The Shifting Geography of Masculinity in Death and Venice and ‘The Dead’

Michael Kane


This article suggests that both James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’ (1914) and Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (1912) can be read as explorations of ‘geographies of masculinity’ and ‘imaginative geographies’ shaped by imperialist and patriarchal cultures prior to the First World War. These classic modernist literary texts reveal how closely the gender identities / performances of their central male characters are related to their deeply engrained, culturally conditioned imaginative, emotional as well as political geographies. They also trace the developing identity crises of the central characters in terms of gender, geography, politics, and the natural environment. The similarity in the descriptions of landscape and seascape at the conclusions of the two stories point to similar resolutions of the crises of these middle-aged men involving similar shifts in both geographical and political outlook. This may be seen as part of the wider changing landscape of gender in the early twentieth century and of the gradual collapse of a modern, male, bourgeois sense of self, shown in these pieces of fiction to be subtly but intricately related to a sense of human and environmental geography and a Weltanschauung based on mastery and the maintenance of (illusory) boundaries.


Joyce’s ‘The Dead’; Death in Venice; geography of masculinity; cultural imperialism; gender and environment

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