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Deaths in VeniceThe Cases of Gustav von Aschenbach$
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Philip Kitcher

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780231162647

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231162647.001.0001

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(p.125) Three Shadows
Deaths in Venice

Philip Kitcher

Columbia University Press

This chapter considers whether Thomas Mann was uncertain about the death of Gustav van Aschenbach in Death in Venice. It argues that the problem he faced could not have been that of deciding if Aschenbach should die but rather how. The difficulty was to discover the right death for his protagonist, a death that would show what it—and the life that preceded it—meant. Mann allows his readers more than one possibility for Aschenbach's death. Once he reveals that cholera is rampant in Venice, the threat of death is omnipresent, and he supplies a few clues consistent with the conclusion that his protagonist is infected with the dry form of the disease. Yet by presenting this death as so atypical of cholera sicca, he invites us to explore alternatives to what initially appears as the most obvious cause. The chapter also examines Luchino Visconti's film Morte a Venezia, and how he replaced the writer von Aschenbach with a composer of the same name, a composer plainly modeled on—if not identical with—Gustav Mahler. It concludes with an analysis of the two-page coda to Mann's novella.

Keywords:   Thomas Mann, Death in Venice, Gustav von Aschenbach, Luchino Visconti, Morte a Venezia, Gustav Mahler

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