Sunday, January 10, 2010
The Light in the Piazza
The Light in the Piazza and Other Italian Tales, by Elizabeth Spencer
More years ago than I care to remember, I saw the movie based on Spencer's story, The Light in the Piazza, with Olivia de Havilland, Yvette Mimieux, Rossano Brazzi and George Hamilton. A few years ago, I saw the Craig Lucas/Adam Guettel musical. I have now, finally!, read the book.
In the title story, a well-to-do American woman, Margaret Johnson, is traveling in Italy with her daughter, Clara. They make the acquaintance of a young Italian, Fabrizio Naccarelli, who falls in love with Clara. But Clara, due to an accident, is still mentally a child, and Mrs. Johnson had resigned herself to Clara's never being in a position to marry. Now she sees the possibility. Her struggle between her desire to see Clara settled and happy, and her concerns that her disability will prevent that, form the conflict. In Margaret Johnson, Spencer has created an interesting and strong woman, one who will do what she has to for her child's well-being. She is rational, practical, not seduced by the romanticism of Florence's light.
Spencer's women deal. In one of my favorite stories, The White Azalea, the protagonist is a southern spinster traveling in Italy following the death of her father, whom she had nursed through his final illness, as she had nursed her mother and an aunt. She had spent those years reading the classics, dreaming of Europe, and has followed that dream. But now a letter from her brother George ("the only boy, the family darling") arrives, urging her return home to live with and look after an elderly cousin. She literally buries the letter. Three cheers!