Saturday, 14 February 2015

Valentine’s Day: Simonetta Perkins by LP Hartley



published 1925

Simonetta Perkins
 
‘Shame your mother couldn’t come’, said Mr Kolynopulo, assisting Lavinia, with more gallantry than was necessary, into his gorgeous gondola. ‘Does she often have headaches?’

Miss Johnstone wore a harassed air. ‘Venice doesn’t really suit her,’ she replied. ‘It’s the tiresome sirocco.’ She looked wistfully down the lagoon to where that climatic nuisance was wont to assert its presence with an unanswerable visibility: but the air had lost its fever, could not have been clearer….

She gazed earnestly at a point directly in their wake; her scrutiny also included [gondolier] Emilio, who did not return it, but stared angrily at the horizon.

‘Good-looking, isn’t he?’ remarked Mrs Kolynopulo, indicating Emilio with her thumb.

Lavinia started. ‘I suppose he is. I never thought about it,’ she said.

‘I guess he’s caused a flutter in many a female breast. We considered ourselves lucky to get him. We’ve been the subject of congratulation.’

‘Do you share the flutter?’ Lavinia presently enquired.

‘Bless you, no,’ replied his wife. ‘We’re married. We leave that sort of thing to the single ones.’


Simonetta Perkins 1


observations: A non-straightforward love story for Valentine’s Day.

This conversation is going to go in quite a surprising direction: in setting and mood the novella has some things in common with Henry James in Venice (Aspern Papers and Wings of the Dove), and with the Wilkie Collins Haunted Hotel. But Lavinia is going to learn about extra services sometimes offered by the gondoliers, which isn’t something you find in those other books.

This is very short, was one of the first books Hartley published, and is very readable and entertaining, and also quite sad. Luckily my copy had an introduction (by Margaret Drabble) which made crystal-clear what I might have been cautious about: Hartley was gay, and this book about a posh young woman attracted to a gondolier in Venice should be read in that light. Drabble makes no bones about it – Hartley gave his story a heroine because he could not write about a young man in that situation.

It’s an atmospheric story, giving a lovely picture of Venice, and Lavinia is a very real person, with flashes of humour – there’s a great discussion with her mother of the exact marital status of Jezebel in the Bible. Lavinia worries that she is missing out on life, she is yearning for something but doesn’t know what it is. She turns down a marriage proposal in a way that is funny but actually horrible – the potential husband asks her:
‘Lavinia, what am I most in need of?’ [implication: I need a wife]
‘Consideration, imagination, everything except self-confidence,’ she said, and burst into tears.
The reader is guessing for a long time before finding out who the eponymous Simonetta is.

It’s a sweet, dusty story, and you do wonder what will become of Lavinia…

The lower picture of Venice is by Rubens Santoro, from The Athenaeum.













20 comments:

  1. I love that description, Moira: a sweet, dusty story.... I can just exactly imagine it from that and from the bit that you've shared. And I do like the setting so much! Venice is up there with Paris and a few other places that are just classic places for a love story. A perfect choice for Valentine's Day.

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    1. Thanks Margot for those kind words. I love pretty much all books set in Venice... and they usually are romantic aren't they?

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  2. Moira, I ought to read a love story once in a while. There are some good books that are far above the average romance tale.

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    1. We should all read a love story now and again Prashant, encourage our romantic side...

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    2. I love LP Hartley but have never read this one -- it sounds great. Am off now to see if I can find a copy. Thanks.

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    3. I found it memorable and charming: I hope you enjoy it too.

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  3. One for me, definitely. I find stories set in Venice a bit ominous now - so many books where things get really out of kilter seem to be set there.

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    1. that is such a great description Vicki - exactly what I like about Venice books too. And about Venice, come to that.

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  4. Yesterday I was thinking that I should have read a book especially for Valentine's Day, since I plan to read a novella for Easter and novella for July 4th. But then, we don't ever do Valentine's Day so it never occurs to me. Of course we don't do Easter, either. But then the Easter story is a Rex Stout, so that would explain that. But when I was looking for a Valentine's mystery they all seemed not my sort of book. I will have to keep looking.

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    1. I can't think of much Valentine crime Tracy, though surely Jane Haddam did one in her holiday series. I've always gone for straight novels for a Valentine theme for that reason. Mind you, they will be just love scenes/stories, not actual Valentine events...

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    2. How could I forget Jane Haddam? The appropriate book did not come to mind so I looked it up: Bleeding Hearts, #11. That would be a re-read, but maybe someday. That was on a list I had looked at ... I just missed it.One other possibility is The Saint Valentine’s Day Murders by Ruth Dudley Edwards – book #2 in the Robert Amiss Mystery series. I haven't read the first one yet but am planning to.

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    3. Going to have to look again at the Haddam, can't remember which one that was. I do like that series, but am a few books behind on it.

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    4. The last one I read was Living Witness, #24. I have the next three and plan to read them, but there are two more that have been published since then. I read the first 20 in three months in 2005. I think the earlier ones are better, which is why I don't mind rereading them.

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    5. That's the last one I read too! I was just looking to see what I needed next and wondered if I should order it. I too prefer the earlier ones - I loved them, and, like you, would read them again. Such wonderful settings, I always felt you could immerse yourself in whatever world Gregor was in....

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  5. I've read THE GO-BETWEEN, which i liked enormously, but never come across this one - must look it up, thanks Moira. It is interesting to find those works where the sexual aspects have had to be modified but which, to the attentive reader, still come though.

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    1. Yes, it does make for an extra level of nuance in the reading....

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  6. Bah humbug.....not feeling it I'm afraid

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    1. I don't think slim nuanced novels are quite your thing - though I'm sure you're an old romantic under the rough tough exterior!

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    2. I would claim to be a romantic - what other man when he makes his wife a sandwich would cut it into a heart shape?

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    3. That's the best Valentine-related story I've heard in a long time....

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