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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Love in Vain

Federigo Tozzi

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To purchase Love in Vain

Title: Love in Vain
Author: Federigo Tozzi
Genre: Stories
Written: 1908-20 (Eng. 2001)
Length: 184 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Love in Vain - US
Love in Vain - UK
Love in Vain - Canada
  • Selected Stories
  • Translated by Minna Proctor
  • Minna Proctor was awarded the PEN/Pogglioli Award for her translation (while it was in progress) in 1998
  • Several of the translations have been previously published in a variety of literary journals, including Conjunctions, The Republic of Letters, Chicago Review, and The Literary Review

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Our Assessment:

B+ : poignant tales, assured presentation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/2001 James Crossley
Salon . 11/6/2001 Maria Russo

  From the Reviews:
  • "The early stories are barely more than vignettes, but the later ones show an increasing degree of sophistication, employing varying narrative techniques and more involved plots to explore a consistent thematic preoccupation: the confused psychology of semirural characters." - James Crossley, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "The stories collected here show off Tozzi's irresistible blend of stark realism and wild passion. His lovers love so hard it hurts" - Maria Russo, Salon

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:

       Love in Vain is the belated introduction of Federigo Tozzi to the English-speaking world, one of the first translations of any of the works by this prolific and fairly well-known Italian author. The twenty stories collected here, spanning Tozzi's entire active writing life (1908 to 1920), are only a smattering of his output: there are a hundred more stories, as well as several novels, poetry, essays, plays, and a voluminous correspondence. This collection does, however, offer a good introduction to an author whose work has previously been inaccessible.
       Tozzi's career was cut short by his early death (at age thirty-seven), but he had already written a great deal. He had had some success, publishing numerous stories, poetry, the collection of prose-miniatures, Bestie, and the novel Con gli occhi chiusi, and was an author clearly coming into his own, finally able to live off of his writing and devote himself completely to it. At the time of his death his novel, Tre croci, had just appeared, and he was correcting the proofs of his next novel, Il podere. Most of Tozzi's work was then published posthumously (though some, like the companion volumes to Bestie, the prose miniature collections Cose and Persone only some six decades after they were written), and the reception of it was probably cooler than had the promising author been alive and active. Still, he achieved some renown and, at least in Italy, is recognized as a leading literary figure of that time.
       Minna Proctor's introduction offers a useful overview of Tozzi's life and career, as well as describing his unusual relationship with his wife, Emma (they "were more perfect epistolary lovers than they ever were married lovers"). Proctor notes "there is so much to explain about his artistic itinerary", but fortunately doesn't try to explain overmuch. She suggests the points of importance, and then lets the work speak for itself.
       The stories are short (in this collection only the title story is longer than ten pages) and deceptively simple in appearance -- many short paragraphs (often only a single line) and a good deal of conversation. Exclamation and question marks are found all over. Lives are quickly sketched, their essence revealed in a few episodes.
       The notion of "love in vain" is a central one: there are few happy loves or lives here. "But what is love ?" characters wonder, in these or other words. They look for it, and yet when they seem to have found it find less than the hoped for satisfaction in it. It isn't what they had imagined, and some want to be rid of it almost as soon as they find it. "But he wasn't in love with his wife anymore, and he wanted to leave" is a typical scenario in these stories.
       The characters are often afraid of happiness, warily approaching it when it seems within grasp, handling it uneasily. "I love you. But we must never see each other again", seems a typical solution. Many of his characters have a great deal of difficulty in living at all (and death ends a number of these stories). Loneliness is pervasive -- "Franco Appesi was feeling more and more alone", begins The Miracle. Even where the opportunity to share one's loneliness is given, the characters are unable to take the necessary steps: the two women live in adjoining apartments in The Boardinghouse, for example, remain frustratingly unable to truly reach out to one another.
       There are other miseries as well. A weak man, telling his own story in House for Sale allows himself to be taken advantage of and bullied, forsaking his past and everything that he has and wanting to be grateful for it: "I was sad", he says, as if unable to explain to himself why that should be. "I wanted to be happy." But Tozzi's characters rarely find happiness.
       Despite the titles of some of the other stories -- Dead Man in the Oven, To Dream of Death, Vile Creatures, Poverty -- it is not simply a dark collection. There is poignancy here, throughout, with Tozzi baring these souls in simple, well-sketched, revealing scenes.
       The incidents in these stories are often truly incidental -- and yet shattering in their consequences. A simple action, a few words -- but then nothing is the way it was before. A typical example is Tozzi's story Marito e moglie (not included in this collection), in which Enrica Landi goes shopping -- when she returns her husband, Vittorino, doesn't recognize her. It is a brief episode, a momentary lapse or feeling of madness that shook him to the quick; he regains his senses -- but can no longer love his wife. "It seems that only a few minutes were enough to alter their years of married life". It only seems that way -- here and in most of his stories Tozzi makes clear how much there is behind such seemingly sudden reversals and changes. He is particularly good at capturing and expressing that moment when these small and large worlds are turned upside down -- and the character's flailing recognition, trying to make sense of their own feelings and the worlds around them.
       Tozzi presents his stories well, offering a variety of approaches and different tales. There are tales from the Italian countryside as well as more mystically inclined stories (including the quite remarkable story The Crucifix). They read well -- quick, moving, quite powerful. Stylistically they are accomplished (though he is too fond of the exclamation mark !). The unexpected twists and observations are very effective; only occasionally does he go too far.
       One hopes that this is only the first of sliver of Tozzi to be presented in English, and that much more will follow. He is an author worth knowing and reading, and Love in Vain is a good introduction to his work.

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Love in Vain: Reviews: Federigo Tozzi:
  • Brief biography (Italian)
  • Tre Croci -- the full text of Tozzi's 1920 novel, online (in Italian). Note that the flowery presentation renders the text almost unreadable.
Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Italian literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Italian author Federigo Tozzi lived 1883-1920.

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