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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Alphonse de Lamartine

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To purchase Graziella

Title: Graziella
Author: Alphonse de Lamartine
Genre: Novel
Written: (1849) (Eng. 2018)
Length: 188 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Graziella - US
Graziella - UK
Graziella - Canada
Graziella - Canada (French)
Graziella - France
Graziella - Deutschland
Graziella - Italia
Graziella - España
  • French title: Graziella
  • Written in 1844 and first published as part of Les confidences (1849); first published separately 1852
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Raymond N. MacKenzie
  • Previously translated as part of Confidential Disclosures by Eugène Plunkett (1849), and as Graziella by James B. Runnion (1875) and Ralph Wright (1929)
  • Includes a Chronology
  • Includes an Appendix: Excerpts from Lamartine's Mémoires inédits, 1790-1815

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appealing in its cheerful simplicity

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
London Rev. of Books . 21/2/2019 Tim Parks
Sunday Times* . 24/3/1929 Desmond MacCarthy
TLS* . 25/4/1929 A.F.Clutton-Brock

[* review of an earlier translation]

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) sad, romantic little love-story of that period. (...) Graziella is a little masterpiece which "dates" most romantically for us, and yet is written with a lively sense of nature and human fate." - Desmond MacCarthy, Sunday Times

  • "But even in brief description the mould of modern speech and thought cannot express the sentiments which Lamartine gives to his hero, and a note of irony or of the wrong kind of sentimentality is apt to sound discordantly. Yet nothing of this happens in the actual story, which is still fascinating, and at times moving, without being a brutal assault on the emotions." - Alan Francis Clutton-Brock, Times Literary Supplement

  • "My recollection of it is that it was a well-sugared piece of sentimentalism in which they continually fondent en larmes. Indeed what I have always objected to about Lamartine is his fundamental insincerity." - James Joyce, in Conversations with James Joyce, Arthur Power (1974)

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Graziella was originally published as part of Alphonse de Lamartine's 1849 memoirs, Les confidences, but soon later also separately, as a novel -- a "roman vrai' (true novel) as he called it -- and enjoyed tremendous popular success as such. This modern translation includes an appendix with excerpts from the author's later Mémoires inédits, which give the actual (or at any rate another version of the) story; as translator Raymond N. MacKenzie notes in his Introduction: "Graziella is presented to us as a memoir, as fact, but it is a work of fiction in nearly every detail as well as in its larger plot".
       (MacKenzie also maintains: "The book gains in richness, too, the more one knows about its context, its composition, and its author"; I have no idea why this should be so. Yes, all that is of some literary-historical and biographical interest, but the story is easily enough (and better ?) enjoyed as fiction per se, without all this distracting baggage. But for those who are interested, MacKenzie's Introduction and the supporting material (notes; Appendix) has you covered.)
       The chipper narrator of Graziella looks back here on his teenage years, when he had an opportunity to visit Italy -- lands and life that his reading had already vividly prepared him for, and which then do not disappoint. The original arrangements only got him as far as Livorno, and when there's talk of sending the youth back home he takes matters into his own hands.

I wrote to my father for his permission to continue traveling on my own and without waiting for his reply, which I could hardly expect to be favorable, I resolved to avoid disobedience by engineering a fait accompli.
       So off he heads by himself ..... The eighteen-year-old spends some time -- mostly on his own -- in Rome, and here (as also later) manages to live the idyll:
I would go out alone in the morning, before the bustle of the city could distract me from my contemplations. Under my arm I carried the historians, the poets, the describers of Rome. I would go off to sit or to wander through the deserted ruins of the Forum, the Coliseum, the Roman countryside. By turns I gazed, I read, I thought.
       The second place he is drawn to is Naples, and after he's exhausted Rome he goes south, to: "the tomb of Virgil and the birthplace of Tasso". Here at least he is joined by his closest friend from school, Aymon de Virieu, and they adventure together.
       Deciding that they want to live the authentic, rustic Neapolitan way, they give the fishing-life a try. As Lamartine nicely puts it:
     My friend was twenty; I was eighteen: we were both therefore at an age when one is permitted to confuse dreams with realities.
       They convince an old fisherman who works a boat with his grandson to take them on as helping hands -- and they quite take to this life. It's all good fun until they get caught up in a fierce storm which they barely escape -- though when they do it is, fortuitously, to Procida, where the fisherman is from, and where he still has a cabin, where his wife and granddaughter happen to be staying at the moment. Said granddaughter is, of course, Graziella -- nicely introduced, but only as part of this chain of events and not immediately as obvious love interest or the like.
       Lamartine and his friend make the fisherman whole again -- they buy him a nice new boat, to replace the one that was shattered by the storm -- and they hang around in Procida for a while. The literary youngsters: "had only been able to preserve from the waves three mismatched volumes" (yes, they carried a little library with them even while out fishing ...): Ugo Foscolo's Letters of Jacopo Ortis ("a kind of Werther"), a volume of Tacitus ("its pages soiled by tales of debauchery, of shame and blood") -- and Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's Paul et Virginie ("that manual of innocent love"). The two boys read together -- impressing illiterate Graziella, who imagines the books are religious ones and is impressed by the lads' dedicated piety. To give her a sense of what they're actually reading they read her some Tacitus -- but she and her family are not moved by that; Lamartine lets the uneducated peasants live completely up to stereotype:
But we quickly saw that the scenes that had been so powerful for us had no effect at all on these simple hearts. The passion for political liberty, which is always the aspiration of men of leisure, does not penetrate so deeply down into people.
       The more basic Paul et Virginie, on the other hand, completely grabs them -- and especially Graziella. When Lamartine stops reading mid-story -- so as to keep them in suspense:
She tore the book out of my hands. She opened it, as if by sheer force of will she would be able to decipher the characters. She spoke to it, she kissed it. She then placed it respectfully back onto my knees, raising her joined hands to me like a supplicant.
       The boys want to resume the fishing life when they return to Naples, but Lamartine's friend is summoned back home. Lamartine realizes: "I should have gone with him", but he couldn't bring himself to; he remains in Naples, but finds himself downbeat -- sick, he believes, but, as he realizes, not physically ill:
The truth was that I had a disease that medicine could not cure, a disease of the soul and imagination.
       A worried Graziella looks in on him -- and she and the family eventually suggest just the thing for him: he should move in with them. And he does.
       He can't quite go native-- he remains very much the outsider -- but is comfortable in these surroundings. The family is deferential and happy to put up with him (cramping their lifestyle -- there are only three rooms), while he lives out his fantasy:
I slowly reverted to my life of study and my solitary ways, distracted only by Graziella's sweet friendship and by the family's adoption of me. I read the historians and poets from all languages. Often I was writing: I tried, sometimes in Italian, sometimes in French, to pour out in prose or verse those first effusions of the soul, those feelings that seem to weight the heart down until given some release through words.
       Part of the success of Graziella is that, for so long, it is not a love story. So self-involved is the narrator in his play-acting at independence and adulthood in this fantasy world of Naples and this family that his attachment long isn't anything like romantic. Graziella is an important presence for him, but his feelings aren't amorous, his passion directed elsewhere; so, too, he recognizes about what connects him to the girl: "This was not love [...] it was, rather, a delicious repose for the heart".
       But, as it takes him far too long to realize, Graziella is falling for him -- and things come to a head when a promising marriage (with a nice but unappealing suitor) is proposed to her. Suddenly the passions erupt -- and Lamartine shows he can do the Romantic-tale too. A ridiculous-brilliant turn and scene has the youngster flee -- to the slopes of an erupting Vesuvius !
I climbed up alone; with great effort, I ascended the uppermost cone, my hands and feet sunken in the thick ash that gave way under my weight. The volcano groaned and thundered. Burning rocks, still red, hailed down here and there around me, extinguishing themselves in the ashes. But nothing would stop me.
       A nice touch, too, is that when the narrator chooses to play the part of lover with Graziella, he recognizes that his passion isn't true, that he's just caught up in the moment, and in the depths of her feelings:
her emotions, slipping as it were into mine, created an impression so new, so delicious, that in feeling them I believed they were my own. What an error ! I was the mirror; she was the flame. In reflecting, I believed I was producing.
       It's a neat twist on the all-too familiar romance tale.
       Matters are complicated by Graziella's worries that he will leave for his native France -- and that she, from such humble circumstances, could never be a life-mate for someone with his background. At one point she plays dress-up -- hoping to show that she too could appear to be a fine lady but in fact only disappointing him, who is drawn to her simplicity .....
       Things don't work out of course -- with Lamartine ultimately also called back suddenly, forced to go home. And while there seems to be a spark of hope, tragedy conveniently ends the episode for him; there's a poem to be wrung out of it (and this account, of course), but Lamartine can otherwise just check it off as an episode from youthful days.
       In not quite sticking to the usual romantic script of the day -- at least until near the end -- Graziella has considerable appeal. Eyes still roll in the reading, especially at the presentation of the fisherman family, idealized beyond any belief (while also, far too emphatically, romanticized as 'simple folk') and then some of the turns (down to Graziella completely shaving her head ... ), as well as some of the sexual awakening. On the other hand, some of the writing is spot-on -- and the eighteen-year-old protagonist is an appealing sort of dolt, a cultured youngster who is full of himself but manages not to come across that way for most of the story.
       Silly though parts of it are, Graziella is still thoroughly enjoyable -- more as a story of a young man's (unlikely) first adventures abroad than ill-fated romance, but even the love-story -- thankfully long held at bay -- kind of works. Graziella is certainly a period-piece -- but a rather charming one.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 January 2019

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Graziella: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French poet and politician Alphonse de Lamartine lived 1790 to 1869.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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