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the Complete Review
the complete review - literary history

The Real Tadzio

Gilbert Adair

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To purchase The Real Tadzio

Title: The Real Tadzio
Author: Gilbert Adair
Genre: Biographical
Written: 2001
Length: 104 pages
Availability: The Real Tadzio - US
The Real Tadzio - UK
The Real Tadzio - Canada
The Real Tadzio - India
Adzio und Tadzio - Deutschland
La vera storia di Tadzio - Italia
  • Thomas Mann's 'Death in Venice' and the boy who inspired it
  • Includes many photographs

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting account of the story behind the story -- and the enduring qualities of the novella and the film

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 30/9/2002 Hermann Kurzke
The Guardian . 12/1/2002 Steven Poole
The NY Times Book Rev. . 21/9/2003 Roxana Popescu
San Francisco Chronicle . 12/10/2003 Allen Barra
The Spectator . 8/12/2001 Francis King
TLS . 15/3/2002 Gregory Woods
The Village Voice . 9/12/2003 Allen Barra

  Review Consensus:

  Interesting, nicely done

  From the Reviews:
  • "Der Erkenntnisertrag des Buches beschränkt sich auf den Bereich des Anekdotischen. Wenn einmal über Literarisches nachgedacht wird, beispielsweise über die Unterschiede zwischen dem Erlebten und dem Gedichteten, bleibt es bei unstet schweifenden Spekulationen und hilflosen Fragen" - Hermann Kurzke, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Adair being what he is -- a critic whose every thought on matters literary and cinematic is impeccably phrased and always interesting, as well as a deeply entertaining novelist who made his own homage to Mann in Life and Death on Long Island -- this book is charming and fascinating in equal measure. With its tangential disquisitions (...) it has far more substance than many a book three times the length." - Steven Poole, The Guardian

  • "Adair's short book pushes deeply into discussions of the historical relativity of beauty and how various writers sought to render homosexuality acceptable in their work. He also offers new angles on Mann's narrative strategies" - Roxana Popescu, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Adair (who, it must be said, is more enamored with Mann's theme than with the book itself) combines deft detective work with literary scholarship to trace the life of Tadzio's inspiration" - Allen Barra, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "One can imagine the verbosity with which some academic drudge might have doggedly spun out this account. Adair has made of it a perfect miniature." - Francis King, The Spectator

  • "This is, as its publisher's name asserts, a short book, but in its interplay with Death in Venice it constitutes a very long, productive footnote." - Gregory Woods, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Adair has given us something much more complex and intriguing than an account of the life of the boy who inspired one of the 20th century's most famous short novels. Combining deft detective work with literary scholarship, he traces the life of Tadzio's inspiration" - Allen Barra, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Gilbert Adair's small study, The Real Tadzio, looks at and behind Thomas Mann's famous novella, Death in Venice. Mann's acclaimed and popular 1912 novella tells the story of an older artist, Gustav von Aschenbach, who becomes completely besotted by a young Polish lad he spies when vacationing in Venice. The lad is called Tadzio, about fourteen years old in the story.
       The novella is, in fact, based on actual events. Thomas Mann did not re-write himself as Aschenbach -- he made his fictional altered-ego considerably older than he was at the time, for example -- but it was Mann who glimpsed a beautiful young Polish boy while vacationing (with his wife and brother) in Venice and was ... overly taken by him. The boy -- only ten ! -- was Wladyslaw Moes. Mann's fate was obviously not quite the same as Aschenbach's, but there was a lot of autobiography to the little book.
       Gilbert Adair offers a nice behind-the-scenes look at Death in Venice. He details the events that led to the writing of the book, and then follows the trail of the inspirational lad, Wladyslaw (who only died in 1986). Moes wasn't aware at the time what he had set in motion, nor was his family until someone finally read the book a dozen years after it was first published. The family did well enough in their native Poland in Wladyslaw's youth, but events made life far more difficult for them, especially after World War II. Adair offers a good overview of Moes' life -- an obituary, essentially, he himself admits.
       Adair also writes about Moes' friend Jan Fudakowski, the inspiration for Jaschiu, and tells of the after-effects of their odd little fame. In particular, Luchino Visconti's famous film version (starring Dirk Bogarde and Bjorn Andresen) brought at least some recognition for the two. And Adair offers fun sidelights on such things as pretty-boy Bjorn Andresen's own career post-Death.
       Adair looks at the history of Death in Venice: the novella, the film, the inspiration it has been (including to Adair the novelist, who has written several books that borrow from Mann's work), and the place it holds as a "paradigmatic master-text of homosexual eroticism". It is a quick but surprisingly wide-ranging (and entertaining) tour.
       There are many fun points along the way, including questions of the ideals of beauty (as he voices some question about whether Wladyslaw really was such a great beauty -- while maintaining that Bjorn Andresen really was a stunner (to each his own, we can only say)). Some questions would deserve more attention, specifically the point of age: Wladyslaw was a child when Mann encountered him, and Mann chose to age him in his text -- and Visconti adds another couple of years to him in his portrayal (all of which surely makes a difference in the story).
       Adair stumbles around a bit in shifting focus so much, but he presents a great deal of material and he presents most of it well. Moes' Polish woes are served up a bit melodramatically, but other parts -- the discussion of the film, or of the novella as iconic text -- are excellent.
       It has been known for some time that Wladyslaw Moes was the inspiration for Mann's character, but it is still not widely known. Adair's small book should help rectify that situation; it certainly adds welcome background for the appreciation of the novel and the film. And it is an enjoyable read.

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The Real Tadzio: Reviews: Death in Venice - the movie: Gilbert Adair Other books by Gilbert Adair under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Gilbert Adair (1944-2011) wrote several novels, as well as several works of non-fiction. He also translated Georges Perec's A Void, for which he won the Scott Moncrieff Prize.

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