The premise of decadence was tremendously popular in late 19th century European literature. In addition, the degeneracy of the individual and society at large was represented in numerous contemporary works by Mann. In Death in Venice, the theme of decadence caused by aestheticism appears through Gustav von Achenbach’s eccentric, specifically homoerotic, feelings towards a Polish boy named Tadzio. Although his feelings spring from a sound source, the boy’s aesthetic beauty, Aschenbach becomes decadent in how excessively zealous his feelings are, and his obsession ultimately leads to his literal and existential destruction. Thus exemplifying, as will be examined in the following, how aestheticism is closely related to, and indeed often the cause of, decadence. Although the narrative is about more complexities, the author’s use of such vivid descriptions suggest the physical, literal aspect of his writing is just as important to the meaning of the story.
The first and most obvious instance of aestheticism and decadence as correlating themes in this story is the title, Death in Venice. By shear nature the title relates the concepts of death and dying to the city of Venice, which implies that the location is where a death will occur. However, this is paralleled by the opening of the story when Mann drearily tells of Aschenbach’s stroll through Germany. “It was early May, and after several cold and clammy weeks, a mock summer had set it. The English Garden, though sprouting only tender leaves as yet, had been as muggy as in August.” In the reading of this passage it proves ironic that the title is Death in Venice as the protagonist seems to be dying in Munich: from his loss of creative ability, depletion of strength to the course of his walk ultimately leading him to a graveyard from which weakness forced him to catch a train home from. There lacks a sense of elegance with Mann’s description of aspects concerning Germany and a typical Aschenbach. This can...
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