Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Penelope Fitzgerald's Innocence

It struck him that both Marta and Chiara took advantage of him by attacking him with their ignorance, or call it innocence. A serious thinking adult had no defence against innocence because he was obliged to respect it, whereas the innocent scarcely knows what respect is, or seriousness either.
Innocence is (mostly) the story of a romance and marriage between Chiara Ridolfi and Dr. Salvatore Rossi. It is set in Italy and the main events take place in the mid-1950s. Rossi (the subject of the above quote) is a rising neurologist from the South, and Chiara is the only child of an impoverished count with an estate outside Florence. Rossi is equally innocent as Chiara, if not more so, and really, there very nearly isn't anyone in the book who isn't an innocent in the face of the complexities of life.
[Of the family Ridolfi] ...a tendency towards rash decisions, perhaps, always intended to ensure other people's happiness, once and for all. It seems an odd characteristic to survive for so many years, Perhaps it won't do so for much longer.
We know from the very first pages that Rossi and Chiara do get married; from there the story moves back to how they met. The middle of the book has the elements of a fairly traditional romantic comedy plot. Boy meets girl (at a concert in Florence) and they fall in love at once, but the boy has vowed emotional independence and the girl (in 1950s Italy) can't quite make the first move, or at least not the first, second, third, and fourth, which is what it's going to take. So she tells her father she's inviting her strong-minded English friend from convent school, Lavinia Gore-Barnes, or Barney, to come help her, though she doesn't say what for.
"Shall I like this friend of yours?"
"I hope you will, I'm sure you will."
"Does she speak clearly?"
"She has a strong character."
Barney decides she needs to meet Rossi first to determine if he's suitable for Chiara; that will determine her further course of action. She arranges a luncheon at the English neighbours of the Ridolfi's main estate. Chiara is not allowed to attend. But Rossi runs away from the luncheon as fast as he can once he realizes Chiara isn't there, and Chiara runs towards the luncheon because she can't bear to stay away. The luncheon is a disaster, but Chiara and Rossi meet, and something, which involves sheets hanging out the window, happens.
...above all he [Count Ridolfi] wanted to avoid asking Chiara about it, because she would tell him the truth.
In any case, whatever happened, the marriage is now on.

Part Two of the novel begins with the marriage. There is the possibility that Barney will marry Chiara's cousin Cesare. Rossi has various entanglements with his family in the South, from whom he would (probably) just as soon escape. Chiara's aunt Maddalena undertakes a project to ensure other people's happiness, once and for all; it is not a success.
"What's to become of us? We can't go on like this."
"Yes, we can go on like this,' said Cesare. "We can go on exactly like this for the rest of our lives."
The novel alas doesn't, much as I might wish it did. Highly recommended.

My Reader's Block Mount TBR Challenge.

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