Monday, February 6, 2012

"A Venetian Night's Entertainment" by Edith Wharton


Short Story Monday, meet Venice in February. I'd been searching for stories set in Venice to share this month, when Audrey pointed me toward Edith Wharton. The story was exactly what I'd hoped for and Wharton, as always, was a pleasure to read.

"A Venetian Night's Entertainment" is a story Judge Anthony Bracknell liked to tell his grandsons. Ever since childhood, the mere mention of Venice had been like "a magician's magic wand" to the judge. His fascination stemmed from a print depicting a "busy merry populous scene" in St. Mark's Square.
"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."
As young Tony grew up, that image faded, but Venice still figured prominently in his dreams. All he learned in subsequent years seemed to "confirm its claim to stand midway between reality and illusion" - Venice still meant magic.
"It was the kind of place, Tony felt, in which things elsewhere impossible might naturally happen..."
Tony finally had an opportunity to visit Venice 1760, as part of his grand tour aboard the family's merchant ship. The story perfectly conveys the carnival-like atmosphere as, almost immediately upon arrival, Tony becomes an unwilling participant in a strange series of events involving a chance encounter with a beautiful young woman, an arranged marriage, misdelivered correspondence, and a chase. Tony is never exactly sure what is happening and, as a result, neither is the reader. This story was great fun! You can read "A Venetian Night's Entertainment" here.

Can you suggest other short stories set in Venice?

Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford. Venice in February is hosted by Bellezza and Ally.

19 comments:

  1. I love to read about Venice myself, and didn't realize Wharton had written a short story set there. Will definitely try to read it.

    I really like Daphne duMaurier's Don't Look Now.

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  2. Jane GS - Thank you! I've just requested a copy of Don't Look Now and Other Stories from my Library. Audrey thought Wharton had another story set in Venice, so will try and find that, too.

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  3. I think The wings of the Dove was set largely in Venice.

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  4. I think The wings of the Dove was set largely in Venice.

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  5. I completely swore off challenges this year, but this is the one that seriously tempted me. I'll go back to Venice through your reading :)

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  6. I'm sure I'd enjoy this one. I've always wanted to go to Venice and haven't managed to get there yet.

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  7. Marie - You're right. In fact, I think Bellezza and Frances are reading it together this month.

    Stacybuckeye - I'm looking at this as an event instead of a challenge. I swore off of challenges, too. You've been to Venice? Would love to visit some day...

    Kathleen - Me neither, but I'm sure hoping to visit Italy (and Venice) soon!

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  8. How well I remember feeding the pigeon's in St. Mark's Square when I was a little girl. But, it didn't look anything like Wharton's description then! Such is the power of literature, to show us worlds we might not otherwise have seen. Thanks for your great review, JoAnn.

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  9. p.s. I just read Marie's comment; am working through The Wings of The Dove and it is t.e.d.i.o.us. For me, anyway.

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  10. I can't add to your reading list, but Spirit of the West's "Venice is Sinking" is now stuck in my head.

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  11. Bellezza - Wharton's description is certainly vivid! Sorry to hear The Wing of the Dove is slow going. I downloaded a sample to my Nook, but could quickly tell it's not for me. I have enjoyed a few of James' other novels and hope to read Washington Square sometime this year.

    John - LOL, sorry...

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  12. Why in the world have I not heard of this story? I will definitely be reading this!

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  13. I'm a Edith Wharton fan, so I will be reading this story. Thanks for the review!!

    I read a short from a more current author. She actually live here in Vancouver.

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  14. ... And thank YOU for introducing me to the Library of America short stories! That's a genre I don't read enough in, and I'm looking forward to them now.

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  15. Sorry, me again. Meant to add that I think the 'other short story' I was thinking of was either actually a novel or an essay - or essays - on Venice in her book Italian Backgrounds. I found the information originally here.

    http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/knowledge/culture/americanswritingvenice/

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  16. I should read this one this month. I did just read "Don't Look Now" but haven't put up a post on it yet.

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  17. Terri - I hadn't heard of it either until Audrey mentioned it. Perhaps it's Wharton's best kept secret?

    Teddy Rose - If you're a Wharton fan, then you're sure to enjoy this one!

    Audrey - I'm glad you're receiving the Library of America stories. I don't read then every week, but it's nice to know they're around. Thanks for the link, too. I'll check it out.

    Carol - I'll be looking for your post! I had to order it from another library in our system... hopefully it will arrive next week.

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  18. I still haven't read this short story, but you know how much I love Edith Wharton and I'll read it as soon as possible :) I've been to Venice a few years ago and now I'm planning a trip with my son for fall (though I think Gardaland will be more to his liking).
    I'd recommend Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, it is a bit difficult to read but I'm sure you'll enjoy the marvelous descriptions of dawn breaking over the lagoon. Mann gives it a mythical, magical dimension.

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  19. Ivana - It's hard not to like the combination of Edith Wharton and Venice. I'm sure you're going to enjoy this one! Thanks for the Mann recommendation. He's been on my 'authors to read' list for ages. I have a copy of The Magic Mountain, but Death in Venice may be a better starting point.

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