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Slochower, H. (1989). Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. Am. Imago, 46(2-3):255-279.
(1989). American Imago, 46(2-3):255-279
Thomas Mann's Death in Venice
Harry Slochower, Ph.D.
Thomas Mann would have it that his literary work is mainly autobiographical in nature. Yet, he gives us only bare hints of the personal experiences which mobilized the depths of his visions. It is as though Thomas Mann would keep the sources of his creativity a secret from us, and perhaps from himself as well.
In A Sketch of My Life, Mann writes that he had a happy childhood and that, on the whole, he led a serene, ordered life. But he also speaks of his isolation, of being apart and that he addressed very few people with the familiar du. He mentions periods of depression and of occasional suicidal impulses.1
Mann hints at a strong attraction he felt for a body during his school years. This homosexual motif recurs in Mann's work: Tonio Kroeger's feeling for Hans Hansen, Aschenbach's infatuation with Tadzio, Hans Castorp's “confusion” between Madame Chauchat and the schoolmate Hippe, the relation between Adrian and Rudi in Doctor Faustus and, by implication, in the incest themes of Blood of the Waehungs and The Holy Sinner.
Repeatedly, Mann assures us that he was a happily married man, wedded to a woman who watched over him with intelligence, patience and consideration. Yet, one is struck by the fact that generally Mann refers to his wife as his “companion,” and that he never alludes to any of the personal complications in the family relationships which appear in the homo-erotic and incest themes of his work.
That there was a deep insufficiency in Mann's personal life may be adduced from his nearly compulsive need to recast his life experiences in symbolic and critical forms.
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