Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"A Venetian Night's Entertainment" by Edith Wharton

"A Venetian Night's Entertainment" by Edith Wharton  (1912, 19 pages)

Last year I participated in the Venice in February Event 2012 hosted by  Snow Feathers and Dolce Bellezza through reading Henry James"s great short story set in Venice, "The Pupil".  I was glad to see they are once again hosting Venice in February for  2013.  Other works I have read set in Venice included two classics, Death in Venice by Thomas Mann and The Aspern Papers by Henry James.     These are both wonderful works and neither is  long.   Both are actually good picks for starter works by their authors.  If you need reading ideas you will find them on the blogs of the hosts for Venice in February 2013.

Edith Wharton (New York City, 1862 to 1937-there is background information in my prior posts on her work, I loved The Age of Innocence) is considered one of America's greatest writers.  I knew I wanted to participate again in Venice in February but I was not sure what to read.   I did a Google search on "short stories set in Venice" and was very happy to find a story by Edith Wharton set in Venice.

The plot is set in Venice in 1760.  A young American from Salem, Massachusetts  is getting ready to land there.  Up until WWII the English and Amricans looked upon Italy as an exotic land of strange delights, of course one of these delights was the beautiful women.  One of the reasons for the grand tour was to allow men to do things they might not be able or feel comfortable doing at home.   Our young traveler, Tony, is very excited as the ship pulls into Venice:

  It was a rare February day of the year 1760, and a young Tony, newly of age, and bound on the grand tour aboard the crack merchantman of old Bracknell's fleet, felt his heart leap up as the distant city trembled into shape. Venice! The name, since childhood, had been a magician's wand to him.

To Tony it as almost as if he is on another planet.  He comes from a totally homogenized society and he is amazed by what he finds in Venice.

For here, by their garb, were people of every nation on earth, Chinamen, Turks, Spaniards, and many more, mixed with a parti-coloured throng of gentry, lacqueys, chapmen, hucksters, and tall personages in parsons' gowns who stalked through the crowd with an air of mastery, a string of parasites at their heels. And all these people seemed to be diverting themselves hugely, chaffering with the hucksters, watching the antics of trained dogs and monkeys, distributing doles to maimed beggars or having their pockets picked by slippery-looking fellows in black -- the whole with such an air of ease and good-humour that one felt the cut-purses to be as much a part of the show as the tumbling acrobats and animals. 

Of course no trip to Venice would be complete without an adventure involving a beautiful woman of Nobel blood and Wharton does great job of drawing us into this.   He sees a beautiful young woman out for a stroll on the arm of an older man, one who looks "experienced" in the ways of the world.  There is a lot of interesting plot action and I do not want to spoil it but the woman, who speaks excellent language that she supposedly learned at the royal court in England where she lived for a while gives the man a letter which she says is to help  get out of terrible trouble and asks the man to please give it to the English Ambassador.   Soon he is confronted by the man who he saw with the young woman.  He is, of course, a count or some such, and is her father.   The trap is set:

 The Count met Tony's eye with a smile. "One of our Venetian beauties," said he; "the lovely Polixena Cador. She is thought to have the finest eyes in Venice."
     "She spoke English," stammered Tony.
     "Oh -- ah -- precisely: she learned the language at the Court of Saint James's, where her father, the Senator, was formerly accredited as Ambassador. She played as an infant with the royal princes of England."
     "And that was her father?"
     "Assuredly: young ladies of Donna Polixena's rank do not go abroad save with their parents or a duenna."

  She was betrothed to a very wealthy man so the two family fortunes could be united.   Sadly the man saw the woman give Tony the letter and now he has repudiated his relationship to her. He is one of the most powerful men in Venice.    Then Tony is seized by a gang of toughs and taken to the home of the woman and her guardian.   She tells him his life is now in great danger as he has dishonored two families.  He tells her you know we are innocent please tell them.  She says you do not understand our ways and I fear you may be killed.   When he tries to protest his innocence he is totally rebuffed:

 The Senator, at this, would have burst forth again; but the Count, stepping between, answered quickly: "His grievance against you is that you have been detected in secret correspondence with his daughter, the most noble Polixena Cador, the betrothed bride of this gentleman, the most illustrious Marquess Zanipolo --" and he waved a deferential hand at the frowning hidalgo of the cape and ruff.
     "Sir," said Tony, "if that is the extent of my offence, it lies with the young lady to set me free, since by her own avowal --" but here he stopped short, for, to his surprise, Polixena shot a terrified glance at him.
     "Sir," interposed the Count, "we are not accustomed in Venice to take shelter behind a lady's reputation."

  Then, if you think all is not what it seems, you are onto something.   I do not want to tell more of this plot of this very atmospheric and suspenseful story.

You can read "A Venetian Night's Entertainment" by Edith Wharton here

To me Venice In February is a great event and I think Ally and Dolce for hosting it.

Mel u


Bellezza said...

I just finished my first Wharton novel (The Age of Innocence) and I'm looking forward to reading more of her works. I think a short story is a perfect place to co tinge, especially with Henry James whose novel Wings of a Dove I did not like enough to finish. Brilliant idea, Mel, and thanks for this exciting review which lets me catch a better glimpse of Venice as well as Edith! So glad to have your participation, and yes, I would like to join you in March for some Irish lit.

Ally said...

Lovely review! I will look into the book for next year's challenge. Thank you for joining us, Mel! :)