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The Light in the Piazza and Other Italian Tales

The Light in the Piazza and Other Italian Tales

Elizabeth Spencer
with an introduction by Robert Phillips
Copyright Date: 1996
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    The Light in the Piazza and Other Italian Tales
    Book Description:

    Elizabeth Spencer is captivated by Italy. For her it has been a second home. A one-time resident who returns there, this native-born Mississippian has found Italy to be an enchanting land whose culture lends itself powerfully to her artistic vision.

    Some of her most acclaimed work is set there. Her American characters encounter but never quite wholly adjust to the mysteries of the Italian mores. Collected here in one volume are Spencer's six Italian tales. Their plots are so alluring and enigmatic that Boccaccio would have been charmed by their delightful ironies and their sinister contrasts of dark and light.

    Spencer is grounded in two bases-Italy and the American South. Her characters too, mostly Southerners, rove in search of connection and fulfillment.

    InThe Light in the Piazza(a novella which has become both Spencer's signature piece and a Hollywood film) a stranger from North Carolina, traveling with her beautiful daughter, encounters the intoxicating beauty of sunlit Florence and discovers a deep conflict in the moral dilemma it presents. "I think this work has great charm," Spencer has said, "and it probably is the real thing, a work written under great compulsion, while I was under the spell of Italy. But it took me, all told, about a month to write."

    InKnights and Dragons(another novella and a companion piece toThe Light in the Piazza) an American woman in Rome and Venice struggles for release from her husband's sinister control over her. Spencer sets this tale in the cold and wintry dark and here portrays the other face of Italy. In "The Cousins," "The Pincian Gate," "The White Azalea," and "The Visit," Spencer shows the exceptional artistry that has merited acclaim for her as one of America's first-class writers of the short story.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-072-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-2)
    Robert Phillips

    Many of our best writers, capable of writing well about more than one terrain, have set stories both in the land of their upbringing and in places they embraced in later life. Herman Melville was born in New York, but he claimed a whaling ship was his Yale College and his Harvard. His sea voyages enabled him to write about Liverpool, the South Seas, Tahiti and Hawaii. Though he finally returned to dry land, in his imagination he never left the storms and calms of the seas. Henry James too was born in New York, and a considerable amount of...

  4. The Light in the Piazza
    (pp. 3-66)

    On a June afternoon at sunset, an American woman and her daughter fended their way along a crowded street in Florence and entered with relief the spacious Piazza della Signoria. They were tired from a day of tramping about with a guidebook, often in the sun. The café that faced the Palazzo Vecchio was a favorite spot for them; without discussion they sank down at an empty table. The Florentines seemed to favor other gathering places at this hour. No cars were allowed here, though an occasional bicycle skimmed through, and a few people, passing, met in little knots of...

  5. The White Azalea
    (pp. 67-76)

    Two letters had arrived for Miss Theresa Stubblefield: she put them in her bag. She would not stop to read them in American Express, as many were doing, sitting on benches or leaning against the walls, but pushed her way out into the street. This was her first day in Rome and it was June.

    An enormous sky of the most delicate blue arched overhead. In her mind’s eye—her imagination responding fully, almost exhaustingly, to these shores’ peculiar powers of stimulation—she saw the city as from above, telescoped on its great bare plains that the ruins marked, aqueducts...

  6. The Visit
    (pp. 77-90)

    The children were playing through the long empty rooms of the villa, shuttered now against the sunlight during the hottest hour of the day. The great man had gone to take a nap.

    Before she had come to Italy, Judy thought that siesta was the word all Latins used for a rest after lunch, but she had learned that you said this only in Spain. In Italy you went toriposarsi,and this was exactly what the great man had done.

    It was unfortunate because Bill had built up so to this visit. To be invited to see Thompson was,...

  7. The Pincian Gate
    (pp. 91-98)

    It seemed to her impossible that you could, here in mid-twentieth century, enter a medieval wall through a tiny gate, having pulled an iron chain to jangle a bell high above you, be shouted at hoarsely to“Vieni, vieni!”and, having climbed a twisting narrow flight that smelled of Roman masonry—chilly the year round, exactly as it must have been in Byron’s day—confront across the threshold the face of a boy you went to school with back in Arkansas. Only it was a little more complex than that. Sara thought that it was useless coincidence to have remembered...

  8. Wisteria
    (pp. 99-104)

    Charles Webley rather liked his hostess, though he imagined a lot of people didn’t. She talked too much, for one thing, but then you didn’t have to listen. Her voice was pleasing and made a soothing ripple of sound which broke in occasional laughter. At the moment she didn’t mean to be taken seriously. She was hefty, to put it mildly, way too big by English standards. But, he thought, lazily tolerant, she was not overbearing, no Brünnehilde she, and one could always be reminded of the jolly Dutch women, in popular conception at least, with their butter-colored hair cut...

  9. Knights and Dragons
    (pp. 105-198)

    Martha Ingram had come to Rome to escape something: George Hartwell had been certain of it from the first. He was not at all surprised to learn that the something was her divorced husband. Martha seldom spoke of him, or of the ten years she had spent with him. It was as though she feared if she touched any part of it, he would rise up out of the ground and snap at her. As it was he could sometimes be heard clear across the ocean, rumbling and growling, breathing out complaining letters and worried messengers, though what had stirred...

  10. The Cousins
    (pp. 199-239)

    I could say that on the train from Milan to Florence, I recalled the events of thirty summers ago and the curious affair of my cousin Eric. But it wouldn’t be true. I had Eric somewhere in my mind all the time, a constant. But he was never quite definable, and like a puzzle no one could ever solve, he bothered me. More recently, I had felt a restlessness I kept trying without success to lose, and I had begun to see Eric as its source.

    The incident that had triggered my journey to find him had occurred while lunching...