The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani
Published in Italy 1962, in English (no translator credited) 1965 Set in 1930s Part 4
[Follows on from this blog entry: The narrator comes back to see the Finzi-Continis after a break, and finds fewer people there, as the family has been warned not to host Jewish gatherings]
They were playing down there on the tennis court, Micol against a young man in long white trousers…
We sat down…on two deck-chairs placed side by side by the tennis court gate, in the best position to follow the game. Micol was not wearing shorts as she had done the previous autumn, but a very old-fashioned woollen pleated skirt, a white blouse with sleeves turned back and peculiar white stocking’s like a nurse’s. Red-fdaced and sweating freely, she was doggedly sending shots into the farthest corners of the court…
A ball rolled towards us and stopped a short distance away. Micol came across to pick it up, and for a moment my eyes met hers. This visibly upset her…
Of course the narrator is in love with Micol, the daughter of the couple featured in this blog entry. Michal in the Bible is one of the wives of David, and according to the academic Robert Alter is ‘the only woman in the entire Hebrew Bible explicitly reported to love a man.’ She inspires love too – not necessarily from David (it is not specified that he loves her, and they have a fairly horrible row) – but from another husband she has along the way, Paltiel. She is taken from him so she can be returned to David, and Paltiel ‘went with her, weeping as he went after her’ until he is ordered to go back.
Links up with: a strange connection with this entry on The Wings of the Dove (a book which is also featured on the blog here and here): in the James novel, there is a metaphor for the main couple in the story meeting: ‘She had observed a ladder against a garden-wall and had trusted herself so to climb it as to be able to see over into the probable garden on the other side.’ In this book, that is how the couple meets – Micol climbs the ladder against her garden-wall to address the narrator, and this artefact has considerable importance in the book as a means of entry and exit from the garden of the Finzi-Contis.
The end of this book is heart-breaking, as the author quotes the opening line from a Mallarme sonnet – le vierge, le vivace et le bel aujourd’hui – famously hard to translate so we won’t try. This, Bassani says, is Micol’s preferred epitaph, because she knew she had no future, so loved the past and the present.
The photo is from the state library of Florida, and can be found on Flickr.