Tuesday 27 April 2021


Above, we see 'Gustav Mahler with his friend Thomas Mann'.

Thomas Mann set out to write a short novel about "passion - as confusion and degradation".

The result was Death in Venice, a book which raises age old questions about the difference between love and lust, about forbidden love and about what is normal.

Gustav and Alma.

 In 1902, in Austria, Alma Schindler married the famous composer Gustav Mahler.

Alma was 22 and pregnant with their first child, Maria, known as Putzi.

Gustav was 19 years older than Alma.

Alma Mahler, born Alma Schindler. 

Gustav Mahler was born Jewish. 

Alma was said to be anti-semitic.

Mahler enjoyed travel.

In the summer of 1907, Mahler took his family to Maiernigg, in southern Austria.

In Maiernigg, little Maria (Putzi) got scarlet fever and diphtheria and died.

Alma began an affair with Walter Gropius.

Gustav Mahler died in 1911.


Gustav von Aschenbach, in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, is said to be based on Gustav Mahler.

However, Gustav von Aschenbach appears to be a combination of Gustav Mahler and Thomas Mann.

Let us consider a variety of attitudes towards sex.

The Koran takes no interest in women's head gear.

The Lost Art of Scripture by Karen Armstrong.

In 16th Century England, 13 year-old Elisabeth Ramsbotham complained that her 11 year-old husband, John Bridge, had not yet deflowered her.

The bonobo apes, who share 98% of our genetic profile, are bisexual and sex takes place between between adults and children.

Thomas Mann and his grandchild Frido.

For the Buddhists, sex is a bit of an illusion.

In The Symposium the argument from Plato/Socrates is that beauty of the soul is more important than beauty of the body.

If we can manage to recognise divine beauty, then we will act morally, and become immortal.

Thomas Mann, 1930s.

In 1911, Thomas Mann, a world-famous 36 year-old author, on holiday in Venice with his wife, fell in love with an aristocratic 10 year-old Polish boy called Wladyslaw Moes.

Wladyslaw Moes - left centre.

Why did Thomas Mann's's work sell so many millions of copies world-wide?

Bjørn Andresen , star of Visconti's Death in Venice, experimented with gay sex. "I had a homosexual experience in the 70s," he told El Mundo magazine.

Thomas Mann wrote: "Men do not know why they award fame to one work rather than another.

"Without being in the faintest connoiseurs, they think to justify the warmth of their commendations by discovering in it a hundred virtues, whereas the real ground of their applause is inexplicable - it is sympathy."

In other words, the author's readers sympathised either with the author's philosophy, or, with his sexual tastes!

Mark Twain

Who are the famous people who were 'very fond' of children.

Thomas Mann? Hans Christian Andersen? Enid Blyton? Mark Twain?
Leo Tolstoy? Andre Gide? J M Barrie?
Alexander the Great? Benjamin Britten? L S Lowrey?
Laurie Lee? Dante? Edgar Allan Poe? Baden Powell?
John Ruskin? T H White? Wilfred Owen?

Thomas Mann was married, produced many children, and was considered to be ultra-respectable.

Mann was married to Katia Pringsheim, who came from a wealthy, secular Jewish industrialist family.

His novels were best sellers, won him a Nobel Prize, and made him extremely rich and famous.

Thomas Mann and family.

When Mann came to live in America in the 1930's, Time and Life magazines welcomed Mann as "the greatest living author."

Mann was the 'good' German who had eventually criticised the Nazis.

President Roosevelt considered naming Mann the head of postwar Germany.

("Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature", by Anthony Heilbut, published by Macmillan.)

When he was 14, Mann fell in love with a classmate, Armin Martens.

In his popular 1903 masterpiece, 'Tonio Kroger', Mann describes one schoolboy's love for another - Tonio's platonic love for handsome Hans Hansen.

Tonio eventually realises that love causes "sadness and humiliation" and that he must transform his energies into literature.

Mann saw himself as Tonio.

Mann was aware that German culture was full of forms of love of a Greco-Roman type.

Schiller loved young Goethe; Goethe wrote to von Herder: "Be my Socrates. Let me be your Alcibiades."

Schubert, Frederick the Great and even Bismarck were considered by many to be less than thoroughly heterosexual.

Nietzsche was fond of Wagner; Wagner spread the word that Nietzsche's problems were due in part to pederasty.


In an 1896 letter, a rather tense and neurotic Mann, aged 20, described a trip to Naples:

"Here and there, among a thousand peddlers, are sly hissing dealers who urge you to come along with them to allegedly 'very beautiful' girls, and not only girls....

"They don't know that you have almost resolved to eat nothing but rice just to escape from sexuality."

It seems that at this point in time Mann was trying to resist Dionysian desires and instead use his urges to inspire great literature.

Mann considered that the sexual urge was "the essence of the creative artist."

Life could also be easier if one avoided sex?

The heroes of Mann's novels were often men who felt an "impotent, sensual hatred" for the beautiful boys or girls who destroyed their peace of mind.

'Buddenbrooks', Mann's first magnum opus, was published when Mann was in his early twenties, and it sold millions throughout the world.

This wildly popular 'soap opera' about a middle class German family, was based partly on Mann's own relatives.

One of the Buddenbrooks, a male called Hanno, loves a male called Count Kai; but this homosexual love is somewhat disguised, partly by Mann's 'distinguished' language.

In Buddenbrooks there is a brief interest in 'religion' of a Buddhist sort.

Thomas Buddenbrooks picks up a volume by Schopenhauer about the 'indestructibility of our essence.'

Thomas Buddenbrooks sees death as 'a great joy...a return from an unspeakably painful wandering.'

Paul Ehrenberg

In 1899 Mann met Paul Ehrenberg, aged 23, fell in love with him, and became seriously depressed.

Many years later, while reading Gore Vidal's 'The City and the Pillar', Mann found Vidal's description of teenage sex "glorious."

Mann was full of longing and envy.

Thomas Mann getting the Nobel Prize for literature in 1929

Mann sometimes wondered if he should try to be as free as a gypsy and enjoy simple warm heartfelt feelings.

The problem was that to Mann, "warm heartfelt feeling is often banal and useless; only the irritations and frigid ecstasies of a corrupted nervous system can produce art."

("Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature", by Anthony Heilbut, published by Macmillan.)

Katia and her twin brother Claus.

In 1903 Mann met 20 year-old Katia Pringsheim, an intelligent girl of boyish appearance, who happened to have a handsome twin brother called Claus.

Mann referred to Katia as "the twin sister of an almost equally pretty fellow."

In 1905 Mann, aged 29, married Katia.

Within a month of his marriage, Mann wrote a story about a married Schiller's "love for Goethe".

Mann also began plotting a story, never completed, which would include Schopenhauer's (slightly Buddhist) idea that life, with all its sensual desires, is an illusion.

Death in Venice.

In 1906 Armin Martens, whom Mann had loved at the age of 14, died penniless in Africa, aged 29.

Mann, suffering from depression, entered a sanatorium to recover.

1908 saw the trial in Germany of a journalist who had exposed a homosexual clique at the court of the Kaiser.

This so-called Eulenburg case ruined many wealthy and powerful Germans.

Mann applauded the "outing".

Thomas Mann's wife Katia recalls an actual holiday in Venice and relates that "In the dining-room, on the very first day, we saw the Polish family, which looked exactly the way my husband described them... the very charming, beautiful boy of about 13 was wearing a sailor suit ...

"He caught my husband's attention immediately. This boy was tremendously attractive, and my husband was always watching him with his companions on the beach."

Luchino Visconti, the director of the film Death in Venice.

In 1910, Mann attended the premiere of Mahler's Eighth Symphony, and in seeing the face of Mahler, saw the face that would inspire Aschenbach, the central character in Death in Venice.

Mann wrote: "Nothing is invented in Death in Venice...Tadzio...the cholera...the ballad singer...they were all there."

In Death in Venice, Aschenbach is the cerebral, politically conservative, writer.

In Venice he  becomes a slave to desire, feels tortured by guilt, and cannot relax and enjoy life.

And his "dignity is rescued only by ... Death."

Mann is warning us to avoid extremes?

The problem was that to Mann, "warm heartfelt feeling is often banal and useless; only the irritations and frigid ecstasies of a corrupted nervous system can produce art."

The aristocratic 10 year-old Polish boy called Wladyslaw Moes, the model for Tadzio, was a bit of a flirt.

This is according to Gilbert Adair's book "The Real Tadzio".


Having arrived at the Hotel des Bains on the Venice Lido, Aschenbach surveys his fellow guests and his eyes fix on Tadzio.

The boy is "long-haired...pale, with a sweet reserve, with clustering , honey-coloured ringlets... winning mouth, expression of pure and godlike serenity....of such unique personal charm...happy...a spoilt, exquisite air...

"He walked with extraordinary grace...at once dainty and proud...

"The head was poised like a flower...It was the head of Eros, with the yellowish bloom of Parian marble... "

Mann is the master of this sort of description of the physically beautiful.

Aschenbach assumes "the patronizing air of the connoisseur to hide ... his ravishment over a masterpiece."

One suspects that Mann/Aschenbach sees Tadzio not simply as representing 'beauty' but as something erotic.

Mann gets away with his description of the 'sexy' boy by using fine language and by filling the novella with classical references.

"In almost every artist nature there is inborn a wanton and treacherous proneness to side with the beauty that breaks hearts...", writes Mann.

Tadzio has "a sweetly idle, trifling life, of play and rest, of strolling, wading, digging, fishing, swimming, lying on the sand....

Aschenbach notes "the fine down along the upper vertebrae...

"His armpits were still as smooth as a statue's, smooth the glistening hollows behind the knees."

Aschenbach begins to think of Plato, perhaps in order to persuade himself (or the reader) that this is about divine beauty and not sex.

"The god, in order to make visible the spirit, avails himself of the forms and colours of human youth," muses Aschenbach.

Aschenbach's life revolves around watching Tadzio. "It was a world possessed, peopled by Pan, that closed round the spellbound man and his doting heart conceived the most delicate fancies...


It was not Tadzio he saw, but Hyacinthus, doomed to die because two gods were rivals for his love...."

Mann certainly understood the darker side of human life.

Tadzio and Aschenbach become fully aware of each other.

Tadzio deliberately passes in front of Aschenbach's beach tent, "sometimes so unnecessarily close as to graze his table or chair.....

Aschenbach is warned about the the dangers of cholera approaching Venice.

Aschenbach has a nightmare in which smooth skinned boys and shrieking women fondling snakes bow down to 'the stranger god.' There is an orgy of promiscuous embraces.

Should Aschenbach warn Tadzio's family about the cholera? Is Aschenbach motivated more by lust than love?

Mann understands the complexity of love: its pains , its joys, its deceptions, its beauty and its darker side.

He is a literary genius.

Some critics might find the book lacks humour.

For example, Tadzio never breaks wind or picks his nose.

Perhaps if Tadzio had broken wind, the spell would have been broken for Aschenbach, and he would have realised that Tadzio was just an ordinary boy?

Death in Venice was wildly popular with the public.

Tadzio, like the cute boys in toothpaste commercials, turned many people on.

Mann writes that all his life he has contemplated the nature of morality.

And history has taught him, he writes, that 'great moralists have mostly been great sinners also.'

He refers to Dostoyevsky being a paedophile.

Anthony Heilbut writes, "Death in Venice can be read as a muffled plea for emancipation.

"At the very least, a drunken song offers an alternative to the extremes of chaste sublimation and insane orgy."

Mann's private diaries from 1918-21 reveal a man obsessed by his own feelings.

He writes about his own insomnia, constipation and toothaches; he writes about his infatuations with beautiful youths he has glimpsed; and in 1918 he briefly writes about his incestuous feelings for his twelve year-old son Klaus.

Klaus Mann, aged 12.

Mann's eldest son was Klaus.

Anthony Heilbut writes, "Klaus's youth coincided with the world's discovery of Youth...

"Bliss it may have been then to be alive, to prowl the world's capitals in pursuit of drugs and pretty boys, to party with Garbo and commune with Gide.

"He knew the addresses of each of the city's best-populated baths and enjoyed identifying the male prostitutes of Berlin as sons of Russian princes and Prussian generals."

Klaus opposed the Nazis and joined the US army to help fight Germany.

He wrote "Mephisto"; he turned to drugs.

Klaus Mann

In some senses Klaus opted partly for 'insane orgy' and, for whatever reasons, ended up committing suicide. (The Mann family were prone to melancholy).

Thomas Mann's eightieth year brought him Germany's highest honour, and honours and greetings from around the world, and also his decease.

"It seemed to him (Aschenbach) the pale and lovely Summoner (Tadzio) out there smiled at him and beckoned; as though with the hand he lifted from his hip, he pointed outward as he hovered on before into an immensity of richest expectation."

Mann's wife Katia, with Monika, Michael, Elisabeth, Klaus and Erika Mann. Golo is missing in the photo.

Colm Toibin tells us more about the Mann family.

I Could Sleep with All of Them: The Mann Family / In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain: The Erika and Klaus Mann Story by Andrea Weiss

Thomas Mann  'was gay most of the time, as his diaries make clear'.

Three of his children, Erika, Klaus and Golo, were gay.

Thomas Mann's daughter Erika married the gay poet W.H. Auden.

"What else are buggers for?" said Auden.

Mann's children - Monika, Golo, Michael, Klaus, Elisabeth and Erika 

Both of Thomas Mann's sisters committed suicide.

Mann's sons Klaus and Michael committed suicide.

The second wife of Thomas Mann's brother Heinrich committed suicide.

Katia and her twin brother Claus.

There is a belief that Mann's wife, Katia, had an incestuous relationship with her twin brother Claus.

And there is a belief that Mann's children Erika and Klaus may have had an incestuous relationship with each other.

Thomas Mann, his wife and two youngest children, Elisabeth and Michael, in 1927. 

In his diaries Thomas Mann made clear his own sexual interest in Klaus: 

When Klaus was 14, in 1920, Mann wrote:

"Am enraptured with Eissi (Klaus's nickname).

Terribly handsome in his swimming trunks. 

"Find it quite natural that I should fall in love with my son . . . 

"It seems I am once and for all done with women? . . . 

"Eissi was lying tanned and shirtless on his bed, reading; I was disconcerted." 

Klaus Mann, aged 12.

Later that year Thomas Mann 'came upon Eissi totally nude and up to some nonsense by Golo’s bed' and was 'deeply struck by his radiant adolescent body; overwhelming'.

In Bluebeard’s Chamber: Guilt and Confession in Thomas Mann (2003), Michael Maar found in Thomas Mann's work:

"Image after image of murder, blood, knives and sexual pleasure".

I Could Sleep with All of Them: The Mann Family 


Michael Marr suggests  that in Naples, in the mid-1890s, when he was a very young man, Thomas Mann did something, or witnessed something, or was closely implicated in something that involved sex and murder.

"It is as well," Mann wrote in Death in Venice, "that the world knows only a fine piece of work and not its origins."

To escape the Nazis, Thomas Mann moved to Pacific Palisades, in Los Angeles.

Thomas Mann was a nationalist and a conservative.

In August 1914, Mann was enthusiastic about World War I.

He wrote to a friend: "One feels that everything will have to be new after this profound, violent anguish and that the German soul will emerge stronger, prouder, freer, happier from it. So be it."

Thomas Mann's son Golo wrote of the period 1914-18:

"We had once loved our father almost as tenderly as our mother, but that changed during the war.

"He could still project an aura of kindness, but for the most part we experienced only silence, sternness, nervousness or anger.

"I can remember all too well certain scenes at mealtimes, outbreaks of rage and brutality that were directed at my brother Klaus but brought tears to my own eyes."

Thomas Mann in the USA.

In 1933, when ‘un-German’ books were being burned, Thomas Mann's books were not.

In his diary, in April 1933, Thomas Mann wrote of the Nazis:

"The Jews: it is no calamity after all . . . that the domination of the legal system by the Jews has been ended...

"I could have a certain understanding for the rebellion against the Jewish element were it not that the Jewish spirit exercises a necessary control over the German element, the withdrawal of which is dangerous

"Left to themselves the Germans are so stupid as to lump people of my type in the same category and drive me out with the rest."

Thomas Mann's German-Jewish publisher was Bermann Fischer, 'a Jewish protégé of Goebbels'.

After Pearl Harbor, Klaus decided to join the US Army.

The FBI reported that he had a 'syphilitic condition'.


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At 6 June 2019 at 20:08 , Blogger Unknown said...

Widely agreed as being the world's leading intellectual [ & yet he is not elitist in language or thought nor narcissistic ; As, regrettably, most who are considered to be intellectuals are prone to err in that regard ], & anyway "the smartest man on the scene today" [ Ref. Henry Makow ],- E. Michael Jones has many fascinating perspectives to say about :

Gustav Mahler

Thomas Mann ;
EMJ is a great admirer of Thomas Mann's power for lyrical description
Although, of course,- he would not agree with Mann's behavior.

Here is a sample of links in which EMJ discusses Mahler & Mann




At 27 April 2021 at 08:59 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

that is really cool

At 27 April 2021 at 19:47 , Blogger Unknown said...

Very interesting indeed.


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