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Stewing Waters

Tim Parks: Garibaldi, 21 July 2005

Rome or Death: The Obsessions of General Garibaldi 
by Daniel Pick.
Cape, 288 pp., £16.99, July 2005, 0 224 07179 3
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... In 1822 Giacomo Leopardi was finally allowed to leave home and visit Rome. He was 24. A child prodigy, he had spent his life in the remote town of Recanati in the Italian Marche, governed at that time by the pope. He was extremely excited to be going on this first trip. Having read Cicero, Caesar, Livy and Tacitus, Rome was for him both the seat of past glory and the focus of his patriotic dream of a united Italy, a political credo he had assumed in rebellion against his reactionary father ...

The Passion of the Bureaucrats

Tim Parks: Skulduggery in the Vatican, 18 February 2016

Avarizia: Le Carte che Svelano. Ricchezza, Scandali e Segreti della Chiesa di Francesco 
by Emiliano Fittipaldi.
Feltrinelli, 224 pp., €14, December 2015, 978 88 07 17298 4
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Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis’s Secret Battle against Corruption in the Vatican 
by Gianluigi Nuzzi, translated by Michael Moore.
Holt, 224 pp., £24.99, December 2015, 978 1 62779 865 5
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... Most​ blessed Father,’ five international auditors wrote to Pope Francis on 27 June 2013, three months into his papacy, ‘there is an almost total lack of clarity in the accounts of both the Holy See and the Governorate.’ The letter goes on: This lack of clarity makes it impossible to establish a proper estimate of the real financial position of the Vatican, whether as a whole or with regard to the single elements of which it is made up ...

A Pair of Yellow Gloves

Tim Parks: Stendhal’s ‘Italian Chronicles’, 19 October 2017

Italian Chronicles 
by Stendhal, translated by Raymond MacKenzie.
Minnesota, 344 pp., £20.99, May 2017, 978 1 5179 0011 3
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... There are​ so many Stendhals – art historian, music critic, travel writer, novelist, political pundit, opera buff, soldier, bureaucrat, diplomat, sparkling conversationalist and incorrigible womaniser – that the reader may despair of conceiving any overall project undertaken by the man baptised Marie-Henri Beyle in 1783. Aside from ‘Stendhal’ there were scores of pseudonyms, any number of unfinished writings and thousands of letters and journal pages in which Beyle often signs himself or even refers to himself using a variety of other names ...

Devils v. Dummies

Tim Parks: George Sand, 23 May 2019

La Petite Fadette 
by George Sand, translated by Gretchen van Slyke.
Pennsylvania State, 192 pp., £14.95, November 2017, 978 0 271 07937 0
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George Sand 
by Martine Reid, translated by Gretchen van Slyke.
Pennsylvania State, 280 pp., £21.95, May 2019, 978 0 271 08106 9
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... In​ 1821, aged 17, Aurore Dupin tried to kill herself by riding her horse into a deep river. Twenty-eight years later, Landry, a character in La Petite Fadette, a novel written by Dupin under her pen name George Sand, thinks about drowning himself in the river. By this time Sand’s readers would have been familiar with the suicide option. In her first novel, Indiana (1832), a serving girl drowns herself in a millpond while her mistress, the eponymous heroine, is saved from submerging herself in the Seine by her cousin Ralph, only for the two to plan a joint suicide years later ...

Thunderstruck

Tim Parks: Victor Hugo’s Ego, 4 May 2017

The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of ‘Les Misérables’ 
by David Bellos.
Particular, 307 pp., £20, January 2017, 978 1 84614 470 7
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... Any reflection​ on Victor Hugo risks degenerating into a procession of superlatives. Poet, dramatist, novelist, romantic, reactionary, revolutionary, mystic, miser and indefatigable philanderer: without him French literature, French politics of the 19th century are unimaginable. The scope of his ambition, the range of his genius, the vastness of his output, the extent of his appetite, the audacity of his opportunism and the oceanic immensity of his self-regard prompt awe – as well as sentences like these, cumulative and insistent, as his own so often were ...

Prajapati

Tim Parks: Hugging a fraud, 19 February 1998

... was nothing before the mind.’ Mere chronology. Prajapati. Mahidasa Aitareya. Calasso. Parks. Tongueless, Sanskrit, Italian, English. I think about this improbable chain of communication. Prajapati, the Progenitor. Surely his state of pure mind was enormously different from the buzz of my thoughts now, constantly distracted by that fly, wondering ...

On and off the High Road

Tim Parks: Anglomania in Europe, 27 May 1999

Voltaire's Coconuts 
by Ian Buruma.
Weidenfeld, 326 pp., £18.99, March 1999, 0 297 64312 6
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... Italy has just come to the end of another referendum campaign. Two general elections ago a new system of voting was introduced. Instead of the extreme form of proportional representation in force since 1948, a first-past-the-post system was introduced for 75 per cent of the seats in the lower house, while 25 per cent would continue to be allotted on a proportional basis ...

A Most Delicate Invention

Tim Parks: ‘Money and Beauty’, 22 September 2011

... In 1237 Florence set up a mint and struck the silver florin. Until then the town had been using the denaro of the declining Holy Roman Empire, but the coin was now so debased that it had to be supplemented with more valuable coins from the then larger centres of Siena and Lucca. It was becoming more important to monetise all transactions, to be able to transform all wealth into money and redistribute or invest it as one liked ...

Yuk’s Last Laugh

Tim Parks: Flaubert, 15 December 2016

Flaubert 
by Michel Winock, translated by Nicholas Elliott.
Harvard, 528 pp., £25, October 2016, 978 0 674 73795 2
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... The good man’s​ home is a mask,’ Gustave Flaubert wrote when he was 16. Every ideal was a cover for vanity. How could it be otherwise, when our bodies were ‘composed of mud and shit and equipped with instincts lower than those of the pig, or the crab-louse’? Born in 1821 to a wealthy family and growing up in the cautious conservatism of provincial post-Napoleonic France, Flaubert saw only hypocrisy and intellectual dullness all around him ...

I offer hunger, thirst and forced marches

Tim Parks: On the Trail of Garibaldi, 13 August 2020

... He​ had two days to prepare. We’d been thinking about it for a year. Four thousand infantry had to be organised. Eight hundred cavalry. Mules, carts, munitions, medical services. A cannon. He was disappointed, having hoped ten thousand would follow him. There were two of us. We left from the same place, Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano, in Rome. He in 1849 ...

Stop It and Act

Tim Parks: Pavese’s Road to Suicide, 11 February 2010

This Business of Living: Diaries 1935-50 
by Cesare Pavese, translated by A.E. Murch.
Transaction, 350 pp., £24.50, March 2009, 978 1 4128 1019 7
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... Cesare Pavese kept a diary from 1935, when, aged 27, he was ‘exiled’ to Calabria for anti-Fascist activities, until 1950, when he committed suicide. During those years he became a successful poet and novelist, translated many celebrated American and British novels and, as chief editor at Einaudi, was responsible for publishing some of the most important writers of his time ...

Between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines

Tim Parks: Guelfs v. Ghibellines, 14 July 2016

Dante: The Story of His Life 
by Marco Santagata, translated by Richard Dixon.
Harvard, 485 pp., £25, April 2016, 978 0 674 50486 8
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... Put real people​ in a work of fiction these days and you immediately face libel and privacy issues. The publishers will demand a legal report; every correspondence between your story and reality will be scrutinised. It won’t be enough simply to change names or avoid unpleasant aspersions; the mere idea that someone might recognise themselves and feel aggrieved will set alarm bells ringing and have editors demanding revisions ...

No Company, No Carpets

Tim Parks: Tolstoy v. Tolstaya, 26 April 2018

Tolstoy and Tolstaya: A Portrait of a Life in Letters 
by Andrew Donskov, translated by John Woodsworth, Arkadi Klioutchanski and Liudmila Gladkova.
Ottawa, 430 pp., £48, May 2017, 978 0 7766 2471 6
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... On​ 17 September 1862, Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, aged 34, gave his diaries of the last 15 years to Sophia Andreevna Behrs, who had just turned 18. She was the second of three daughters and her mother had been Lev’s childhood friend. Three days earlier, on 14 September, Lev had proposed to Sonya by hand-delivered letter, when her parents had been expecting him to propose to their eldest, Liza, who was twenty ...

Keep the ball rolling

Tim Parks: Natalia Ginzburg, 29 June 2017

A Family Lexicon 
by Natalia Ginzburg, translated by Jenny McPhee.
NYRB, 224 pp., £9.99, August 2017, 978 1 59017 838 6
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... For Italians​ , I’ve found after 33 years in Italy, to belong to a family, a group of friends, a city, a region, a corporation or trade union, a church, a political party, is generally more important than to be morally unimpeachable, or free and independent, or even successful and powerful. The strongest positive emotions come from being instrumental to your family or group, the strongest negative emotions from feelings of abandonment ...

Bitten by an Adder

Tim Parks: ‘The Return of the Native’, 17 July 2014

The Return of the Native 
by Thomas Hardy, edited by Simon Avery.
Broadview, 512 pp., £9.50, April 2013, 978 1 55481 070 3
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... What a pleasure​ to return to Thomas Hardy. For about a hundred pages. Then the torment begins, and we’re not even halfway through. From now on each turn of the page will expose the reader to greater unhappiness. There’s a moment in The Return of the Native where the main character, Clym, already deeply troubled by his mother’s mysterious death, goes out of his way to find a little boy who may be able to tell him exactly what happened ...

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