and thinks he is entitled to commit indecencies?
The power of the word, with which the cast away is cast away, pronounces the turning away from all moral uncertainty, from every sympathy with the abyss, the reneging of that phrase of compassion, that "to understand all is to forgive all", and what was beginning here was that "wonder of the reborn impartiality", which was briefly mentioned in one of the author's dialogues with not a little mystery.
What strange coherence! Was it a consequence of that "rebirth", that newfound dignity and severity, that at the same time an almost extreme enhancement of his sense of beauty was observed, that kind of noble purity, simplicity, and well-proportionedness of form, which from then on gave his works such a deliberate air of mastery and classicism?
But moral determination without knowledge, without that dissolving and hindering perception — does it not also entail a simplification, a moral black-and-white view of the world and the soul and therefore also a tendency towards what is evil and forbidden? And is not form itself two-faced? Is it not moral and amoral at the same time — moral as an expression of discipline, amoral and even antimoral if it encompasses a moral indifference and tries to rule over what is moral?
However it may be! Development is also fate; and why should not the one which is participated in by the public take a different course from that which unfolds without the glamor and the duties of fame? Only never-ending vagary finds it boring and is wont to ridicule it when a remarkable talent outgrows its libertine past, gets used to expressly perceive the dignity of the mind and takes on the solitary mores full of unadvised, hardly independent sorrows and struggles which ascend to power and honors among men.
Besides, how much play, resentment, indulgence is in the remaking of talent by itself! An official and paedagogic element slowly surfaced in Gustav Aschenbach's performances, his style departed from the direct boldness, those subtle and new distinctions of his earlier years, it transformed itself into the exemplary and solid, the conventionally polished, the preserving, formal, even formulaic, and like the anecdote about the Sun King purports to know, so the aging one exiled every base and common word from his vocabulary: At that time it happened that the ministry of education included selected writings of his in their schoolbooks.
It suited him very well, and he did not resent it all when a German prince, just recently crowned, knighted the creator of the "Frederick" on his fiftieth birthday After several years of unrest and much trying out of different places he soon picked Munich as his permanent hometown and there he lived in those bourgeois honors that in rare cases are bestowed upon the intellect.
His marriage to a girl, the offspring of a highly educated family, had been terminated by her death. A daughter, already married herself, had remained. He had never had a son. Gustav von Aschenbach was not particularly tall, with dark hair, beardless.
His head seemed curiously oversized in relation to his almost frail figure. His brushed-back hair, thinning at the cortex, very voluminous at the temples and quite gray, framed a high, furrowed and, so to say, scarred forehead. The frame of golden eyeglasses cut into the root of a somewhat plump yet nobly curved nose. His mouth was large, often limp, sometimes small and tense all of a sudden; his cheeks were narrow and furrowed, the well- formed chin sported a cleft.
Important fates seemed to have trespassed over the often sideways-tilted crown, and yet it had been art which had shaped that kind of physiognomy which otherwise is the hallmark of a difficult and troubled life. Behind that brow, the glittering repartees in the conversation between the King and Voltaire about war had been born; these eyes, looking at the world wearily through the glasses, had seen the bloody inferno in the field hospitals of the Seven Years' War.
Even on a personal level art is a form of heightened living. It gives greater pleasures, it consumes faster. It stamps 10 the features of its servants with the signs of imaginary and spiritual adventures, and it produces, even in the most cloister-like atmosphere, a certain fastidiousness, an over-refinement, an exhaustion and curiosity of the nerves, in a way even a life of the most outrageous passions and delights could scarcely effect it.
Chapter III Some business of the worldly and literary kind held the hopeful traveler-to-be back in Munich for another two weeks after that walk. Finally he gave orders to prepare his country house for him within four weeks and then one day between the middle and the end of May he took the night train to Trieste, where he only stopped for twenty-four hours and the next day embarked for Pola.
What he was looking for was the unfamiliar and unrelated, which was indeed reached rather easily and so he stayed on a celebrated Adriatic island, situated not far from the Istrian coast, with a gaily ragged people that conversed in an alien-sounding language and with picturesquely broken cliffs where the sea was open.
Unfortunately, heavy rain and an oppressive atmosphere, a parochial and completely Austrian company in the hotel and the lack of calm and easy communion with the sea which only a soft-sloping and sandy beach can afford, caused him distress, prevented in him the feeling that he had reached his destination; an innermost calling of his, he did not know to where, caused him alarm, he studied the passenger ship routes, he looked around searchingly, and all of a sudden, at the same time surprising and expected, his destination became clear to him.
When one wanted to see something without equal, the romantically different, where would one go? There could be no question about it. What was he supposed to do here? He had erred. He should have had traveled to that other location in the first place. He did not hesitate to immediately cancel his abortive stay on the island. One-and-a-half weeks after his arrival on the island, at hazy dawn a fast launch took him and his luggage back to the military harbor and there he only went ashore to directly step onto the damp deck of a ship bound for Venice.
It was a vehicle under an Italian flag, stricken with years, outmoded, serene, and somber. In a cave-like, artificially-lit berth, into which Aschenbach had been instantly ushered with grinning courtesy by a humpbacked and dirty sailor after setting foot onto the ship, there sat a behind a table with his hat slanted on his head and with a cigarette butt between his lips a goatish man who had the physiognomy of an old-fashioned circus director, who with artificially easy demeanor registered the nationalities of the travelers and handed them their tickets.
Here you are, sir! A magnificent city! A city full of irresistible attraction to the well-educated, both due to its history and its present charms! He speedily cashed the money and let the change fall onto the dirty tablecloth with the dexterity of a croupier. Next please! Aschenbach returned onto the deck. Leaning with one arm on the handrail, he contemplated both the idle people who were mooching at the pier to witness the ship's departure and his fellow passengers.
Those of the second class were crouching on the foredeck, using boxes and bundles as seats. A group of young people formed the company of the first deck, apparently tradesman's apprentices from Pola who had merrily united for a trip to Italy. They made a lot of fuss about themselves and their enterprise, chattered, laughed, contentedly enjoyed their own gesticulating and mocked those colleagues, who, portfolios tucked under their arms, were walking along the street to pursue their business and who made threatening gestures to the departing.
One in a bright yellow, excessively fashionable summer suit, red tie, and a boldly bent up panama hat, exceeded all the others with his shrill voice and gayness. No sooner had Aschenbach set eyes on him than he realized with a kind of terror that this ephebe was false.
He was ancient, there could be no doubt about it. Wrinkles surrounded his mouth and eyes. The meek crimson of his cheeks was makeup, that brown hair below the colorfully-banded straw hat was a wig, his neck was dilapidated and sinewy, his moustache was dyed, his yellowish and complete set of teeth which he laughingly presented was a cheap counterfeit, and his hands with signet rings on both index fingers were that of a very old man.
With a shudder Aschenbach looked at him and his communion with his friends. Did they not know or notice they he was elderly, that he was wrongfully appropriating their garish dress, fraudulently played one of theirs? As if nothing had happened, seemingly out of habit, they tolerated him among themselves, treated him as an equal, answered his teasing nudges without disgust.
How could that be? Aschenbach covered his forehead with his hand and closed his eyes that were burning from a lack of sleep. But in that moment he became aware of a sensation of floating and strangely startled he realized that the heavy and dark mass of the ship had detached itself from the quay.
Inch by inch, with the engine running alternately forwards and backwards, the strip of dirtily iridescent water between the ship's hull and the shore widened, and after some stodgy maneuvers, the steamer's bow was pointing towards the open sea. Aschenbach went over the the starboard side, where the humpbacked sailor had prepared a deck chair for him and a steward in a spotted dress coat awaited his orders.
The sky was gray, the wind moist; the harbor and the islands had receded, and soon land was no longer visible. A snow of coal dust, soaked with humidity, settled on the freshly-scrubbed deck that refused to dry. After about an hour the tent roof was deployed, as it had begun to rain.
Wrapped in his coat, a book in his lap, the traveler rested and time seemed to fly. The rain had ceased; the linen roof was removed. The horizon was complete. Beneath the broad cupola of the sky the enormous disc of the barren sea extended all around; but in that empty, measureless space our sense of time also suffers, and we daze in the disorienting shapelessness. Strange and shade-like creatures, the senescent dandy, the goat-bearded man from below decks, traipsed with vague gestures and confused dream- words through the mind of the reclining artist, and eventually he fell asleep.
At noon he was required to venture below into the corridor-like dining hall, which was bordered on by the sleeping bunks, eating the ordered meal at a long table, on the other side of which the apprentices, including the senex, had been drinking heavily with the jolly captain since ten o'clock.
The meal was meager and he quickly finished it. He wanted to go outside, to look at the sky: He did not anticipate anything else, for the city had always received him with splendor. But the sky and the sea remained cloudy and leaden, at times a fog-like drizzle fell, and slowly he accepted that he would, reaching it by water, discover a vastly different Venice from that which he had approached over land. He stood next to the foremast, gazing into the distance, expecting to see land.
He thought of that melancholy-enthusiastic poet who had met the cupolas and bell towers of his dreams in this place, he quietly recalled some of the products of that awe-stricken, happy, and sad mood and moved by that ready-made emotion he wondered whether he, although more somber and tired than then, would meet that state of rapture and confusion a second time.
An hour passed before it materialized. One had reached one's destination and yet one had not; there was no hurry and yet one soon got impatient. The youths of Pola, perhaps also drawn to the military trumpet signals that echoed over the waters, had come on deck, and, enthusiastic from the Asti they had drunken, they cheered the Bersaglieri who were being drilled there.
But it was repugnant to witness the state into which his faux communion with youth had brought the overdressed old man. His old and faded brain had not been able to resist the liquor to the same degree as the real youths, he was hopelessly drunk.
Looking stupidly around, a cigarette between his trembling fingers, he swayed, barely able to keep his balance, pulled to and fro by his intoxication. Because he would have fallen down at the very first step, he did not dare to move, yet still displayed a sorry cockiness, holding on to everyone who approached him, speaking with a slur, winking, giggling, raising his ringed and wrinkled index finger to tease ridiculously, and licking the corners of his mouth in the most distastefully ambiguous manner.
Aschenbach watched him with an expression of anger, and again he got a feeling of unreality, as if the world showed a small but definite tendency to slip into the peculiar and grotesque; a sensation which the resumption of the pounding work of the engine kept him from exploring fully, as the ship returned to its course through the San Marco canal.
So he again set eyes on the most astounding landing, that blinding composition of fantastic architecture, which the Republic has to offer the awestruck looks of the approaching seafarer: The engine stopped, gondolas approached, the accommodation ladder was low- ered, the customs officials came aboard and carried out their duty; the debarkation could begin.
Aschenbach made it clear that he desired a gondola to bring him and his luggage to the landing of the smaller steamers that cruise between the city and the Lido; because he wanted a room close to the sea. His wish is approved and hollered towards the water, where the gondoliers are quarreling in dialect.
He is unable to descend, as his trunk is taken with great effort down the ladder-like stairs. Au revoir, excusez and bonjour, Your Excellency! Aschenbach was able to escape. Who would not have had to fight a slight unease, a secret resentment and trepidation when one, for the first or after a long time, had to get into a Venetian gondola?
That strange vehicle, which seems unchanged from more fanciful times and which is so strangely black like normally only coffins are, reminds one of silent and criminal adventures in the lapping night, furthermore it is reminiscent of death itself, the bier, the drab funeral and the final, wordless ride. And has one noticed that the coffin-black-varnished, black-upholstered chair in such a barge is the softest, most luxurious, most deeply relaxing seat in the whole world?
Aschenbach noticed it when he took his place at the feet of the gondolier, with his luggage orderly arranged at the front of the gondola. The rowers were still quarreling, in a raw and incomprehensible way, with menacing gestures. But the peculiar quietude of the city on the sea seemed to absorb and disembody their voices and to disperse them above the water.
It was fairly hot in the harbor. Touched by the warm scirocco, seated on tender cushions, the traveler closed his eyes to enjoy that kind of unusual and sweet lassitude. The trip will be short, he thought; oh would it last forever! The noiseless rocking let him put a distance between himself and that boisterous jostle. How it became even more still around him all the time!
Nothing could be heard except the lapping of the oar, the hollow impact of the waves against the tip of the gondola, that stood erect, dark and like a spear above the water and a third thing, the whispering and murmuring of the gondolier, who was talking to himself between his clenched teeth in occasional outbursts.
Aschenbach raised his head and with a slight bemusement he noticed that the lagoon around him widened and the his course was towards the open sea. Therefore it seemed he should not relax too much but instead supervise the carrying out of his orders.
The murmuring ceased. He got no reply. It was a man of unpleasing, even violent physiognomy, dressed in blue sailor's garb, girded with a yellow sash and with a shapeless straw hat that had begun to dissolve at its edges slanted on his head. The form of his face, his blond and curly moustache below the stubby nose did not make him look very Italian.
Although of relatively slender build, so that he did not seem particularly suited to his trade, he showed great energy when he used his whole body to drive the oar at every beat. A few times the exertion caused him to withdraw his lips and expose his white teeth.
With his gaze fixed above the guest and his reddish eyebrows wrinkled he replied in a determined, almost harsh tone: But I only wanted the gondola to take me to St Mark's Square. I wish to go with the vaporetto. He was silent. But the brusque, boastful, uncharacteristic behavior of that man seemed intolerable. He said: He remained taciturn. The oar was lapping, the water clashed dully against the bow.
And the talking and murmuring resumed: What had to be done? Alone on the water with the strangely disobedient, unsettlingly determined man the traveler did not see a way to force upon him his will. And how softly he could be seated if he did not protest. Had he not wished that the trip should take longer, or forever? It was most prudent to let things take their course, and besides it was most comfortable. A spell of torpidity seemed to emanate from that low and black seat, so tenderly rocked by the oar beats of the defiant gondolier in his back.
The notion of having fallen into the hands of a rogue streaked dreamlike through Aschenbach's mind — unable to summon his senses for active defense.
Less appetizing was the possibility that this was just an act of extortion. A certain feeling of duty, the realization that one had to guard against such a thing, allowed him to make another effort.
He asked: Aschenbach said mechanically: It is true, you are rowing me well. Even if you are trying to get my money and would kill me with a quick blow of the oar, you would have rowed me well. But nothing of the sort happened. Even some company appeared, a boat with musical mendicants, men and women, singing to the accompaniment of guitars and mandolins, coming obtrusively close to the gondola, filling the quietude above the waters with their mercenary tunes.
Aschenbach threw a few coins into the hat that was presented. They fell silent and rowed away. And the murmuring of the gondolier was perceptible once more. And so one arrived, rocked by the backwash of a steamer headed for the city. Two municipal officers, hands clasped behind their backs, their heads facing the lagoon, were walking back and forth at the shore.
Aschenbach got off the gondola at the pier, with help from the old man with his grappling hook who seems to be present on all Venetian landings; and because he did not have enough coins he entered the hotel which was situated across from the landing, to exchange some money and reward the gondolier as he pleased. He is served in the lobby, he returns, find his luggage on a cart at the quay, and the gondola and gondolier have disappeared. He is the only gondolier without a license.
The others have telephoned here. He saw that he was being expected. So he took off. Aschenbach threw in some coins. He gave orders to take his luggage to the Hotel des Bains and followed the cart through the alleyway, that white-blossoming alley, which, bordered by taverns, bazaars, and bed and breakfasts, runs across the island to the beach. He entered the sprawling hotel from the rear, from the garden terrace and went through the lobby to the office.
Because he had been announced, he was greeted with servile complicity. A manager, a diminutive, soft-spoken, ingratiatingly courteous man with a black moustache and a frock coat in the French style, accompanied him in the elevator to the third floor and showed him his room, 17 a pleasant room with cherry furniture, decorated with heavily fragrant flowers and which had tall windows affording a view of the sea. He stepped close to one of them, after the manager had taken his leave, and while behind him his luggage was carried in, he surveyed the beach which lay deserted in the afternoon and the sunless sea at high tide sending its crouched and elongated waves in a steady rhythm against the shore.
The observations and encounters of the solitary and mute one are at the same time more blurry and more distinctive than those of the more sociable person, his thoughts more substantial, stranger, and never without a trace of sadness.
Images and perceptions that would be easy to dismiss with a laugh, a short exchange of words, occupy him excessively and grow deeper and more important in silence, become experience, adventure, emotion. Solitude favors the original, the daringly and otherworldly beautiful, the poem. But it also favors the wrongful, the extreme, the absurd, and the forbidden. Without obstructing reason or giving any real food for thought, they were still extremely bizarre and possibly so bewildering because of that contradiction.
In between he greeted the sea with his eyes and delighted in the knowledge that Venice could be so quickly and easily reached. Finally he turned, washed his face, gave some orders to the chambermaid to improve his comfort and had the green-liveried Swiss elevator attendant take him to the ground floor. He took his tea on the seaside terrace, then descended and walked a good distance along the shore in the direction of the Hotel Excelsior. Upon his return it appeared to be time to dress for dinner.
He did that slowly and with diligence, yet found himself still too early in the dining hall, where a group of hotel guests, un- known to each other and in feigned disinterest, had congregated in the expectation of a meal. He picked up a paper, seated himself in a club chair and contemplated the company which differed in a most agreeable way from that during his earlier stay on the island.
A wide and all-encompassing horizon opened itself out. Muffled sounds from many different languages were mixing. The omnipresent dinner jacket, the uniform of the civilized world, gathered all facets of human variety into one orderly whole. One saw the dry and elongated face of the American, the large Russian family, English ladies, German children with French nannies.
The Slavic component appeared to predominate. Polish was spoken right next to him. It was a group of adolescents and bare adults, under the supervision of a governess around a small table: With astonishment Aschenbach noticed that the boy was perfectly beautiful. His countenance — pale and gracefully reserved, surrounded by honey-colored locks, with its evenly sloped nose, the lovely mouth, the expression of alluring and divine earnestness, was reminiscent of Greek statues from the most noble period, and with all its perfection of form it had such a personal appeal that the onlooker thought he had never encountered anything similar either in nature or in art.
What else was striking was an apparently deliberate contrast between the educational guidelines after which the children were dressed and kept in general. The exterior of the girls, the oldest of which could be taken for an adult, was tart and chaste to the point of disfigurement. A uniform monastic garb, shale-toned, of average length, sober and consciously unbecoming, with white collars as the only bright spot, suppressed and made impossible any pleasingness of figure. The smooth hair that appeared to be glued to the head gave their faces a featurelessness and nunlike lack of expression.
It seemed certain this was the work of a mother, and naturally it did not occur to her to apply that same paedagogic severity that pertained to the girls to the boy also. Mellowness and affection visibly ruled his existence. One had abstained from cutting his arresting hair; like the statue of the Boy with Thorn it curled onto the forehead, over the ears, and even more so in the nape. An English sailor suit, the voluminous sleeves of which were tapered towards the ends and which surrounded the delicate joints of his still childlike and narrow hands, contributed, with its strings, bows, and embroideries, an air of wealth and fastidiousness.
He was sitting, in semiprofile from Aschenbach's point of view, one foot in front of the other, with an elbow leaning on the armrest of his basket chair, his cheek comforted by his closed hand, in an attitude of relaxed decorum and completely without the submissive stiffness that his sisters seemed to be used to.
Was he sick? Because the white of his skin contrasted like ivory with the golden somberness of the adjacent curls. Or was he simply a coddled favorite child, carried by partial and capricious devotion? Aschenbach was inclined to believe that. Almost every artistic individual has a luxurious and treacherous propensity to recognize beauty- creating inequity and to render homage to aristocratic entitlement.
A waiter went around and announced the readiness of the meal in English. Slowly the society disappeared through the glass door into the dining room. Latecomers passed by, arriving from the vestibule or the elevator. Inside the serving had begun, but the young Poles remained seated around the little tables and Aschenbach, sitting snugly in his chair, not to mention having a favorable view of something beautiful, lingered along with them.
With lifted eyebrows she shoved back her chair and bowed, when a tall lady, dressed in white and gray and richly attired with pearls, entered the room. She comported herself with coolness and restraint, the arrangement of her lightly powdered hair and the style of her dress were of that simplicity which always rules good taste where devoutness is considered an element of noblesse. She could have been the wife of a high-ranking German official. Something extravagant only entered her appearance through her jewelry, which seemed extremely expensive and consisted of earrings and a triple, very long necklace of cherry-sized, mildly shimmering pearls.
The children had arisen promptly. They kissed their mother's hand, who looked above their heads with an aloof smile of her well-groomed but slightly tired and sharp-nosed face and addressed a few words in French to the governess. Then she proceeded towards the glass door.
The children followed her: For some unknown reason he turned around before crossing the threshold and since nobody else was present, his curiously dark-gray eyes met those of Aschenbach, who, with the newspaper on his lap and deep in his thoughts, had traced the group. What he had seen was certainly not remarkable in its details. One had not gone to table before the mother, one had waited for her, greeted her and observed the usual customs on entering the dining room.
But somehow all that was presented with such a deliberate accentuation of manners, commitment, and self-respect that Aschenbach felt strangely moved by it.
He hesitated for a few moments and then also went into the dining room and had himself seated, unfortunately quite far from the Polish family as he observed with regret.
Exhausted and yet in mental commotion, he entertained himself with abstract, even transcendental subjects during dinner, mulled the mysterious link between the orderly and the individual for human beauty to appear, departed from there to think about the general problems of form and art and eventually found his thoughts and findings to resemble certain apparently fortuitous ideas in a dream, that on closer inspection reveal themselves to be completely stale and unworkable.
After the meal he went into the park that was filled with evening smells and smoked, sometimes sitting, sometimes walking, then he went to bed even though it was still early and spent the night in sleep that was consistently deep, but enlivened by dreams of the most varied kinds. The weather had not improved on the next day.
A land breeze was stirring. Under a pale and overcast sky the sea lay in dull quietness, shrunken so to say, with a soberingly clear horizon and so far removed from the beach than it exposed 20 several large sandbanks. When Aschenbach opened his window, he believed to sense the putrid smell of the lagoon. Discontent befell him. Already he considered departing. Once, a few years ago, this kind of weather had, after two sunny spring weeks, struck him and had impacted his mood in such a way that he had had to flee from Venice.
Did not again that febrile listlessness, that pressure in the temples, that heaviness of the eyelids make themselves known? Moving to a new lodging for another time would be tiresome; but if the wind did not change direction, he would not stay. Just in case he did not fully unpack his luggage.
At nine o'clock he ate breakfast in the special room that was reserved for that use, between the lobby and the dining room. In the buffet room that ceremonial silence reigned that is part of the ambition of every great hotel.
The waiters tiptoed around while serving. A clattering of the tea service, a half-whispered word was all that could be heard. In a corner, diagonally across from the door and two tables apart from him, Aschenbach noticed the Polish girls with their governess. Very upright, the ash blond hair newly flattened and with red eyes, in stiff dresses made of blue linen with little white collars and cuffs they sat there and handed each other the jam.
They had almost finished their breakfast. The boy was absent. Aschenbach smiled to himself. So it happened that he still witnessed the entrance of the long sleeper who was already expected at the other table. He came in through the glass door and ambled through the silence diagonally across the room to his sisters' table.
His walk was very graceful, both in his stance and in the movement of the knees, the way his feet touched the ground, very light, at the same time tender and proud and made more appealing through the childlike self-consciousness with which he looked up and down two times while crossing the room.
Smiling, with a soft word in his fuzzy-sounding language he took his place, and now that he presented the onlooker with his full profile, Aschenbach was taken by surprise again, even frightened by the godlike beauty of that human child.
That day the lad was wearing a light suit of blue and white fabric with a bow of red silk on his breast and a simple white collar. Above that collar, which did not even fit the rest of the suit very elegantly, the flower of his crown rested with unequaled 21 charm — the head of Eros, with the yellowish tint of Parisian marble, with exquisite and somber brows, temples and ear covered by the dark and soft curls of his hair.
Well, well, thought Aschenbach with that cool approval of the specialist, with which artists at times cloak their transports of delight in the face of a masterwork. And further he thought: Truly, are not the sea and the beach waiting for me, I will remain here as long as you! So he went across the hall, greeted by the waiters, along the great terrace and straight over the boardwalk to the private beach reserved for hotel guests.
He let the barefoot old man, who was, in his linen pants, sailor's blouse, and straw hat, working as a bath attendant there, show him his little beach hut, had a chair and table taken from inside and put in front of it on the wooden platform and made himself comfortable in the deck chair, which he had put up a bit closer to the sea in the wax-yellow sand.
The scene at the beach, that picture of carefree and sensual enjoyment next to the sea, entertained and delighted him as always. The gray and even ocean was enlivened by wading children, swimmers, garish figures, others, who were laying on sandbanks with their arms folded under their heads. Some were rowing small boats in red and blue without a keel, capsizing with roaring laughter. In front of the row of beach huts, whose platforms were like little verandas, there was playful motion and lazy rest, visits and chattering, careful early morning elegance but also nudity, which pertly took pleasure in the freedom of the place.
Closer to the sea, lone figures were strolling on the moist and firm sand in white dressing gowns or in voluminous, colorful garb. An intricate sand castle to Aschenbach's right, built by children, was sporting all around tiny flags of many different countries. Vendors of mussels, pies, and fruit were on their knees spreading out their goods.
On the left, in front of a hut that stood at a right angle to the other ones and was the endpoint of the beach on that side, a Russian family was camping: In grateful appreciation they were living there, always calling out the names of the unruly youngsters, jesting for a long time with the old man thanks to a few words of Italian, buying sweets, kissing each other on the cheeks, and generally not caring about any onlookers.
So I will stay, Aschenbach thought. Where could it be better? And with his hands folded in his lap he allowed his eyes to wander in the vastness of the sea, his gaze slipping, becoming blurred, and breaking in the monotonous mist of nothingness. He loved the ocean for important reasons: To find peace in the presence of the faultless is the desire of the one who seeks excellence; and is not nothingness a form of perfection?
While he was dreaming into the deepness of space, he suddenly became aware of a human figure close to the shoreline and when he collected his glance from the unlimited, it turned out to be the beautiful boy, who, coming from the left, was crossing the sand before him. He was barefoot, ready for wading, his slender legs bared till above the knees, advancing slowly, but so nimbly and proudly as if he was used to walking without footwear and he surveyed the huts.
No sooner had he noticed the peaceful Russian family than his face was clouded by a tempest of scorn and disdain. His brow darkened, his mouth was lifted, between the lips and the cheeks an embittered tearing took place, and his eyebrows were so heavily wrinkled that they made the eyes appear sunken in and let them speak the evil and somber language of hatred.
He averted his glance, beheld them another time, made a fiercely dismissive gesture with his shoulder and turned his back unto the enemy. A sort of tenderness or terror, something like shame or respect caused Asch- enbach to turn away as if he had seen nothing; because the serious observer of a casual passion refuses to admit his impressions even to himself. But he was delighted and shocked at the same time: This childish fanaticism which was directed at the most benign slab of life — it made the divinely vacant a part of the human order; it made nature's precious work of art, that had only been fit to be an eyeful, seem worthy of a deeper sympathy; and it gave the already striking personage of the youth a historico-political backdrop that allowed him to be taken seriously in spite of his age.
Still turned away, Aschenbach listened to the boy's speech, his high-pitched and somewhat feeble voice, with which he tried to announce himself to his comrades playing at the sand castle. His brain was too old to withstand the wine as his youthfully resilient companions had done: Eyes glazed over, a cigarette between his trembling fingers, he swayed back and forth in his inebriation, laboriously keeping his balance.
Since he would have fallen at the first step, he did not dare move, yet he displayed a pitiful exuberance, buttonholing everyone who came up to him, jabbering, winking, sniggering, lifting a wrinkled, ringed finger as a part of some fatuous teasing, and licking the corners of his mouth with the tip of his tongue in a revoltingly suggestive manner. Aschenbach watched him with a frown, and once more a feeling of numbness came over him, as if the world were moving ever so slightly yet intractably towards a strange and grotesque warping, a feeling which circum33 t h o m a s m a n n stances kept him from indulging in, however, because at that moment the pounding of the engine started up again and the ship, interrupted so near its destination, resumed its course through the San Marco Canal.
And so he saw it once again, that most astounding of landing sites, that stunning composition of fantastic architecture offered up by the Republic to the reverent gaze of approaching seafarers, the ethereal splendor of the Palace and the Bridge of Sighs, the waterside columns with lion and saint, the majestically projecting flank of the fairy-tale basilica, and the view beyond of the gateway and giant clock, and taking it all in he mused that arriving in Venice by land, at the railway station, was tantamount to entering a palace by the back door and that one should approach this most improbable of cities only as he had now done by ship, over the seas.
The engine stopped, gondolas pressed alongside, the gangplank was lowered, and customs officials came aboard and discharged their duties perfunctorily: Aschenbach let it be known that he wished to have a gondola convey him and his luggage to the pier of those vaporetti that ply between 34 d e a t h i n v e n i c e the city and the Lido, for he intended to take up residence by the sea.
His plan was approved, his request shouted to the water below, where the gondoliers were squabbling in dialect. He was held back from leaving, held back by his trunk, which had to be laboriously dragged to and tugged down the ladderlike steps.
Au revoir, excusez, and bonjour, Your Excellency! Aschenbach managed to escape. That strange conveyance, coming down to us unaltered from the days of the ballads and so distinctively black, black as only coffins can be—it conjures up hush-hush criminal adventures in the rippling night and, even more, death itself: And has anyone observed that the seat in such a boat, that armchair lacquered coffin-black with its dull black upholstery, is the softest, most soothing, most voluptuous seat in the world?
The rowers were still squabbling, raucous and unintelligible, gesturing menacingly, but the strange silence of this city of water seemed to absorb their voices gently, disembody them, and scatter them over the sea. It was warm here in the harbor. Lulled by the tepid breath of the sirocco, lolling on the cushions over the pliant element, the traveler closed his eyes and yielded to a lassitude as unwonted as it was sweet. How calm and yet calmer his surroundings became!
There was nothing to be heard but the plash of the oar and the hollow thump of the waves against the prow, which rose up over the water, steep and black and reinforced at the tip like a halberd, and yet a third sound, a mutter, a murmur, the whisper of the gondolier talking to himself through clenched teeth, in fits and starts, the sounds extracted by the effort of his arms. Aschenbach glanced up and noted not without consternation that the lagoon was widening about him and the gondola making for the open sea.
Clearly he could not relax all that much; he would have to see to the execution of his wishes. The murmuring ceased, but no reply was forthcoming. He had a disobliging, even brutal physiognomy and was dressed in navy blue, with a yellow sash wound round his waist and a shapeless straw hat that was beginning to unravel perched jauntily on his head.
The cast of the face and the curly blond mustache under the small snub nose made him look anything but Italian. Though rather frailly built—one would not have thought him particularly suited to his trade—he handled the oar with great energy, putting his whole body into every stroke.
From time to time, his lips drawn back by the strain, he bared a set of white teeth. I wish to transfer to the vaporetto. He said nothing, but the gruff, preemptory manner, so unlike the 38 d e a t h i n v e n i c e treatment foreigners usually receive from the natives, he found disagreeable.
You will turn back. The oar plashed; the water thudded against the prow. Presently the muttering and murmuring commenced again: What was he to do? Alone on the water with this oddly obstreperous, uncannily determined man, the traveler saw no way of imposing his will.
Besides, what a nice rest he could have if he did not lose his temper!
Had he not wished the trip to last longer, last forever? It was wisest to let things take their course; what is more, it was highly pleasant. A spellbinding indolence seemed to emanate from his seat, that low armchair upholstered in black, so gently rocked by the oar strokes of the selfwilled gondolier behind him. More upsetting was the possibility that it could all be put down to simple money 39 t h o m a s m a n n grubbing. Fair enough. You are rowing me well. Even if you are after my purse and send me to the House of Hades with a bash of the oar from behind, you will have rowed me well.
But nothing of the sort occurred. They even had company: Aschenbach tossed some money into the 40 d e a t h i n v e n i c e hat they held out. They immediately fell silent and departed, whereupon he could hear the gondolier whispering again, carrying on his intermittent conversation with himself. And so they arrived, bobbing in the wake of a vaporetto bound for the city. Two municipal officials, their hands behind their backs, were pacing up and down the embankment, looking out over the lagoon.
Aschenbach left the gondola at the landing stage, assisted by the old man with a grappling iron to be found at every landing stage in Venice, and, having run out of coins, crossed to the hotel opposite the pier to break a banknote and give the oarsman his just deserts. After being attended to in the lobby, he returned to find his belongings on a cart on the pier and the gondola and gondolier gone, nowhere to be seen.
He had no license, sir. The only gondolier without one. The others phoned over to us. He saw the officials waiting for him, so he took off. Aschenbach tossed some coins into it. He entered the spacious hotel from the back, the garden terrace, and made his way through the spacious lobby and vestibule to the office. Since he was expected, he was received with assiduous deference. The manager, a short, quiet, obsequiously courteous man sporting a black mustache and a frock coat of French cut, rode up to the second floor with him and showed him to his room, a pleasant place furnished with cherry-wood furniture and decorated with strongly scented flowers, its high windows offering a view of the open sea.
He walked up to one of them after the manager had withdrawn, and while his luggage was being brought in and set down behind him he gazed out at the beach, which was all but devoid of people, it being afternoon, and the sunless sea, which at high tide was sending long, low waves against the shore in a calm, regular cadence.
Images and perceptions that might easily be dismissed with a glance, a laugh, an exchange of opinions occupy him unduly; they are heightened in the silence, gain in significance, turn into experience, adventure, emotion. Solitude begets originality, bold and disconcerting beauty, poetry.
But solitude can also beget perversity, disparity, the absurd and the forbidden. Though neither difficult to explain rationally nor even thoughtprovoking, they were utterly outlandish—or so he found them—and unsettling precisely because of this paradox. For the moment, however, he greeted the sea with his eyes, delighted that Venice was so near and easy of access, and at length he turned, washed his face, gave the chambermaid instructions for seeing to his 43 t h o m a s m a n n comfort, and had himself conveyed by the green-clad Swiss lift attendant to the ground floor.
He took his tea on the seaside terrace, then went down and walked a good distance along the promenade in the direction of the Hotel Excelsior. Upon his return he thought it time to change for dinner. He did so in his usual slow and deliberate manner, for he was accustomed to work while attending to his toilet, yet he reached the lobby a bit too early, finding a goodly number of the guests, strangers to one another, feigning mutual indifference as they waited together for the meal.
He picked up a newspaper from the table, settled into a leather armchair, and cast an eye over the company, which differed favorably from that of his previous hotel. A broad, tolerant, all-encompassing horizon opened before him. Sounds of the major languages mingled in muted tones. Internationally recognized evening dress, that uniform of civilization, made of the diversity a semblance of homogeneous decency.
He saw the dry, long face of an American, a large Russian clan, English ladies, and German children with French nurses. Polish was being spoken in his immediate vicinity. It came from a group of young people of various ages seated around a wicker table under the supervision of a governess or female companion: Aschenbach noted with astonishment that the boy was of a consummate beauty: Also striking were the clear and fundamental differences in the approach to child rearing that appeared to govern the dress and general behavior of the siblings.
The attire of the three girls, the eldest of whom could be considered grown up, was austere and chaste to the point of defacement: Surely a mother was at work here, and one who had no intention of applying to the boy the strict pedagogical principles she deemed appropriate to the girls.
In his life, softness and tenderness clearly held sway. His fair hair had been spared the shears: He sat half facing his observer with one black patent leather shoe in front of the other, an elbow propped on the arm of his wicker chair, and a cheek resting against the closed hand in an attitude of nonchalant propriety and completely devoid of the all but servile rigidity to which his female siblings seemed accustomed.
Was he ailing? His complexion stood out 46 d e a t h i n v e n i c e white as ivory against the darker gold of the surrounding curls. Or was he merely the coddled favorite, the object of a biased and volatile love? Aschenbach inclined towards the latter. Innate in nearly every artistic nature is a wanton, treacherous penchant for accepting injustice when it creates beauty and showing sympathy for and paying homage to aristocratic privilege. A waiter made the rounds, announcing in English that dinner was served, and the guests gradually disappeared through the glass door.
Latecomers straggled past from the vestibule and lifts. Service had begun in the dining room, but the young Poles lingered at their wicker table, and Aschenbach, comfortably ensconced in his deep armchair and admiring the beauty before his eyes besides, waited with them. The governess—a short, corpulent, red-faced woman of not quite gentle birth—signaled them at last to rise. Arching her brows, she pushed her chair back and bowed when a tall woman dressed in grayish white and richly adorned with pearls entered the lobby.
She could have been the wife of a high-ranking German official. The only aspect of her appearance evincing a certain fanciful sense of luxury was the jewelry, which was in fact nearly worthless and consisted of earrings plus a very long triple strand of gently shimmering pearls the size of cherries. The siblings had risen quickly. They bent to kiss the hand of their mother, who, a reserved smile on her wellpreserved yet somewhat weary and pointy-nosed face, looked past their heads and addressed a few words in French to the governess.
Then she went over to the glass door. The children followed, the girls in order of age, the governess, and finally the boy. For some reason he looked back before crossing the threshold, and since there was no one else left in the lobby, his eyes, of an unusual twilight gray, met those of Aschenbach, who, his paper in his lap, was absorbed in watching the group make its exit. There was certainly nothing the least bit remarkable about what he had seen. The children had not gone in 48 d e a t h i n v e n i c e before their mother; they had waited for her, greeted her deferentially, and observed the customary formalities when entering the dining room.
Yet it had all been done so deliberately, with such concern for discipline, duty, and self-esteem that Aschenbach felt strangely moved. He hesitated a few moments more, then he too made his way to the dining room and was shown to his table, which, he noted with a brief stir of regret, was at some remove from that of the Polish family.
Tired yet mentally alert, he whiled away the lengthy meal pondering abstract, even transcendental matters such as the mysterious connection that must be established between the generic and the particular to produce human beauty and moving on to general problems of form and art only to conclude that his thoughts and discoveries resembled certain seemingly felicitous revelations that come to us in dreams and after sober consideration prove perfectly inane and worthless.
He lingered after dinner—sitting and smoking, strolling through the hotel grounds enjoying the evening fragrance—then retired early and spent the night in a deep sleep, unbroken, yet animated by a number of dreams. The wind came from the land. The sea was dull and calm, shrunken almost, under a pale, overcast sky, the horizon blandly close; the sea had retreated so far from the beach that it left several rows of long sandbanks exposed.
Opening his window, Aschenbach thought he could smell the foul stench of the lagoon. A sudden despondency came over him. He considered leaving then and there. Once, years before, after weeks of a beautiful spring, he had been visited by this sort of weather and it so affected his health he had been obliged to flee.
Was not the same listless fever setting in? The pressure in the temples, the heavy eyelids? Changing hotels again would be a nuisance, but if the wind failed to shift he could not possibly remain here. To be on the safe side, he did not unpack everything. At nine he went to breakfast in the specially designated buffet between the lobby and the dining room. The ceremonious silence on which grand hotels pride themselves prevailed.
The waiters moved about the room noiselessly, on tiptoe. The clatter of tea things and a half-whispered word were the only sounds audi50 d e a t h i n v e n i c e ble. In a corner diagonally opposite the door and two tables removed from his own, Aschenbach saw the Polish girls with their governess. Their ash-blond hair freshly plastered down, their eyes red, they sat perfectly erect in their stiff blue-linen dress with the small white turndown collars and cuffs, passing a jar of preserves round the table.
The boy was absent. Aschenbach smiled. Well, well, little Phaeacian! You seem to be the only one privileged to sleep his fill. And brightening suddenly, he recited the following line to himself: And so it transpired that he was present for the entrance of the slugabed awaited in the corner.
His gait was extraordinarily graceful both in the way he held his upper torso and in the way he moved his knees and 51 t h o m a s m a n n white-shod feet; it was a very light gait, at once delicate and proud, and embellished by the childlike modesty with which, twice on his way across the room, he turned his head and raised, then lowered his eyes.
Smiling and murmuring a word in his soft, fuzzy language, he took his seat, and now, especially as he had turned his full profile to the observer, the latter was once more amazed, indeed, startled by the truly godlike beauty of this mortal being. Today the boy was wearing a lightweight, washable outfit with a blue-and-white-striped middy blouse that had a red silk bow at the chest and a plain white stand-up collar. Good, good, thought Aschenbach with that cool, professional approval in which artists encountering a masterpiece sometimes shroud their delight, their excitement.
Truth to tell, he went on thinking, were sea and 52 d e a t h i n v e n i c e shore not awaiting me, I should stay here as long as you! But he did leave, greeted by the staff as he passed through the lobby, then descending the large terrace and proceeding straight along the boardwalk to the beach partitioned off for the hotel guests.
The view of the beach, the spectacle of civilization indulging in carefree sensuality on the brink of the watery element, entertained and pleased him as rarely before.
The flat gray sea was already alive with wading children, swimmers, and colorful figures lying on sandbars, their arms crossed under their heads. Others were rowing small keelless boats painted red and blue, laughing as they capsized. The long row of cabanas, which had platforms like miniature verandahs for people to sit on, was a scene of animated activity and idly protracted repose, visits and chatter, meticulous matitudinal elegance 53 t h o m a s m a n n alongside a nakedness unabashedly enjoying the freedoms of the place.
Further out on the moist, firm sand there were individuals strolling in white bathing robes or loose, brightly colored frocks. On the right, an intricate sand castle built by children was bedecked with small flags in the colors of all nations; vendors hawked mussels, pastries, and fruit, kneeling before their wares. On the left, in front of one of the cabanas set at right angles to the others and to the sea and thus closing off that side of the beach, a Russian family had set up camp—men with beards and big teeth; listless, submissive women; a Baltic spinster seated at an easel and emitting cries of despair as she painted the sea; two ugly, good-natured children; and an old nanny in a kerchief, with the gentle, servile manner of a slave.
They were cheerful and having great fun, tirelessly shouting the names of the romping, unruly children, using the few Italian words at their disposal to joke with the amusing old man from whom they bought sweets, kissing one another on the cheeks, and caring never a whit whether their very human esprit de corps was being observed.
He loved the sea and for deep-seated reasons: To repose in perfection is the desire of all those who strive for excellence, and is not nothingness a form of perfection?
But as he dreamt his way deep into the void, the horizontal shoreline was suddenly intersected by a human form and, summoning his gaze back from the infinite and bringing it into focus, he saw none other than the beautiful boy coming from the left, walking past him in the sand. He was barefoot in preparation for wading, his slender legs exposed to above the knee, and while his gait was slow it was as light and proud as if he were quite 55 t h o m a s m a n n accustomed to going about shoeless.
He looked over at the cabanas in the perpendicular row, but no sooner did he spy the Russian family going about its business in cheerful harmony than a storm cloud of angry disdain came over his face: He looked down, looked back again ominously, then thrust one shoulder forward in a show of repulsion and rebuff, and left his enemies behind.
A kind of delicacy or apprehension, something akin to deference or modesty, caused Aschenbach to turn away, as if he had seen nothing. Any serious individual who chances to observe a moment of passion is loath to make personal use of what he has witnessed.
Yet he was cheered and shaken at the same time, in other words, elated. They responded, calling out his name or pet name several times, and Aschenbach listened to it with a certain curiosity, but could make out nothing more than two melodic syllables: He liked the sound of it: With his portable writing case on his knees, he began attending to this or that item of correspondence with his fountain pen.
But after no more than a quarter of an hour he decided it was a pity to divert his mind from the situation at hand, the most enjoyable he knew, to let it slip past for the sake of an indifferent pursuit. He tossed 57 t h o m a s m a n n his writing utensils aside and gazed back at the sea, but before long, distracted by the voices of the youngsters building the sand castle, he placidly turned his head to the right along the back of the chair the better to follow once more the doings of the exquisite Adgio.
He located him at once: He had ten or so companions, boys and girls—some his own age, some younger—chattering higgledy-piggledy in tongues: Polish, French, and even some Balkan languages. But his name was the most often heard. He was clearly sought after, courted, admired. One boy in particular, a Pole like him—a stocky fellow who was addressed as something like Jasiu and who had black, slicked-down hair and was wearing a belted linen suit—appeared to be his closest vassal and friend.
When the current stage of work on the castle came to an end, they walked along the beach with their arms around each other, and the fellow addressed as Jasiu kissed the beautiful youth. For you will need at least that long to recover. It had grown very hot, though the sun was unable to pierce the layer of haze in the sky.
The serious Aschenbach found it a suitable, perfectly satisfying use of his time to guess at or postulate on the name that sounded like Adgio, and with the aid of some Polish reminiscences he determined that it must be Tadzio, the pet name for Tadeusz, which becomes Tadziu in direct address.
Aschenbach, who had lost sight of him, spotted his head, then his arm rising paddlelike from the water far out at sea, the sea being most likely shallow for quite a distance.
His eyes closed, Aschenbach harkened to the chant welling up within him and thought again that being here was good and he would stay. Later Tadzio lay in the sand resting from his swim, wrapped in a white sheet drawn up under his right shoulder, his head reposing on a bare arm, and Aschenbach— even when not observing him, when reading a few pages in his book—hardly ever forgot that he was there and that he had only to turn his head slightly to the right to glimpse the object of his admiration.
He almost felt he was sitting there to keep watch over the boy as he 60 d e a t h i n v e n i c e rested—indulging in his own affairs, yet constantly guarding the noble figure a little way off to his right. And he was infused with a paternal affection, the attraction that one who begets beauty by means of selfsacrifice feels for one who is inherently beautiful.
After midday he left the beach, returned to the hotel, and went up to his room. There he spent quite some time before the mirror, studying his gray hair and pinched, weary face. Reflecting the while on his fame— people often recognized him on the street and gazed after him respectfully for the unerring precision and grace of his diction—he evoked all the outward signs of success he owed to his talent, even his noble title. He then went down to the dining room for lunch at his table.
When he entered the lift after the meal, a group of young people also coming from lunch crowded into the floating cubicle after him, Tadzio amongst them.
He stood quite close to Aschenbach, so close that for the first time he perceived him not as a distant work of art and, given the minute detail, acknowledged his human qualities. Someone addressed the boy, and while replying, with an indescribably winsome smile, he backed out 61 t h o m a s m a n n at the next floor, his eyes cast down. Beauty breeds diffidence, thought Aschenbach, earnestly wondering why. He is very frail, he is sickly, thought Aschenbach.
And he made no attempt to account for why he felt satisfied or consoled at the thought. He spent two hours in his room and took the vaporetto across the foul-smelling lagoon to Venice in the afternoon. He got out at San Marco, had tea in the square, and then, in conformity with his daily program there, set off on a stroll through the streets. But this stroll brought about a major change in his mood and intentions.
A repellent sultriness permeated the narrow streets, the air so thick that the odors emanating from houses, shops, and food stalls—the vapor of oil, the clouds of perfume, and more—hovered like fumes without dispersing. Cigarette smoke hung in place, dissipating slowly. Aschenbach felt more irritated than 62 d e a t h i n v e n i c e invigorated by the bustle of the crowd.
The longer he walked, the more afflicted he was by that odious condition brought on by the combination of sea air and sirocco: He broke out into a disagreeable sweat. His eyes refused to function, his chest constricted, he felt feverish, the blood throbbed in his head. He fled the bustling commercial streets and crossed the bridges into the alleyways of the poor. There he was set upon by beggars, and the fetid effluvia from the canals made breathing a torment.
Leaning against the edge of a fountain in a quiet square, one of those forgotten, godforsaken spots in the heart of Venice, he wiped his forehead and realized he would have to travel on. For the second time—and this time definitively— the city had proved itself extremely harmful to him in such weather. Braving it out obstinately seemed unreasonable, the prospect of a shift in the wind being quite uncertain. An immediate decision was of the essence. Returning home was out of the question at this point: But this was not the only place with sea and sand, and 63 t h o m a s m a n n elsewhere they were to be had without the nefarious admixture of the lagoon and its feverous vapors.
He recalled having heard the praises of a small seaside resort not far from Trieste. Why not go there? And without delay, to make the move to yet another locale worth the effort. He rose, resolute, to his feet. He had some difficulty getting there, because the gondolier, in league as he was with the lace factories and glass works, kept trying to stop so he might view and purchase their wares, and whenever the bizarre journey through Venice began to cast its spell upon him the cutpurse mercantilism of the sunken queen did its part to bring him painfully back to his senses.
Upon his return to the hotel, even before dining, he informed the office that unforeseen circumstances had compelled him to leave early the following morning. He dined and spent the warm evening reading newspapers in a rocking chair on the back terrace.
Before retiring, he packed all his belongings for departure. He did not sleep particularly well, the imminent displacement having unnerved him. When he opened the windows in the morning, the sky was as overcast as it had been, but the air seemed fresher, and—regret set in.
Had giving notice not been impetuous and wrongheaded, the result of an inconsequential indisposition? If he had held off a bit, if he had not been so quick to lose heart, if he had instead tried to adjust to the air or wait for the weather to improve, he would now have been free of stress and strain and looking forward to a morning on the beach like the one the day before. Too late. He must go on wanting what he had wanted yesterday.
He dressed and rode down to the ground floor at eight for breakfast. The breakfast room was still empty when he went in. Several guests arrived while he sat waiting for his order.
His teacup at his lips, he watched the Polish girls enter with their companion.
Stiff and fresh from sleep, their 65 t h o m a s m a n n eyes still red, they proceeded to their table in the corner near the window. Shortly thereafter the porter went up to him, cap in hand, to admonish him to depart: Time was pressing. Aschenbach felt time was doing nothing of the sort: He resented the way hotels prevailed upon their guests to vacate the premises prematurely and indicated to the porter that he wished to breakfast in peace.
The man withdrew hesitantly only to reappear five minutes later. The motorcar could not possibly wait any longer, he said. Then let it go and take his trunk with it, Aschenbach retorted angrily; he would use the public vaporetto when the time came, and would he kindly leave the arrangements for his departure to him? The employee bowed. And it so happened that at that very instant Tadzio entered through the glass door.
Having reached it, he took a seat—and what ensued was a woeful calvary through the depths of remorse. It was the familiar ride across the lagoon, past San Marco and up the Grand Canal. Aschenbach sat on the curved bench in the bow, an arm on the railing and a 67 t h o m a s m a n n hand shading his eyes.
The Public Gardens faded into the distance, and the Piazzetta once more displayed its princely elegance, but it, too, retreated, and after a great rush of palazzi the splendid marble arch of the Rialto came into view around a bend in the waterway.
The traveler looked on, his breast riven.
The atmosphere of the city, that faintly fetid odor of sea and swamp he had been so anxious to flee—he now breathed it in, in deep, delicately throbbing drafts. Was it possible he had not known or even considered how much it all meant to him? What that morning had been a pang of sorrow, a vague doubt as to the validity of his actions was now grief, true pain, an affliction of the soul so bitter that it brought tears to his eyes more than once and, as he told himself, was totally unforeseen.
What he found so hard to bear and even utterly intolerable at times was clearly the thought that he would never see Venice again, that this was a farewell forever. For now that the city had twice made him ill, now that he had twice been forced to pick up and leave it, he would henceforth be obliged to consider it an impossible and forbidden destination, one he was not up to and could 68 d e a t h i n v e n i c e never think of revisiting.
Meanwhile the vaporetto was approaching the station and his pain and perplexity grew to the point of distraction. Tormented as he was, he felt it impossible to depart, yet none the less so to turn back. He entered the station racked by indecision. It was very late; he had not a moment to lose if he was to catch the train.
He both wished to and did not. But time was pressing, goading him onward, and he hastened to purchase his ticket and then peered through the tumult for the hotel employee on duty there. The man appeared and informed him that the large trunk had been dispatched. Yes, as ordered: To Como? Aschenbach had difficulty maintaining the only plausible facial expression in the circumstances. A reckless joy, an unbelievable glee took almost convulsive hold of his breast.
The hotel employee rushed off to do what he could to stop the trunk, but returned, as was to be expected, unsuccessful. Was the hotel motor launch still at the station? The man assured him it was just outside, and in a torrent of Italian he induced the ticket clerk to take back the ticket Aschenbach had purchased. Then he swore that telegrams would be sent and no effort spared, nothing left undone to ensure that the trunk be recovered as soon as possible.
And thus a most unusual thing came to pass: What an oddly improbable, humiliating, comically dreamlike adventure: Spray at the prow, tacking with playful agility between gondolas and vaporetti, the swift little vessel raced towards its destination, its sole passenger concealing beneath a mask of resigned indignation the anxious yet high-spirited agitation of a child who has run away from home.
From time to time his breast still shook with laughter at the thought of this mishap, which, he said to himself, could not have befallen even the luckiest of men at a more opportune moment There were explanations to give, astonished faces to confront, but then, he said to himself, everything would be fine again, a disaster averted, a grievous error rectified, and everything he thought he had left behind would once more open up before him, his to enjoy for as long as he so desired.
And was it only the speed of the launch or was there actually, on top of it all, a breeze blowing in from the sea? The small, mustachioed manager in the frock coat came down the steps to greet him. His room had of course been occupied, but another, equally suitable, would be ready immediately.
And thus the fugitive was lodged once more, and in a room all but identical in situation and furnishing. The sea had turned a pale green, the air seemed thinner and purer, the beach with its 72 d e a t h i n v e n i c e boats and cabanas more colorful, though the sky was still gray. Aschenbach gazed out of the window, his hands folded in his lap, pleased to be back, but shaking his head in displeasure at his fickle nature, his ignorance of his own wishes.
He sat thus for perhaps an hour in repose and idle reverie. At noon he spotted Tadzio in his striped linen outfit and red bow returning from the sea to the hotel through the beach gate and along the boardwalks.
From his lofty vantage point Aschenbach recognized him immediately, even before getting a clear view of him, and was on the point of thinking something like: But at that very moment he felt the casual greeting fade and vanish before the truth of his heart, he felt the rapture of his blood, the joy and agony of his soul, and acknowledged to himself that it was Tadzio who had made it so hard for him to leave.
He sat there perfectly still, perfectly invisible on his lofty perch, gazing within himself. His features were keen, his eyebrows high, his lips drawn into a vigilant, inquisitively intelligent smile. Then he raised his head 73 t h o m a s m a n n and with both arms, which had been hanging limply over the back of his chair, made a slow, rising, circular motion that brought the hands forward in such a way as to indicate an opening and spreading of the arms.
It was a gesture of willingness, welcome, of calm acceptance. A silky white sheen overlay the expanse of slow-swelling Pontos. The sand fairly glowed. Beneath the quivering silvery blue of the ether, rust-colored canvas awnings jutted out before each cabana, and mornings were spent on the sharply outlined patch of shade they created.
But evenings were lovely as well, the plants in the park exuding their balm, the heavenly bodies dancing their round, the soft sighs of the night-shrouded sea rising up, casting spells on the soul. Evenings like these bore t h o m a s m a n n the joyful promise of a new sunny day of loosely ordered leisure and ornamented with countless and closely packed prospects of pleasant encounters.
The guest detained by so obliging a mishap was far from regarding the recovery of his property as grounds for a new departure. For two days he had had to make do without a few necessities and show up for meals in the main dining room in his traveling clothes. When the errant item was finally deposited in his room, he unpacked completely and filled the wardrobes and drawers with his belongings, resolved to remain for an as yet unspecified period and pleased to be able to spend his beach hours in a silk suit and appear again for dinner at his table in proper evening attire.
The soothing regularity of this existence quickly cast a spell over him: What a place indeed, combining as it did the appeal of a refined southern seaside resort with a strange, wondrous city in intimate proximity!
Aschenbach did not care for pleasure. Whenever and wherever he was called upon to let his hair down, take things easy, 76 d e a t h i n v e n i c e enjoy himself, he soon—especially in his younger years— felt restless and ill at ease and could not wait to return to his noble travail, the sober sanctuary of his daily routine. It was the only place that could enchant him, relax his will, make him happy.
Then he would feel he had indeed been whisked off to the land of Elysium, to the ends of the earth, where man is granted a life of ease, where there is no snow nor yet winter, no tempest, no pouring rain, but only the cool gentle breath released by Oceanus, and the days flow past in blissful idleness, effortless, free of strife, and consecrated solely to the sun and its feasts.
He saw him, met him everywhere: Chiefly, however, and with a most felicitous regularity, it was mornings on the beach that afforded him extended opportunities for the study and reverence of the fair vision.
Yes, it was the daily assurance of good fortune, the periodic recurrence of favorable circumstances that so filled him with contentment and joie de vivre, that made the place so precious to him and strung each sunny day so obligingly to the others.
He would rise early—as was his wont when under the unrelenting pressure of his work—and was one of the first on the beach, when the sun was still mild and the sea a dazzling white, still dreaming.
He would greet the gate attendant amiably and nod another friendly greeting to 78 d e a t h i n v e n i c e the barefoot graybeard who readied his place for him— pulled out the brown awning and moved the furniture out of the cabana—whereupon he settled in.
He then had three or four hours during which the sun climbed to its zenith and grew to a frightening intensity, during which the sea turned a deeper and deeper blue, and during which he could watch Tadzio. Aschenbach understood 79 t h o m a s m a n n not a word of what he said, yet humdrum as it might be it was mellifluent harmony to his ear.
Soon the observer knew every line and pose of that body so noble, so freely exposed, joyfully welcoming anew each already familiar aspect of his beauty, and his wonderment and delicate sensual delight knew no bounds.
Summoned to greet a guest paying his respects to the ladies at the cabana, the boy would run up out of the water—dripping wet perhaps, tossing back his curls—hold out his hand and—one foot planted on the ground, the other on tiptoe—execute a charming twist and turn of the body, gracefully restless, graciously diffident, and obliging from a sense of noblesse oblige. He would lie full length with his towel wrapped round his chest, a delicately chiseled arm resting in the sand, a hand cupping the chin, while the boy addressed as Jasiu squatted at his side, playing up to him, and there could be nothing more tantalizing than the smiling eyes and 80 d e a t h i n v e n i c e lips of the chosen one looking up at his inferior, his servant.
He would stand at the edge of the sea, alone, removed from his family, quite near Aschenbach, erect, his hands clasped behind his neck, slowly rocking on the balls of his feet, staring out into the blue in reverie, while little waves rolled up and bathed his toes. What discipline, what precision of thought was conveyed by that tall, youthfully perfect physique! Yet the austere and pure will laboring in obscurity to bring the godlike statue to light—was it not known to him, familiar to him as an artist?
Was it not at work in him when, chiseling with sober passion at the marble block of language, he released the slender form he had beheld in his mind and would present to the world as an effigy and mirror of spiritual beauty?
His eyes embraced the noble figure standing there at the edge of the blue, and in a rush of ecstasy he believed that his eyes gazed upon beauty itself, form as divine thought, the sole and pure perfection that dwells in the mind and whose human likeness and representation, lithe and lovely, was here displayed for veneration.
This was intoxication, and the aging artist welcomed it unquestioningly, indeed, avidly. His mind was in a whirl, his cultural convictions in ferment; his memory cast up ancient thoughts passed on to him in his youth though never yet animated by his own fire. Was it not common knowledge that the sun diverts our attention from the intellectual to the sensual? It benumbs and bewitches both reason and memory such that the soul in its elation quite forgets its true nature and clings with rapt delight to the fairest of sundrenched objects, nay, only with the aid of the corporeal can it ascend to more lofty considerations.
Cupid truly did as mathematicians do when they show concrete images of pure forms to incompetent pupils: Such were the thoughts of Aschenbach the enthusiast, such the feelings of which he was capable. And from the surge of the sea and the glow of the sun there emerged a beguiling tableau. It was of the old plane tree not far from the walls of Athens, that place of sacred shade fragrant with chaste-tree blossoms and decorated with votive images and pious offerings in honor of the nymphs and Achelous, a crystal clear brook flowing over smooth pebbles past the foot of the great spreading tree, past crickets fiddling.
And with compliments and witty, wheedling pleasantries Socrates instructed Phaedrus in the nature of longing and virtue. He spoke to him of the intense trepidation the man of feeling experiences when his eye beholds a representation of eternal beauty; he spoke to him of the desires of the base and impious man who 83 t h o m a s m a n n cannot acknowledge beauty when he sees its likeness and is incapable of reverence; he spoke of the holy terror that seizes the noble man when a godlike countenance or perfect body appears before him, how he trembles and loses control and can hardly bring himself to look, yet respects it and would even make sacrifices unto it as he might unto a graven image were he not fearful of seeming foolish in the eyes of men.
For beauty, my dear Phaedrus, and beauty alone is at once desirable and visible: Think what would become of us were the godhead or reason and virtue and truth to appear before our eyes! Should we not perish in the flames of love, as did Semele beholding Zeus? Hence beauty is the path the man of feeling takes to the spiritual, though merely the path, dear young Phaedrus, a means and no more.
And then he made his most astute pronouncement, the crafty wooer, namely, that the lover is more divine than the beloved, because the god dwells in the former, not the latter, which is perhaps the most delicate, most derisive thought ever 84 d e a t h i n v e n i c e thought by man and the source of all the roguery and deep-seated lust in longing.
Nothing gladdens a writer more than a thought that can become pure feeling and a feeling that can become pure thought. Just such a pulsating thought, just such a precise feeling was then in the possession and service of the solitary traveler: He suddenly desired to write. Eros, we are told, loves indolence, and for indolence was he created.
But at this point in his crisis the stricken man was aroused to production. The stimulus scarcely mattered. It was something he was familiar with, something he knew from experience, and the desire to make it shine in the light of his words was suddenly irresistible. It is surely as well that the world knows only a beautiful work itself and not its origins, the conditions under which it comes into being, for if people had knowledge of the sources from which the artist derives his inspiration they would oftentimes be confused and alarmed and thus vitiate the effects the artist had achieved.
How strange those hours were! How oddly enervating the effort! How curiously fruitful the intercourse of mind with body! When Aschenbach put away his work and quit the beach, he felt exhausted and, yes, spent, as if his conscience were reproaching him after a debauch.
The following morning he was going down the front 86 d e a t h i n v e n i c e steps, about to leave the hotel, when he spied Tadzio— alone—nearing the beach gate on his way to the sea.
The desire, the mere thought of taking the opportunity to make the casual, offhand acquaintance of the beautiful boy who had unknowingly so elated and moved him, to address him and take pleasure in his response and the look in his eyes—nothing could be more natural, more obvious.
The boy was ambling slowly—he could easily be overtaken—and Aschenbach merely accelerated his pace. He caught up to him on the boardwalk in back of the cabanas and was on the point of laying his hand on his head or shoulder—a phrase, some friendly words in French on his lips—when he felt his heart hammering wildly, from the quick pace perhaps, and he was so breathless that his voice would have been hoarse and strained had he tried to speak.
He paused and struggled to get hold of himself, but suddenly feared he had been walking too long just behind the boy, feared the boy would notice, turn and look at him questioningly, so he had one more go at it, failed, surrendered, and walked past with downcast eyes. Too late! The step he had failed to take might well have led to something joyous, untroubled, and good, to a salutary sobriety.
But it is more likely that the aging man had no desire for sobriety, that he was too taken with his intoxication. Who can unravel the essence, the stamp of the artistic temperament! Who can grasp the deep, instinctual fusion of discipline and dissipation on which it rests! For the inability to desire salutary sobriety is tantamount to dissipation. Aschenbach was no longer inclined to self-criticism: He was confused: Then again, he made fun of himself for his comically exalted fear. This is surely the god who at the sight of something desirable so breaks our spirit, so utterly dashes our sense of pride against the 88 d e a t h i n v e n i c e ground.
He had ceased keeping track of the time he allotted himself for leisure and gave no thought whatever to going home. He had had ample funds transferred here. His sole concern was that the Polish family would leave, but he learned surreptitiously, by inquiring casually of the hotel barber, that their arrival had barely predated his own. The sun was tanning his face and hands, the bracing salt air was making him more susceptible to emotion, and whereas he had been in the habit of applying any fortification afforded him by sleep, nourishment, or nature immediately to his work, he now allowed the daily invigoration coming from sun, leisure, and sea breezes to dissipate in magnanimously improvident euphoria and sentiment.
He slept fitfully, the delightfully uniform days separated by brief, agreeably restless nights. True, he would retire early, because at nine, when Tadzio disappeared from the scene, the day seemed over to him, but at the first hint of dawn he would be awakened by a sweet panic, his heart would recall its adventure, and, finding 89 t h o m a s m a n n it impossible to remain in bed, he would rise and, lightly clad against the morning chill, await the sunrise at the open window.
This wondrous event would fill his soul, exalted yet from sleep, with great awe. Sky, earth, and sea still lay in the ghostly, glassy pallor of dawn; a fading star still hovered in the insubstantial heights. It was the goddess approaching, the seductress of youths, who had carried off Cleitus and Cephalus and, defying the envy of all Olympus, enjoyed the love of the beautiful Orion. At the edge of the world there was a strewing of roses, an ineffably beautiful shining and flowering, there were childlike clouds, transfigured, translucent, floating like attending amoretti in the rosy-blue haze, and a crimson radiance fell upon the sea, its rolling waves seeming to drive it forward, and golden spears flashed from below to the heavenly heights, the gleam turning to fire, soundlessly, the glow and heat and blazing flames 90 d e a t h i n v e n i c e billowing skyward with godlike potency, as the sacred steeds of her brother rose with grappling hooves over the planet.
Emotions from the past, early, delightful dolors of the heart swallowed up by the strict discipline of his life were now reappearing in the strangest of permutations—he recognized them with a perplexed and puzzled smile. He mused, he dreamed, his lips slowly shaping a name, and, still smiling, his face uplifted, his hands folded in his lap, he would doze off again in his armchair. Not only did the day begin with fiery festivities, however; it remained curiously feverish, metamorphosed by myth.
Whence did it come, what was its source, the sudden breath of air that played so gently and tellingly about his temples and ears like an afflatus from on high? Waves gamboled high like frisky 91 t h o m a s m a n n goats amidst the rocks on the beach farther off.
A world sacredly deformed and imbued with the spirit of Pan surrounded the spellbound observer, and his heart dreamed soothing fables. At times, as the sun sank behind Venice, he would sit on a bench in the park watching Tadzio, clad in white and with a bright-colored sash, play ball on the rolled gravel court, but seeing Hyacinth who, loved by two gods, was doomed to death. There is nothing more curious or delicate than a relationship between people who know each other only by sight, who encounter and observe each other daily— nay, hourly—yet are constrained by convention or personal caprice to keep up the pretense of being strangers, indifferent, avoiding a nod or word.
There is a feeling of malaise and overwrought curiosity, the hysteria of an 92 d e a t h i n v e n i c e unsatisfied, unnaturally stifled need for mutual knowledge and communication, and above all a sort of strained esteem.