Sometimes it’s necessary to disconnect from the conveyor belt of current literature and feast on older delights like those Thomas Mann brings to the table. I wish I read German, but I thoroughly enjoyed Heim’s translation.
Basic idea is that a writer breaks away from his mountain home to seek inspiration for the work he’s stuck on. “He needed a change of scene, a bit of spontaneity, an idle existence, a foreign atmosphere, and an influx of new blood to make the summer bearable and productive.” (Chapter 1) After a brief stop in Greece, he heads for the sparkling city of Venice where he puts down roots for the summer, becoming enchanted with the Polish youth Tadzio, whom he compares with Greek statues and whom he indulges various fantasies about.
Inspiration to write returns to him in a flash, and with Tadzio in his sight, he pens a glorious few pages on the youth’s beauty. “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.” (Chapter 4) “Yet it cannot be said he was suffering: he was drunk in both head and heart, and his steps followed the dictates of the demon whose delight it is to trample human reason and dignity underfoot.” (Chapter 5)
While he was keeping his love a secret from the youth, the city of Venice was keeping a cholera epidemic secret from all visitors. When von Aschenbach (the writer) finally wheedles the truth out of the British travel agent, he considers telling the Polish family and then fleeing the city. Instead, he embraces the chaos and decides to remain in Venice. His death at the end of the story is not cholera-related, but rather the result of knowing Tadzio is leaving that day and his heart breaks.
sub=translated by Micheal Henry Heim