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, October 29, 2015

"At the Chateau of Corrine" A Short Story by Constance Fenimore Woolson, included in Dorothy and other Italian Stories, 1896, first published in Harper's Magazine, October, 1887)

A post by Ambrosia Boussweau, European Correspondent of The Reading Life

Contains a good short bio and a list of her works.

"At the Chateau of Corrine" takes place on the shores of a large lake, called by the Swiss Lake Geneva and Lake Leman by the French.  The action centers on the visitors to a chateau on the lake.  Last November Mel posted on an excellent short story by Stefan Zweig "An Incident on Laks Geneva".  These two,stories, Zweig's was written about 1930, would make an excellent reading pair.  I could not help but wonder what Constance would have thought of the very cultured, worldly and wealthy Zweig.

"At the Chateau of Corrine" displays the extreme versatility and authorial skill possessed by Constance.  It is very different in prose style from stories, set in America, like "St. Claire Flats", "Solomon", "In Cotton Country" or "Felipe".  "At the Chateau of Corrine" contains no strange or marginalized personas, no isolates from crumbling aristocracies, no obvious mythological overlays. The persons are educated, socially adapt, and affluent.   It almost feels like Constance is saying, "let me show these Europeans just how refined an American girl could be when she put her mind to it".  Many famous writers like Byron, Voltaire, Charles Gibbon and, she will play an important part in the story, Madame de Staël. 

I like the opening lines.  Those who have read the American set stories will feel at once a marked difference.

"On the shores of Lake Leman there are many villas. For several centuries the vine-clad banks have been a favorite resting-place for visitors from many nations. English, French, Germans, Austrians, Poles, and Russians are found in the circle of strangers whose gardens fringe the lake northward from Geneva, eastward from Lausanne, and southward from Vevey, Clarens, and Montreux. Not long ago an American joined this circle. The American was a lady named Winthrop. Mrs. Winthrop's villa was not one of the larger residences. It was an old-fashioned square mansion, half Swiss, half French, ending in a high-peaked roof, which came slanting sharply down over several narrowed half-stories..... 
Mrs. Winthrop had taken possession of the villa in May, and it was now late in August; Lake Leman therefore had enjoyed her society for three long months. Through all this time, in the old lake's estimation, and notwithstanding the English, French, Germans,  Austrians, Poles, and Russians, many of them titled, who were also upon its banks, the American lady remained an interesting presence. And not in the opinion of the old lake only, but in that also of other observers, less fluid and impersonal. Mrs. Winthrop was much admired. Miolans had entertained numerous guests during the summer; to-day, however, it held only the bona fide members of the family—namely, Mrs. Winthrop, her cousin Sylvia, and Mr. H. Walpole, Miss Sylvia's cousin. Mr. H. Walpole was always called "Cousin Walpole" by Sylvia, who took comfort in the name, her own (a grief to her) being neither more nor less than Pitcher. "Sylvia Pitcher" was not impressive, but "H. Walpole" could shine for two. If people supposed that H. stood for Horace, why, that was their own affair."

Ok I loved the Horace Walpole reference.  The very real fun of the story is seeing the interaction of Mrs Withrop and her family with the other residents on the lake.  One member of the family is an aspiring author and she is pursued by a wealthy youngish bachelor.  The lake has enjoyed as residents some of the great writers of the European tradition.   Madame de Staël stayed in a chateau on the lake and was visited by many illustrious figures.  Mrs. Withrop and her family are very taken with tne connection to Madame de Staël.  There are lots of interesting conversations.  Byron wrote Childe Harold on the lake and this attracts poets, one of whom plays a big part in the story.

Perhaps tne grand theme of the story concerns whether a woman can be both a committed writer and a wife.

I wish I was able to attend the presentation of Anne Boyd Rioux.  I hope the publication of her two Woolson books in February of next year will introduce Constance to readers all over the world.  

Mel and I have begun her novel Anne.  I will continue on with her European short stories.

Several of Woolson's works, including Dorothy and other Italian Stories can be downloaded for free on Amazon.  There are also two E books for sale that suggest they are the complete works of Woolson.  They are not at all complete and should not be purchased. 

Ambrosia Boussweau 

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