Friday, 22 May 2015

Rentafoil by Émile Zola.

Portrait of Émile Zola by Edouard Manet (1868)
Rentafoil (Les Repoussoirs, known also as The Contrasts) is a short story by Émile Zola published within Sketches of Paris (Esquisses Parisiennes) in 1866, which also contains The Boot-Polishing Virgin (La Vierge au cirage), The Old Woman with the Blue Eyes (Les vieilles aux yeux bleus), and Love Under the Roof (L’Amour sous les toits).

The story opens,
In Paris, everything's for sale: wise virgins, foolish virgins, truth and lies, tears and smiles. 
You must certainly be aware that in such a commercially-minded place, beauty is a commodity and the object of an obnoxious trade. People buy and sell big bright eyes and charming little mouths; noses and chins are all quoted at the exact valuation. A particular dimple or beauty spot can command a steady income. And since there's always fraud somewhere or other, at times you have to copy nature's handiwork, so that eyebrows drawn with burnt match ends, and false hairpieces fetch better prices than the real article.
It is, as with the bulk of Zola's work, a satire and critique of the Second Empire (1852 - 1870) under the rule of Napoleon III. Though there are fictional characters, Rentafoil is not so much a story as a sketch, perhaps like those in Sketches by Boz by Charles Dickens (1836) - an exaggerated description of an aspect of Parisian life (as the title Esquisses Parisiennes suggests) towards the very end of the Second Empire. Beauty, as Zola writes in the introduction, may be bought and sold. Sex, as we know from Nana (1880) may likewise be bought and sold. Such is the ethos of the Second Empire, everything has a price - the city, Paris, the whole of France even, is ruled by capitalists. If that is the case, why not sell ugliness?

This is the business of old Durandeau, "a multi-millionaire who has succeeded in turning business into an art". He first writes an advert - "Ugly girls required. Undemanding work" but gets no where with it, so he employs agents "to scour the city in search of female monstrosities". Once he has his collection of the ugly women of Paris he opens an agency, and here begins the business; the rent-a-foil. Writing in the prospectus:
Madam, I have the pleasure and privilege of providing your lovely countenance with the richest collection of ugly faces to be found anywhere. Tattered rags emphasise the chic of new clothes: my ugly faces bring out the full charm of pretty ones.
His business is an immediate success. "You can't imagine the pleasure of a pretty woman leaning on the arm of an ugly one. Not only was she enhancing her own beauty, she was enjoying someone else's ugliness. Durandeau is a great philosopher."

Of course this does nothing for the self-esteem of the foil, and there are many a heart-rendering tales. But no matter, money, beauty, and the perception of beauty are what is truly important in the Second Empire.

It is not the most pleasant of tales (which, to be fair, is the norm with Zola), and I spent most of this 8 page story feeling somewhat uncomfortable. Nevertheless it is very good as a satire; perceptive, cutting, and getting right on point. Zola's short stories are an amplified version of his novels, I've found. Over the top, but still keenly observed. I do like them!

****
Further reading

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Amateur Cracksman by E.W. Hornung.

Here's a fun book - The Amateur Cracksman, or as it is also known, Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman. It's the first of the 'Raffles' series by Ernest William Horung (published in 1899) - others include The Black Mask (1901), A Thief in the Night (1905), and Mr. Justice Raffles (1909). With the exception of Mr. Justice Raffles, they are a collection of short stories, about twenty-one I believe. The first one has this dedication:
To 
A.C.D.
THIS FORM OF FLATTERY
A.C.D. - his brother-in-law Mr. Arthur Conan Doyle, who is, of course, the author of the Sherlock Holmes books. In those, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson solve crimes. In The Amateur Cracksman and subsequent books, Arthur J, Raffles and Harry "Bunny" Manders cause them; that is to say, they are the criminals who, no doubt, Holmes and Watson would be tracking.

There are nine stories in this first volume: 
  • The Ides of March
  • A Costume Piece
  • Gentlemen and Players
  • Le Premier Pas
  • Wilful Murder
  • Nine Points of the Law
  • The Return Match
  • The Gift of the Emperor
The premise, characters, setting and whatnot are laid out in the first story, 'The Ides of March'. Bunny arrives in Raffles' London apartment in a state of panic and desperation:
It was half-past twelve when I returned to the Albany as a last desperate resort. The scene of my disaster was much as I had left it. The baccarat-counters still strewed the table, with the empty glasses and the loaded ash-trays. A window had been opened to let the smoke out, and was letting in the fog instead. Raffles himself had merely discarded his dining jacket for one of his innumerable blazers. Yet he arched his eyebrows as though I had dragged him from his bed.

"Forgotten something?" said he, when he saw me on his mat. 
"No," said I, pushing past him without ceremony. And I led the way into his room with an impudence amazing to myself. 
"Not come back for your revenge, have you? Because I'm afraid I can't give it to you single-handed. I was sorry myself that the others—" 
We were face to face by his fireside, and I cut him short. 
"Raffles," said I, "you may well be surprised at my coming back in this way and at this hour. I hardly know you. I was never in your rooms before to-night. But I fagged for you at school, and you said you remembered me. Of course that's no excuse; but will you listen to me—for two minutes?" 
In my emotion I had at first to struggle for every word; but his face reassured me as I went on, and I was not mistaken in its expression. 
"Certainly, my dear man," said he; "as many minutes as you like. Have a Sullivan and sit down." And he handed me his silver cigarette-case. 
"No," said I, finding a full voice as I shook my head; "no, I won't smoke, and I won't sit down, thank you. Nor will you ask me to do either when you've heard what I have to say." 
"Really?" said he, lighting his own cigarette with one clear blue eye upon me. "How do you know?" 
"Because you'll probably show me the door," I cried bitterly; "and you will be justified in doing it! But it's no use beating about the bush. You know I dropped over two hundred just now?" 
He nodded. 
"I hadn't the money in my pocket." 
"I remember." 
"But I had my cheque book, and I wrote each of you a cheque at that desk." 
"Well?" 
"Not one of them was worth the paper it was written on, Raffles. I am overdrawn already at my bank!" 
"Surely only for the moment?" 
"No. I have spent everything."
In this it is all revealed - A. J. Raffles (likely to be modelled on George Cecil Ives, a cricketer and criminologist, also an early gay rights campaigner) is not quite the chap Bunny thought. This master cricketer, who plays for the Gentlemen of England, is also an expert burglar. Poor Bunny finds out, as his bad luck would have it, in the middle of a heist:
"A burglar!" I gasped. "You—you!"  
 "I told you I lived by my wits." 
But they stick together, and on that day, the 15th March, they "joined felonious forces". In this volume we see them rob a jewellery shop, another attempt to steal diamonds, and their first encounter with Inspector MacKenzie of Scotland Yard, as well as a retrospective chapter on Raffles' first crime (among other stories). It is fantastically gripping and great fun, and somehow the two are, perhaps not sympathetic characters, but they're certainly not hateful. On one crime Hornung writes,
"It seems rather a vulgar sort of theft," I could not help saying; and to this, my single protest, Raffles instantly assented.  
"It is a vulgar sort," said he; "but I can't help that. We're getting vulgarly hard up again, and there's an end on 't. Besides, these people deserve it, and can afford it..."
Does anyone deserve to have their diamonds robbed? I wouldn't like to say, but I did very much enjoy The Amateur Cracksman. As for Arthur Conan Doyle, I think he did too, praising Hornung's "fine artistic sense, and a remarkable power of vivid narrative... one could not find any better example of clever plot and terse admirable narrative". But, he did add the stories were "rather dangerous in their suggestion. I told him so before he put pen to paper, and the result has, I fear, borne me out. You must not make the criminal a hero".

Yet that is exactly what Raffles is - a criminal hero. I think arguing over the morality of it isn't really necessary. They're simply fun yarns that pass the time most happily. I'm looking forward to reading more of Raffles and his sidekick Bunny. And, on a side note, Raffles also inspired Viz magazine's Raffles the Gentleman Thug. I do like Viz, so here's a link to the comic strips. If you're not terribly keen on strong language do not click :)

From Viz.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Pictures from Italy by Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens by Stephen Humble (1844).
1883 edition of Pictures from Italy.
In 1844, having already published some of his major works - The Pickwick Papers (1837), Oliver Twist (1839), Nicholas Nickleby (1839), The Old Curiosity Shop (1841), Barnaby Rudge (1841), A Christmas Carol (1843), and Martin Chuzzlewit (1844), Charles Dickens took a break from novel writing and began a tour of France and Italy, which is chronicled in his 1846 travelogue Pictures from Italy.

He begins by writing that this work is not intended to be a serious work on the history, religion, or government of Italy, rather, as he writes,
This Book is a series of faint reflections - mere shadows in the water - of places to which the imaginations of most people are attracted in a greater or less degree, on which mine had dwelt for years, and which have some interest for all. The greater part of the descriptions were written on the spot, and sent home, from time to time, in private letters. I do not mention the circumstance as an excuse for any defects they may present, for it would be none; but as a guarantee to the Reader that they were at least penned in the fulness of the subject, and with the liveliest impressions of novelty and freshness.  
If they have ever a fanciful and idle air, perhaps the reader will suppose them written in the shade of a Sunny Day, in the midst of the objects of which they treat, and will like them none the worse for having such influences of the country upon them.
1846 edition illustrated by Samuel Palmer.
What follows are a series of these reflections or sketches through France (Lyons, the Rhone, and Avignon) to Italy, visiting, among many other plaves, Geona, Parma, Bologna, Milan, Pisa, Rome, Naples, Pompeii, Pæstum, Vesuvius, and Florence. As promised, he writes of his own personal reflections - things he saw and experienced; places of literary interest - Boccaccio's house, Verona - the setting of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (he observed, "I read Romeo and Juliet in my own room at the inn that night - of course, no Englishman had ever read it there, before"), as well as visiting cathedrals, cafés, going on various walks in the cities and countryside and the like. He also writes of attending a beheading; one very gruesome part of Pictures from Italy. All in all, this personal account was insightful, but not greatly so. That said, it wasn't especially meant to be. I got the sense that it was more a collection of notes written up and published in book form; very exciting for the Dickens fan, less so for a lover of Italy, or, indeed, one seeking an introduction to Italy. This doesn't mean it's a lesser work, far from it, it's simply done from a different angle.

All in all, an interesting work, but not wholly enjoyable. I think some may disagree with me, but it didn't quite read like Dickens. The wit wasn't as strong, and those long, meandering sentences weren't there as much (mercifully, for some readers!). Because I'm so used to those endless sentences, it seemed a little abrupt, and the whole work had an air of disappointment, sometimes vague, sometimes more explicit. On Rome, for example, he wrote,
It was no more my Rome: the Rome of anybody’s fancy, man or boy; degraded and fallen and lying asleep in the sun among a heap of ruins: than the Place de la Concorde in Paris is. A cloudy sky, a dull cold rain, and muddy streets, I was prepared for, but not for this: and I confess to having gone to bed, that night, in a very indifferent humour, and with a very considerably quenched enthusiasm.
A paragraph later, writing on St. Peter's, Dickens observed,
It looked immense in the distance, but distinctly and decidedly small, by comparison, on a near approach. The beauty of the Piazza, on which it stands, with its clusters of exquisite columns, and its gushing fountains - so fresh, so broad, and free, and beautiful - nothing can exaggerate. The first burst of the interior, in all its expansive majesty and glory: and, most of all, the looking up into the Dome: is a sensation never to be forgotten. But, there were preparations for a Festa; the pillars of stately marble were swathed in some impertinent frippery of red and yellow; the altar, and entrance to the subterranean chapel: which is before it: in the centre of the church: were like a goldsmith’s shop, or one of the opening scenes in a very lavish pantomime. And though I had as high a sense of the beauty of the building (I hope) as it is possible to entertain, I felt no very strong emotion. I have been infinitely more affected in many English cathedrals when the organ has been playing, and in many English country churches when the congregation have been singing.
I believe Pictures from Italy was written at a rather difficult time in Dickens' marriage, and I think that comes through. Some kind of unhappiness, at least, or discontentment is evident, which, on the whole, left me feeling a little flat when I finished it. Nevertheless, there's some very vivid descriptions and most certainly worth looking at. This short work (my Penguin edition was 187 pages) is not the only travel book by Charles Dickens. There's also American Notes (1842) and The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices (with Wilkie Collins, 1857), if not some others I've missed, and I'm most interested to read those, and not just to see how the tone compares.

To finish with - first an apology - I do hate writing of disappointment in books, especially on favourite authors! But I was curious about the book and did want to report back on it. Anyway, on a high note: I found some lovely engravings by Samuel Palmer to end with (taken from the 1846 edition published by Bradbury & Evans):



Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Top Ten Pre-Raphaelite Paintings Inspired by Literature (with a John William Waterhouse bonus!).

This week's Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish is a freebie, so, as I do love all things Pre-Raphaelite I've chosen my Top Ten Pre-Raphaelite Paintings Inspired by Literature. But, as I love John William Waterhouse so much, yet still wanted to include the other paintings below, I've made a John William Waterhouse bonus list at the end!


1. The Lady of Shalott by William Maw Egley (1858).

And moving thro' a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.

2. Isabella and the Pot of Basil by William Holman Hunt (1868).

Taking the head to her room, she locked herself in and cried bitterly, weeping so profusely that she saturated it with her tears, at the same time implanting a thousand kisses upon it. Then she wrapped the head in a piece of rich cloth, and laid it in a large and elegant pot, of the sort in which basil or marjoram is grown. She covered it in soil, in which she planted several sprigs of the finest Salernitan basil, and never watered them except with essence of roses or orange-blossom, or with her own teardrops. She took to sitting permanently beside this pot and gazing lovingly at it, concentrating the whole of her desire upon it because it was where her beloved Lorenzo lay concealed. And after gazing raptly for a long while upon it, she would bend over it and begin to cry, and her weeping never ceased until the whole of the basil was wet with her tears.

3. Ophelia by John Everett Millais (1852).

There is a Willow growes aslant a Brooke,
That shewes his hore leaues in the glassie streame:
There with fantasticke Garlands did she come,
Of Crow-flowers, Nettles, Daysies, and long Purples,
That liberall Shepheards giue a grosser name;
But our cold Maids doe Dead Mens Fingers call them:
There on the pendant boughes, her Coronet weeds
Clambring to hang; an enuious sliuer broke,
When downe the weedy Trophies, and her selfe,
Fell in the weeping Brooke, her cloathes spred wide,
And Mermaid-like, a while they bore her vp,
Which time she chaunted snatches of old tunes,
As one incapable of her owne distresse,
Or like a creature Natiue, and indued
Vnto that Element: but long it could not be,
Till that her garments, heauy with her drinke,
Pul'd the poore wretch from her melodious buy,
To muddy death.

4. La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Frank Cowper (1926).

From La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John Keats (1819).

IX.
And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dream’d—Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream’d
On the cold hill’s side.

5.  Mariana by John Everett Millais (1851).

From Mariana by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1830)
She only said, 'My life is dreary,
He cometh not,' she said;
She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,'
I would that I were dead!'

6. The Blessed Damozel by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1875-78).

From The Blessed Damozel by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1850).
The blessed damozel leaned out
From the gold bar of Heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
Of waters stilled at even;
She had three lilies in her hand,
And the stars in her hair were seven.

7. Laus Veneris by Edward Burne Jones (1873-75).

From Laus Veneris by Algernon Charles Swinburne (1866).

Her little chambers drip with flower-like red,
Her girdles, and the chaplets of her head,
Her armlets and her anklets; with her feet
She tramples all that winepress of the dead. 
Her gateways smoke with fume of flowers and fires,
With loves burnt out and unassuaged desires;
Between her lips the steam of them is sweet,
The languor in her ears of many lyres.

8. Madeline After Prayer by Daniel Maclise (1868).

From The Eve of St. Agnes by John Keats (1819).
A casement high and triple-arch'd there was,
All garlanded with carven imag'ries
Of fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass,
And diamonded with panes of quaint device,
Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,
As are the tiger-moth's deep-damask'd wings;
And in the midst, 'mong thousand heraldries,
And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings,
A shielded scutcheon blush'd with blood of queens and kings.

9. Medea by Frederick Sandys

From Medea by Euripides (431 B.C.)
Shall I burn
Their house with fire? Or stealing past unseen
To Jason's bed—I have a blade made keen
For that—stab, breast to breast, that wedded pair?
Good, but for one thing. When I am taken there,
And killed, they will laugh loud who hate me. . . .
Nay, I love the old way best, the simple way
Of poison, where we too are strong as men.

10. 'Swallow, Swallow' by John Everett Millais (1864).

From The Princess by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1847).
O Swallow, Swallow, flying, flying South,
Fly to her, and fall upon her gilded eaves,
And tell her, tell her, what I tell to thee.

John William Waterhouse Bonus:

1. Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse (1903).

From Metamorphoses (Book III) by Ovid (8 A.D.)
Blindly rapt with desire for himself, he was votary and idol,
suitor and sweetheart, taper and fire - and one and the same time.
Those beautiful lips would implore a miss, but as he bent forward
the pool would always betray him.

2.  Miranda, The Tempest by John William Waterhouse (1916).

O, I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer! A brave vessel,
Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her
Dashed all to pieces. O, the cry did knock
Against my very heart! Poor souls, they perished.
Had I had been any god of power, I would
Have sunk the sea within the earth, or ere
It should the good ship so have swallowed and
The fraughting souls within her.

3. Apollo and Daphne by John William Waterhouse (1908).

Apollo wanted to say much more, but the terrified Daphne
ran all the faster; she left him behind with his speech unfinished.
Her beauty was visible still, as her limbs were exposed by the wind;
the breezes which blew in her face managed to also flutter her dress;
and the currents of air succeeded in blowing her tresses behind her.
Flight made her all the more lovely; but now the god in his youthful
ardour was ready no longer to squander his breath on wheedling
pleas. Spurred on by desire he followed the trail with new vigour.

4. Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May by John William Waterhouse (1909)

From To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time by Robert Herrick (1648).
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.

5. The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse (1888).

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance—
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Monday, 18 May 2015

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio: Day Ten, Conclusion, and Epilogue.

The Enchanted Garden by John William Waterhouse (1916-17).
Day V | Day VI | Day VII | Day VIII | Day IX | Day X


This is it - this is the final of my Decameron posts. It's taken me ten weeks to read, and about nine weeks to blog about. I finished it yesterday evening and I thought I would be rather jubilant when I finished, but, despite struggling to enjoy the final parts, I did feel sad. I do believe I'll miss The Decameron.

The Decameron is a collection of 100 tales told over a period of ten days by seven women and three men who have left their town to stay in the countryside in an attempt to escape The Black Death - the plague that ravaged Europe between 1346-53, and Italy between 1347 - 1348. It was during these times Boccaccio conceived the idea for The Decameron. The title 'Decameron' comes from the Greek: δέκα meaning ten and ἡμέρα meaning day, so δέκα-ἡμέρα would mean a 'ten day event'. The characters telling the stories are:
  • Dioneo (1.4, 2.10, 3.10, 4.10, 5.10, 6.10, 7.10, 8.10, 9.10, and 10.10).
  • Elissa (1.9, 2.8, 3.5, 4.4, 5.3, 6.9, 7.3, 8.3, 9.2, and 10.2)
  • Emilia (1.6, 2.6, 3.7, 4.7, 5.2, 6.3, 7.1, 8.4, 9.9, and 10.5)
  • Fiammetta (1.5, 2.5, 3.6, 4.1, 5.9, 6.6, 7.5, 8.8, 9.5, and 10.6)
  • Filomena (1.3, 2.9, 3.3, 4.5, 5.8, 6.1, 7.7, 8.6, 9.1, and 10.8
  • Filostrato (1.7, 2.2, 3.1, 4.9, 5.4, 6.7, 7.2, 8.5, 9.3, and 10.3)
  • Lauretta (1.8, 2.4, 3.8, 4.3, 5.7, 6.3, 7.4, 8.9, 9.8, and 10.4)
  • Neifile (1.2, 2.1, 3.9, 4.8, 5.5, 6.4, 7.8, 8.1, 9.4, and 10.1)
  • Pampinea (1.10, 2.3, 3.2, 4.2, 5.6, 6.2, 7.6, 8.7, 9.7, and 10.7)
  • Panfilo (1.1, 2.7, 3.4, 4.6, 5.1, 6.5, 7.9, 8.2, 9.6, and 10.9)
Day X is, then, the last day before the company depart and return to their lives in Florence. Here's a summary of the last ten tales: Panfilo is king and the subject is
those who have performed liberal or munificent deeds, whether in the cause of love or otherwise.
First Story: Told by Neifile. She tells the story of a knight, Ruggieri, and King Alphonso of Spain. Ruggieri, from Tuscany, travels to Spain to the court of King Alphonso who is in the process of giving out his land, riches, and favours to people Ruggieri believes are unworthy. King Alphonso gives Ruggieri a mule, and as he travels back the mule misbehaves. King Alphonso has sent a spy to see what Ruggieri says about him, and when he curses the mule and says, "you're just like the gentleman who presented you to me" the spy informs King Alphonso. The next day, instructed by Alphonso, the spy returns to Ruggieri and tells him the King wishes to see him. He returns and the King asks him what he meant by his comment. The knight explains that he feels the King is bestowing gifts on unworthy subjects, so the King presents him with two chests - one is filled with riches, one with dirt. Ruggieri must pick one, and he picks the wrong one - the one with the dirt. The King says this is because of his bad luck and nothing more, but then tells Ruggieri he may take the chest filled with the jewels.

Second Story: Narrated by Elissa. It's about Ghino di Tacco (a real person: a kind of Robin Hood of the late 14th Century) who has decided to rob anyone on the road between Rome and Siena. The Abbot of Cluny, unwell, is travelling on this road and so is captured by Ghino. He takes care of the Abbot during his illness and, when he is better, Ghino reveals his true identity and asks the Abbot if he would give him a portion of his wealth for his services. The grateful Abbot gives Ghino almost everything he has, save for the bare minimum he needs to return to Rome. When he arrives in Rome he tells the Pope, Boniface VIII, who rewards Ghino further and appoints him a Knight of the Order of Hospitallers.

Third Story: Narrated by Filostrato. He tells the story of a noble man, Nathan, who built a palace simply to provide hospitality to travellers. Mithridanes, a younger man, tries to copy Nathan's example however instead of being motivated by generosity he tries to compete with Nathan. Realising he can never outdo Nathan he plots to murder him. Unwittingly, he tells Nathan of his plans (believing him to be someone else). Good soul that he is, Nathan actually helps him, believing that all Mithridanes truly wants is a good name for himself. Fortunately, when it comes to killing Nathan he realises his mistake, that the man he confided in was actually Nathan, and he is ashamed of himself.

Fourth Story: Told by Lauretta. It's about Messer Carisendi who is in love with a magistrate's wife, Catalina, however she does not reciprocate his love. One day when her husband, Niccoluccio, is away she takes ill (she is pregnant at the time). She gets worse and appears dead, and so is buried in a tomb. When Carisendi hears, he goes to the tomb. When he touches her he feels a faint heartbeat, so removes her and he and his mother take care of her until she makes a recovery. He tells Niccoluccio that he has found a servant cast out of home, and Niccoluccio tells him he has legal rights to keep her. But, when it is revealed that this servant is Niccoluccio's wife, in what is interpreted as a fit of generosity, Carisendi allows her and her child to return to Niccoluccio.

Messer Ansaldo showing Madonna Dionara his Enchanted Garden by
Marie Spartali Stillman (1889).
Fifth Story: This story is the subject of the above painting by John William Waterhouse, and also Marie Spartali Stillman's painting to the left. It's narrated by Emilia; she tells the story of Messer Ansaldo who is in love with Madonna Dianora who, as with the best of Boccaccio's heroines, is already married. She does not return Messer Ansaldo's affections, however in order to put him off, she consents to be with him but only if he gives her a blooming garden (an impossible task as it is January). With magic however, he does so. Madonna Dianora then tells her husband what has happened, and he says she must fulfil her part of the bargain. She goes to do so, but Messer Ansaldo, overcome with Dianora's husband's generosity, releases her from the deal. This story went on to inspire Chaucer's 'The Franklin's Tale' from The Canterbury Tales.

Sixth Story: Narrated by Fiammetta. She tells the story of Charles I of Naples, or 'King Charles the Old' who falls in love (or lust, rather) with the two daughters of his enemy, Messer Neri. He plans to kidnap them, but it persuaded not to, and realises he must control his passions to be a good king. So he arranges good marriages for both of the girls.

Seventh Story: Told by Pampinea. She tells the tale of Bernardo Puccini's daughter Lisa falls in love with King Peter of Sicily. She knows she can never be with him, but, utterly lovesick, she pines and starts fading away. She believes she would feel better if he at least knew of her plight so she sends him a message. He goes to see her, tells her he will be her knight, kisses her, and arranges for her a good marriage.

Eighth Story: Narrated by Filomena. It's about a young man, Titus Quintus Fulvius, who goes to Athens to be schooled by Chremes. Chremes' own son Gisippus is sent to Aristippus for his education. The two are friends, and when Gisippus' marriage is arranged, to a young woman called Sophronia, Titus falls in love with her. He eventually confesses to Gisippus, but, as the two are such close friends, Gisippus generously helps his friend. They decide that Gisippus and Sophronia will go through the marriage ceremony but Titus will sleep with her that night, making her his. When all is revealed there is naturally much anger, but Titus convinces everyone this was how it ought to be. But, the story doesn't end - Titus returns to Rome and Gisippus remains in Athens, however suffers much hardship. When Titus returns he does not recognise Gisippus, now a beggar. Gisippus is devastated and wants to kill himself, however, when he witnesses a murder, he tells the authorities he is the murderer, knowing he will be put to death. Titus finds out and to save him tells the authorities he is the real murderer. This goes on until the real murderer, impressed by the two friends, confesses. Ultimately they are all released and Titus shares his wealth with Gisippus, and arranges a marriage for him with his sister.

Ninth Story: Told by Panfilo. He tells the story of Saladin and Messer Torello. Saladin is the Sultan of Babylon, and he disguises himself as a merchant during the Crusades. On his journey he meets Torello, who is extremely generous and takes care of Saladin. When the two go back home they both join the Crusades, and both are on opposing sides. Torello, however, is captured and he must disguise himself to avoid death. Still in disguise, he ends up becoming Saladin's falconer, however it takes a while for Saladin to recognise him. When he eventually does he treats Torello very well, but Torello realises that he must return home to his wife. In the meantime his wife has been misinformed of his death. He comes home to find that she is about to be married, but he manages to reclaim his wife just in time.

Tenth Tale: Told by Dioneo, who, you may have noted, always (at his request) tells the final tale (only on the first day does he not). He, as he has a few times, departs from the theme of the day and instead tells a story about the Marquis of Saluzzo who wishes to marry a poor girl, Griselda. Even before he proposes he begins the preparations for the wedding. When he does finally ask her she consents, and she is a very good wife. However, he persists on 'testing' her, going to great, foul, murderous lengths for her to prove her love for him. Each time she does, even though each 'test' is more extreme, contrived, and cruel. It is, I'm afraid, a bitter end to The Decameron. This tale went on to inspire Chaucer once more - 'The Clerk's Tale' from The Canterbury Tales, and was the subject of a series of paintings: The Story of Patient Griselda by an unknown artist.


And, following a few words, the tenth and final day ends:
Having taken their leave of the seven young ladies in Santa Maria Novella, whence they had all set out together, the three young men went off in search of other diversions; and in due course the ladies returned to their homes.
What remains now is Boccaccio's epilogue, a sort of defence not unlike that at the beginning of Day IV, where he says he would have told more wholesome stories if only the company had told more wholesome stories. It's a very brief epilogue, only a few pages, and it simply wraps it all up.

So there ends The Decameron. On the whole it is a light, fun read; extremely bawdy at times, and it does at other times become uncomfortably cruel and violent. There are stories that have lasted through the ages and gone on to inspire many other writers, and indeed artists - the most obvious example I can think of is Lisabetta and her pot of basil from Day IV. There are many jewels, but, not surprisingly with a work of this scope, many duds as well. It's an easy read generally (though not so easy to write about!), and I did enjoy it, more so the earlier days. As I said in a recent post, I was beginning to become a little weary of it, but even so I was surprised how sad I was when it ended. I've been reading it for over two months though, I suppose it became a bit of a companion! It is a great work: ambitious, insightful, funny, clever, and many times very beautiful. I truly will miss it, even if, sometimes, I got impatient with some of the duds. I can't quite believe I'm about to return it to the shelf after two months of having it next to me! 
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