My abject apology to Miss Jane Austen: A Guardian 1,000 Novels Tale

Turn away now, Austenites! I'm about to make a statement you will find vulgar and unfitting for a lady of good breeding: I've abandoned my reread of Pride and Prejudice, leaving it due to the antsy feeling I encountered every time I sat down to it. I simply could not carry on! Woe betide me!

Will pause to allow the ladies to retrieve smelling salts from their reticules. Better?

For what work have I abandoned my recent attempt at rereading Miss Austen's novel? Why, the next book in my Guardian 1,000 Novels Project, that's what: Thomas Mann's novella Death in Venice, about an older man's infatuation with a much younger man. Need I pause again, m'lady? Feeling a bit faint?



Miss looks quite recovered. Oh, happy day!


The older gentleman in Mann's work is Gustav Aschenbach, an avant-garde* composer with a case of writer's block so extreme he embarks upon an excursion to Venice in hopes the muse will find him again there. After finding himself meandering through Munich's streets exhausted from insomnia and all but hallucinatory, he realized he could not go on this way. He was in need of a change of scene before he lost his gift:



"… Gustav Aschenbach was the poet of all those who were laboring on the brink of exhaustion, the overburdened and worn, who still tried to keep upright…"



I'm presently just past his arrival, via gondola, at the Lido in Venice. He's secured his hotel but has just had a curious incident with the gondolier in the day-time, whose menace and leering grin discomposed Gustav, to the point he demanded to be let out somewhere else, which the man refused to do. Realizing he was a captive passenger, he chose instead to resign himself to the pleasant, soothing rocking of the boat.

Awaiting the gondolier at the Lido were officials ready to apprehend him, for being the only operator of a gondola in Venice without a license. But there's something more about the man…  and I'd probably best not tell you that. Instead, when I'm ready to share more about the work as a whole – once I've finished, which won't take long – I may seek to drive you to distraction dropping hints.



The Lido, Venice


Regarding my inability to settle with Austen this time around, my theory is having become immersed in much darker literature, between Barry's Ireland and the literature of the American South, I can't easily readjust to the Regency Period without finding the experience jarring. My hands itch for another book when I sit down with m'lady, an occurrence I've not confronted before. I'm sure the time will come when I can again appreciate Regency writing but for now I'm far too caught up in more contemporary fiction of the sort Austenites would surely abjure. Not to sound dismissive.

Since I began reading more modern writing – after a long period in which I felt earlier literature was the only quality reading – I've found myself converted to the realism of it, what many would consider depressing and dark. It makes me feel in a very different way earlier novels don't. I can't see myself delving much into the literature of the 18th century again, for example, a phase I went through more than five years ago. At the time I found Evelina's constant fainting a frustration but continued on because overall the story had a certain charm. Now I'd find it a bore. And on my shelves sit several rather hard to come by 18th century paperback reprints of the works of "neglected females of the 18th century." Yet, I dare not sell them, or give them away, because who knows when my tastes will switch around again – and I couldn't build up that collection again without much work and money. Right now I'd rather devote that time and money to a very different era of literature.

I've also spun that random number generator again, to determine my read after Mann. This time it came up with:


# 55: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House by Eric Hodgins


 Looks like another case of culture shock finishing Mann only to pick up a comedic novel. How this will go I can't say but I'm going to give it my best. Remember my rule: if I don't like it, I dump it. It's my "Too many good books" rule.

There's a 1948 film adaptation of the book, starring Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas.  I'll probably watch that after I read the book, though it sounds somewhat familiar and I think I may have seen it in the long, long ago times. With my Amazon Prime membership I can stream it for free, so what's to lose (save a bit of time)?

Speaking of films, there was a re-release of Luchino Visconti's adaptation of Death in Venice in 2010 (1971 original film):


"Luchino Visconti's adaptation of the Thomas Mann novel is the very definition of sumptuous: the costumes and sets, the special geography of Venice, and the breathtaking cinematography combine to form a heady experience. At the center of this gorgeousness is Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde in a meticulous performance), a controlled intellectual who unexpectedly finds himself obsessed by the vision of a 14-year-old boy while on a convalescent vacation in 1911. Visconti has turned Aschenbach into a composer, which accounts for the lush excerpts from Mahler on the soundtrack (Bogarde is meant to look like Mahler, too). Even if it tends to hit the nail on the head a little too forcefully, and even if Visconti can test one's patience with lingering looks at crowds at the beach and hotel dining rooms, Death in Venice creates a lushness rare in movies. For some viewers, that will be enough. –Robert Horton"


Sounds fantastic, like a great accompaniment to the book. And I'm sure the library system will have it (for the record, yes, it does), to save me the $2.99 Amazon rental price, for which my Prime account fails me. There've been a few adaptations made but this one sounds the best by far.



We're now caught up on my Guardian project status to date: my apologies to Miss Austen for my failure on Pride and Prejudice,  Death in Venice is lovely and I'm looking forward to Blandings.

That last book sounds like P.G. Wodehouse, doesn't it? After a bit of Amazon checking, that's because it's also the name of a series the English gentleman wrote, several of which I read when I was a teenager. I knew I'd heard that name somewhere before! Now I wonder if the two are actually related… Too early to look into that, with Mann on the go, but when it's time I will.

It's nice to feel all set, at least for this reading project, to know what's next, allowing plenty of time for each work – i.e., as much as I please, with added benefit of being liberal with myself in picking and choosing.

And still, on the go in the background for the foreseeable future: Ulysses


* From Wikipedia:

"Avant-garde (French pronunciation: [avɑ̃ɡaʁd]); from French, "advance guard" or "vanguard"[1]) is a French term used in English as a noun or adjective to refer to people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics.

Avant-garde represents a pushing of the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo, primarily in the cultural realm. The notion of the existence of the avant-garde is considered by some to be a hallmark of modernism, as distinct from postmodernism. Many artists have aligned themselves with the avant-garde movement and still continue to do so, tracing a history from Dada through the Situationists to postmodern artists such as the Language poets around 1981.[2]"




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