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Ariadne in Mantua A Romance in Five Acts   By: (1856-1935)

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Portland, Maine







Ariadne in Mantua , A Romance in Five Acts, by Vernon Lee. Oxford: B.H. Blackwell 50 and 51 Broad Street. London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Company. A.D. MCMIII. Octavo. Pp. x: 11 66 .

Like almost everything else written by Vernon Lee there is to be found that insistent little touch which is her sign manual when dealing with Italy or its makers of forgotten melodies. In other words, the music of her rhythmic prose is summed up in one poignant vocable Forlorn .

As for her vanished world of dear dead women and their lovers who are dust, we may indeed for a brief hour enter that enchanted atmosphere. Then a vapour arises as out of long lost lagoons, and, be it Venice or Mantua, we come to feel "how deep an abyss separates us and how many faint and nameless ghosts crowd round the few enduring things bequeathed to us by the past."



"Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichniss"

It is in order to give others the pleasure of reading or re reading a small masterpiece, that I mention the likelihood of the catastrophe of my Ariadne having been suggested by the late Mr. Shorthouse's Little Schoolmaster Mark; but I must ask forgiveness of my dear old friend, Madame Emile Duclaux (Mary Robinson), for unwarranted use of one of the songs of her Italian Garden.

Readers of my own little volume Genius Loci may meanwhile recognise that I have been guilty of plagiarism towards myself also .[1]

For a couple of years after writing those pages, the image of the Palace of Mantua and the lakes it steeps in, haunted my fancy with that peculiar insistency, as of the half lapsed recollection of a name or date, which tells us that we know (if we could only remember!) what happened in a place. I let the matter rest. But, looking into my mind one day, I found that a certain song of the early seventeenth century (not Monteverde's Lamento d'Arianna but an air , Amarilli, by Caccini, printed alongside in Parisotti's collection ) had entered that Palace of Mantua, and was, in some manner not easy to define, the musical shape of what must have happened there. And that, translated back into human personages, was the story I have set forth in the following little Drama .

So much for the origin of Ariadne in Mantua, supposing any friend to be curious about it. What seems more interesting is my feeling, which grew upon me as I worked over and over the piece and its French translation, that these personages had an importance greater than that of their life and adventures, a meaning, if I may say so, a little sub specie aeternitatis. For, besides the real figures, there appeared to me vague shadows cast by them, as it were, on the vast spaces of life, and magnified far beyond those little puppets that I twitched. And I seem to feel here the struggle, eternal, necessary, between mere impulse, unreasoning and violent, but absolutely true to its aim; and all the moderating, the weighing and restraining influences of civilisation, with their idealism, their vacillation, but their final triumph over the mere forces of nature. These well born people of Mantua, privileged beings wanting little because they have much, and able therefore to spend themselves in quite harmonious effort, must necessarily get the better of the poor gutter born creature without whom, after all, one of them would have been dead and the others would have had no opening in life. Poor Diego acts magnanimously, being cornered; but he (or she) has not the delicacy, the dignity to melt into thin air with a mere lyric Metastasian "Piangendo partè", and leave them to their untroubled conscience. He must needs assert himself, violently wrench at their heart strings, give them a final stab, hand them over to endless remorse; briefly, commit that public and theatrical deed of suicide, splashing the murderous waters into the eyes of well behaved wedding guests ... Continue reading book >>

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