18 Classics of LGBTQ Literature

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Bjorn Anderson as Tadzio and Dirk Bogarde as composer Gustav von Aschenbach in the 1971 film adaptation of the Thomas Mann novel Death in Venice. (Photo by �� John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

15. Death in Venice

Death in Venice is one of the earliest published works in this list. Written by German author Thomas Mann, it was first published in 1912.

It concerns Gustav von Aschenbach, a famous author who finds himself suffering from writer’s block. He visits Venice and, while dining at his hotel, sees an upper-class Polish family nearby. A young son of the family strikes him as staggeringly beautiful, though he is only about fourteen years old. Aschenbach later learns that the boy’s name is Tadzio. He first believes that his interest in the boy is purely artistic.

However, he soon becomes obsessed with the young boy. He attempts to leave hot, humid Venice, but a mishap at the train station thwarts his plans. Though Aschenbach pretends to be angry, secretly he is pleased to remain in the same city as Tadzio. He follows the family around, secretly spying on them. When Tadzio innocently directs a smile in the author’s direction, Aschenbach is overcome. He rushes into an empty garden to whisper “I love you!” to no one. He never touches or speaks with Tadzio, though the boy’s guardians eventually begin to notice the strange man following them.

Throughout the growing obsession, the author also notices growing evidence of illness in the city. He sees health notices and begins to smell a strange odor, later identified as disinfectant. The health authorities claim that it is nothing, and urge tourists to remain in the city. However, this soon develops into a severe cholera epidemic. Death in Venice ends with the death of Aschenbach himself, having never spoken with the young object of his affections.