Study Guide

Death in Venice What's Up With the Title?

By Thomas Mann

What's Up With the Title?

Death in Venice is a pretty strange title for a work of fiction. Think about it: There's no article at the beginning, nothing to tell us whether it's a death in Venice—the singular death of a singular man—or just plain old death, the fact of dying, or even the figure of Death. (For all you linguistic sticklers out there: The original German title, Der Tod in Venedig, has an article but runs into similar problems.)

And now think about this: Death in Venice is the kind of title often found in journalism, when words like 'the' and 'a' are often left out for the sake of brevity. Death in Venice could very well be a headline in a newspaper. Can't you just see it bannering across the front page? So, what's up with that?

In fact, newspapers and news play a pretty important role in Death in Venice. News of the epidemic is alternately disseminated and covered up in the international papers Aschenbach reads in his hotel. For the most part, death is exactly what is not being reported on in Venice. And in the final line of the novella, it's not just Aschenbach's death that we read about; it's the fact that his death is news for the "world" (5.57) that knew him. (Check out "What's Up with the Ending?" for more on this.)

Yep, this sounds like another example of Mann's irony. The title plays with the idea that we, the readers, are like the fictional "world" of Aschenbach's fans, who might view his life with a combination of awe, curiosity, and perhaps horror, but ultimately read about his demise from a safe distance.

Of course, the novella provides way more than journalistic distance and neutrality; Mann's narrator gives us direct access to the deepest, darkest parts of Aschenbach's creative mind and soul. But the title hints at the way Mann's narrator still keeps an ironic distance from Aschenbach, acting like this is just another report about "death in Venice." It's anything but, and so much more than a man dies. But to dig deeper into this, we'll kindly ask you to hop over to the "Genre" section.