Questo di fu solenne: or da’ trastulli prendi riposo.Giacomo Leopardi | La sera del dì di festa
The Evening of the Holiday (1820) | Giacomo Leopardi (29 June 1798 – 14 June 1837) – full poem here.
According to a variety of online poetry sites, Leopardi’s idyll expresses his unhappiness thanks to an indifferent, distant woman plus a sense of exclusion from the joys of youth. A holiday, or feast day is enjoyed by others, but not by him. He then reflects on the transient nature of humanity and the passing of time which puts paid to all our earthly misery. A tortured soul from beginning to end. Cheerful, huh?!
Thankfully the story is not so tortured. Though not cheerful either. Nostalgic is the closest description. Nostalgic in the way that we can sometimes miss something or someone before they have even gone. In that way that we can be in the middle of something wonderful, but know that the end is in sight, so we savour it while we can, conscious of how we will feel when it is over. That’s the feeling experienced by the characters and the reader alike.
“Tancredi,” Gabriella said to her brother, “you must show them the fountain.”
“All in good time, my dear,” he replied irritably. “Let’s have our tea in peace.”
After reading Michelle de Kretser’s book on Shirley Hazzard last year, I noted that “all the quotes selected by de Kretser, only made me wonder anew why I had yet to read any Hazzard! She really seems like a writer I would appreciate a lot. A writer, whose books I would underline and savour.” I did.
My copy of The Evening of the Holiday (Hazzard’s first book) is now heavily underlined and duly savoured.
This is a love story between an English girl visiting her aunt in Italy and an older Italian man, recently separated from his wife. It is a relationship begun in the full knowledge it will come to an end. A bittersweet qualilty suffuses their time together. For both Sophie and Tancredi, this time together is like a hiatus away from their regular lives and concerns. A holiday from real life.
- First published 17 April 1967 in The New Yorker, when Tancredi was called Claudio.
- The festival in question, is the Palio in Siena. It includes a day of processions with medieval costumes and dinners before a Roman-style horse race. From the confusion, colour and chaos of the crowds, Sophie goes to meet Tancredi to begin their affair, ‘there was something so delicious in this certainty of meeting that she went along more slowly still.‘
- Read for AusReadingMonth and Novellas in November.
She stopped and looked back down the sloping street, and again gave the impression of seeing all this for the first time, or of saying farewell to it after a long acquaintance – which is sometimes the same thing.
This sentence struck a chord. After my year in London in 1991, the week before I left, I returned to some of my favourite haunts, determined to fix them in my memory. Determined to remember them and the times I had spent there, to fix the colours, sounds and scents into my body in case I never returned. Even if I did return (spoiler alert – I did) I knew I would be different, that things would change and that I would never be able to recapture this time.
All of those feelings came flooding back when I read this sentence.
According to de Krester, Hazzard was keen on ‘responsive reading‘, where the reader participates ‘in the rainbow of creation‘ and an individual response is evoked. I have to assume she would be please with this reaction of mine.
Italy! Oh those gardens, piazzas, fields, cafes and cathedrals! Where else in the whole wide world makes falling in love so easy!
As de Kretser noted in her biography, ‘place is dominant‘ in this, Hazzard’s first story, ‘afterwards, all the novels will be about people and places in time.’
Favourite or Forget:
I suspect all my Shirley Hazzard’s will become keepers. I love her precision, they way she ‘honoured the sentence.’ They crave to be reread.
Title: The Evening of the Holilday Author: Shirley Hazzard ISBN: 9781844082179 Imprint: Virago Published: 17 November 2006 (originally published 1966) Format: Papaerback Pages: 149 Dates Read: 24 October 2022 - 29 October 2022
- This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.