Re-reading "Death in Venice"

"The Magic Mountain", as I noted in my first post, was intended as a companion piece to "Death in Venice". It's been 30 years since I first read the novella, but it seemed appropriate to have another look at it this year while we were in Trieste (OK, it's not Venice, but it was on Gustav von Aschenbach's route south: he takes the train there from Munich before heading down to Istria, wondering what he's doing there and heading to La Serenissima instead).

(This is Trieste's old ferry terminal, but in my mind's eye it could almost have been the Lido.)

Reading back from the echo to the source sound, then, I was struck by a number of things:

– The soot pumped out by the steamship on which Aschenbach travels prefigures the soot from the locomotive that speckles the cover of Hans Castorp's book "Ocean Steamships" on his way to Davos. In general, their approaches to these special destinations, isolated by altitude and water respectively, are presented as experiences of spatial and temporal displacement. Before travelling up into the mountains, of course, our hero has already braved the "leaping waves" of Lake Constance.

– The term "Zergliederer", used to describe a critic of von Aschenbach's literary work, finds its way into "The Magic Mountain" in the form of "Seelenzergliederung" or "soul dissection" – an old name for psychoanalysis – as practised by Dr Krokowski at the Berghof.

– More obviously, the cholera epidemic, which is already rife in Venice but hushed up by the authorities and the hotel, is a precursor of the tuberculosis that ravages the lowlands and can only be escaped by travelling up into the Alps.

– Thomas Mann was deprecating the Slavs long before Madame Chauchat came slouching into the sanatorium dining room. The Polish family of the adolescent Tadzio who attracts Aschenbach's gaze are described as "weich und verschwommen" – "soft and indistinct" – while Russians at the Berghof are called "kochenlos" or "boneless".

This list could almost certainly go on and on...

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