American writers in Italy; 3
How do you mean because you want to resent American writers in Italy a series of programs especially produced in Rio for this radio. Program 3. William Deane Oh. Many things come about by chance. William Dean Howells lead author of The Rise of Silas Lapham and the right of a literary historians have singled out as the founder of what has been called American realism was 24 years old in 1861. He was hesitant to enter upon a literary career. So he applied for a diplomatic post instead. There were foreign posts at that time which because of the cultural
traditions surrounding them the American government frequently gave to painters and sculptors and artists Howells was particularly interested in two streams of foreign literature the German and the Spanish. He asked for Munich. Instead he was offered either Rome Albany's Howells was on happy. Rome was the least interesting town in Italy. Its architecture is hopelessly ugly. Its streets are filthy its ruins are rubbish. How was retain this opinion of Rome throughout his life and included in his Italian journeys the second of his books of Italian sketches trying to make the best of a bad bargain and having to choose between two posts neither of which pleased him. HOWELL selected Venice over Rome because it paid a thousand dollars a year more.
I was remained in Venice for four years living always on the ground going out first and as I thought you know and then in the pilot so it just didn't Jani. Eventually he grew to become a part of the city. Here I feel more intensely at home than in any other city even Boston itself. Venice is revealed for me a peerless strangeness so full of exquisite and glittering surprise compared to other cities. It is like the pleasant improbability of the theatre to everyday commonplace life. Oh it's been a chilly experience brought on a metamorphosis. It changed him from a pallid aspiring poet to a full blooded novelist and acute observer and by so doing revealed his true vocation. The influence of the Venetian writer got a little Goldoni it was particularly deep and fruitful which Howells himself acknowledged. When I arrived in Venice I was an idealist. I had a notion that in
literature persons and things should be nobler and better than they are in this sordid reality. I was held back by my romantic glamour from seeing things as they are. But in the lanes and alleys of Venice I found the realism of Goldoni everywhere. Oh it's Italian sausage and translate his words into more practical but equally significant terms inspired him to write five novels for a travel book a volume of literary criticism. Eighteen sketches six poems two stories and a half dozen articles on various subjects. The first and the most important of Howells Italian
sketches the nation life is given special attention by critics because it is a book of impressions reflecting Italian life itself. Well subject is not monuments or memories or ruins. But the details of the everyday life of Venice and the omnipresent vitality which Howells learned to recognize and love in the plays of gold only. Still the entity which holds maintains to all Italy is always ambiguous and contradictory. On the one hand how shows an admiration for the proliferating Lenten vitality that he looks for and finds in as he calls them the dark and secret little courts the remote annoy some canals that in Venice appear to him as singular marvelous and quaint. Howells also admires as he has written the characters the inexhaustible variety of human types.
Simple abstract humanity wholly unrelated to individuality has its own grandeur and Italy so that it is not hard here for the artist to find the primitive types with which the genius loves best to deal. The Italians have so transparent a civilization. So thin a conventional coating However showing that all the impulses of human nature in action are constantly visible. The citizen of every free country loves Italy next to his own land and feels her prosperous fortune to be the advantage of civilization. On the other hand ours feels a profound suspicion for the exhibitionist and histrionic qualities of Italian character the Italian his leftist passions undersupplied when he has carefully polished his matters. He uses likely to temptation. He loses his self-control. He blasphemes a bitterly gentle This is conventional
civilization is not individual. It really is above all lands the home of human nature. The will must be strong and the faith indomitable in him who can long retain amid the influences of her stagnant choir had a practical belief in God purposes of a moving anxious toiling aspiring world outside the charm of the place weakens your temper. But corruption. In a more profound and intra good sense therefore ours was suspicious of Italy itself and those very things which he loved and admired most. That sweet facility for living at one so strong and so insidious.
It was for this reason that in the spring of 1864 Howells refused to ask that he be renewed in his post at Venice but he wrote to James Russell Lowell that he had made the move with unspeakable regret. I am too fond of Italy already and in a year or two more of lotus eating I shouldn't want to go home at all. Eight years after he left Italy Howells wrote to Henry James was then in Europe and revealed the inevitable nostalgia with which he was afflicted. Oh my love blooms of Venice and the sea Moody from out of the shower. Mind there in your boat and at least say poor How is he like this. Well perhaps he didn't understand her.
It wasn't only Venice and Italy that Howells tried to understand. It was America as well. And he tried to understand America through his own Italian and European experiences something which was of interest to all Americans. In this sense in the sense of an adventurous search within himself the so called international theme which is typical of this sort of writing and which Henry James would refine and develop is simply a variation on the principal theme of American literature of the 19th century.
This international theme is delineated in William Dean Howells novel Indian summer. This is the last of Howel's book set in Italy and it is also the most significant. It was published in 1886 having been preceded by a foregone conclusion which appeared in 1875 the lady of a rue STOKE In 1879. And a fearful responsibility. In 1881 Indian Summer is set in the twilight of the 19th century in the city of flowers. But agonist is Theodore Colleville American architect and journalist who has recently undergone an unpleasant experience in his native city of this virtuous India. He was the editor and publisher of an independent newspaper which stepped a bit too hard on the toes of powerful interests in the community and these interests have in turn destroyed called Will's work. Plus we
are dealing with an idealist a more high minded but less practical man than others who are destined for success. Colleville is disillusioned. His expectations are frustrated and he brings with him to Italy a moral dilemma which is directly related to the existential position of the American abroad. The problem which the novel presents is what the European experience will represent for this sort of person and more specifically what Italy will do to him. The resolution depends on what Italy itself is and as we have already determined previously. Italy is not a highly colored legendary and exotic locale still it presents what Howell's calls an operatic spectacle. Theodore Colleville has already been to Florence once before 20 years earlier. There he fell in love with a woman of his own age who later left him possibly because he
was too cerebral too priggish and too bookish. Therefore just as Colleville has been checked in his public and social life so he has been checked in his private sentimental one as well. The visit to Italy under these conditions serves as a medicine for the one and for the other but it is an illusory medicine or at least a precarious one as it is administered by howls. If we are to understand what happened to Howell's in Italy we must place ourselves behind the protagonist of Indian Soma and follow the events of the book. Midway of the punter Vecchio at Florence with three arches break the minds of the little jeweler's balloons glittering on either hand and open approach to the parapet
moused against the corner of a shop and stared out upon the river. It was the late afternoon of a day in January which had begun bright and warm but it suffered a change of mood as it always packs. And now from the sky dimmed with flying gray clouds was threatening right. Mr. Cole he heard someone call and two women one very mature and the other very young and caught up to him. This is the incident which sets the story in motion. Howells himself had often met persons of this sort. At that time it is possible that the principal occupation of a young American Consul in Venice was to greet rich American mothers who brought their young daughters to Italy to complete their education and perhaps to marry them off as well. But in this case the women are not exactly at this time. Mrs. Evelina or Lena BOWEN The mother is a young widow still too young to be completely absorbed by her daughter Effie when any case is little more than a
child. Therefore the risks Theodore Colleville now encounters are not the usual one mystic in the gentle surprise conveyed in the exclamation without time for recognition convinced coffee upon cold review with the facts that the lady had known him before their eyes met. Mrs. Boyd twenty years before when Coalville had his first disillusioning sentimental experience. Mrs. Bowen then called Lina Ridgely was his fiance's best friend. The terms of their friendship which they reconstruct now I'm naturally quite different given the web of conventions and egregiously good manners which are observed in the sort of society of which Mrs. Bowen has become a part. A certain tension is created between them supported by this secret complicity in the affair. Now long passed but which is still painful especially in view of the fact that Colleville has now reached the age of 41 without marrying
cleanable and has a delightful American guest in the person of a certain Imogene Graham was come to Florence to spend the winter. With considerable embarrassment for us and then with growing ease. The 41 year old bachelor and the 19 year old debutant meet and begin to be attracted to each other. A situation of such delicate emotional equilibrium in which everything is as yet unexpressed and possibly even unconscious is brought to a head when the entire city is in turmoil because of Carnival Howells describes the scene. The poor are some of the cause of our masks and dominoes filling the shop windows and dangling from the door. The devil in red clown in white cross the way in front of him from an intersecting
street. Several children in pretty masquerading dresses flashed in and out among the crowd. He hurried to the garden. And reached the palace where Mrs. Bowen lived with these holidays I had fresh in his mind. Imogene turned to meet him at the door of the apartment running from the window where she had left. Every boy in the still gave. We saw you coming. We didn't know at first but it might be somebody else disguised as you. We've been watching the mask is go by Isn't it exciting. Awfully well you see I have only two Spanish students with mantling but you can see I'm beginning to count. They will stop now. It's commencing to rain. Too bad. Just then two medieval minute arms came in sight carrying umbrellas. Isn't that do delicious. Oh really. And saying armed you can expect them to let their chain I get rusty do everything with me. These drills in scale and Florentines of $70 time.
None clown demon is very is not one of them. Kind of oh and the masquerade represent as we have already noted in the Brabo James Fenimore Cooper a moment in which the characters of the book enter into a zone of liberty and carelessness. When normal restrictions are lost. In this atmosphere Colleville and Imogene removed their masks and reveal themselves to each other. I ask you not to go. Do you know what you're saying Imogene. Yes it's a mistake. You mustn't I'm too old for you. It would be wrong of cruelty if you must let me go and forget all that I ask is to be with you. And try to make you forget what's been sad in your life. And try to be of use to you in whatever you're doing. And I should be proud. I'm glad of that than anything that people call happiness.
The terms of their relationship are implicit in this dialogue. Colleville ones assurance from Imogene that he is still young enough to be capable of such an unconventional step and in so doing being able to Pams all his defeat of 20 years ago. Imogene wishes to prove yourself worthy as a woman in this adventurous encounter. Liz in essence reveals the true theme of the story which is whether Florence and Italy will succeed in bringing them together. Initially it seems that success will actually come but gradually even fatally. The atmosphere changes.
One day while on a tour Coville tries to stop a runaway crazed horse and is thrown into a ravine. Imogene is not hurt. Colleville regains consciousness several days later and in Lina Bowen's house when Jean is not at his bedside when he wakes he is told that Imogene has gone off to live in a hotel with her mother who has a right from America. The moment of resolution is at hand. The confrontation of the sensitive artistic American and a hard and practical American lady. It is more than a confrontation between two people. It is rather one of two alternatives within America itself. All will waits for him finally receives a visit from his mother. Immediately they get down to cases. It's simply this. I'm going to take Imogene home. I came out prepared to consent to what she wished. After I had seen you and satisfied myself that she was
not mistaken. Yes we were afraid you didn't like her temperament and the youth of the workout and that she disappointed you. No I can't say that she did. It isn't that at all. When I came here it was with the full intention of approving and confirming Imogene's decision. But I was met at once by a painful and surprising state of things. You are aware that you have been very sick. I found you very sick and I found my daughter's friend to get the error which she had discovered in herself. I discovered too late as she felt. She had found out she did not love you.
How is a conclusion to an Indian summer demonstrates that Colleville and Imogene felt not so much love for each other as a kind of sentimental intoxication in which they Italian background had been an accomplice. Everything in Florence was too easy too beautiful. Too encouraging. It was simply not true enough. Life is governed by rules which have nothing to do with a carnival masquerade. Carville instead finds that he is in love with Eveleen a bone his old and wise friend and he marries her. The conclusion is certainly prosaic but it is triumphantly prosaic good sense has faced and beaten easy romanticism which had filled the heads of these American tourists who had ventured to the Italian setting then how as councils they stoic imposition of discipline on their passions in exchange he implies that only on these conditions is it possible to resolve the
initial dilemma in America's favor. America is stern more bitter more difficult. It is sweetened neither by nature nor by history. But it is much more true. All through the novel Howells has spoken through the mouth of Theodore Colleville but through the mouth of Howells himself speaks that fairly typical American who brings to
Italy his empty if you would for candor for generous impulses and for magnanimous illusions in metaphorical terms. Power of the author as described through the experience of Theodore Colleville. What happened to William Deane House himself as a writer and as a man in Italy. This is going to clue to the third in our series of programs on American authors and their relationship to athlete programs especially produced in Rome for this radio station. This Third Programme was titled William Dean how it works. The music in this program included excerpts from the works of cut the Limey and one that I
- American writers in Italy
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Identifier: 69-34-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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