by Penelope Fitzgerald

Paperback, 1998




Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1998.


A new edition of the Booker Prize winner Penelope Fitzgerald's best-loved novel of romance in post-war Italy, with a new introduction by Julian Barnes. The Ridolfis are a Florentine family of long lineage and little money. It is 1955, and the family, like its decrepit villa and farm, has seen better days. Only eighteen-year-old Chiara shows anything like vitality. Chiara has set her heart on Salvatore, a young and brilliant doctor who resolved long ago to be emotionally dependent on no one. Faced with this, she calls on her English girlfriend Barney to help her make the impossible match...

User reviews

LibraryThing member PensiveCat
I don't get it. Am I missing something here? At first I thought i was a cute, quirky story about an old Italian family whose half-Anglo daughter meets an Italian doctor and gets married. But there is no clear reason why they fall in love, or how their relationship builds or even gets rather stormy. Occasionally a bit of humor sneaks into a sentence, and to catch it you really need to pay attention. An English friend, Barney (a girl), is sort of fun, but even her actions don't make any sense. The climax in the end seemed rather dramatic, then fell flat.

So there were moments, but not enough.
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
In mid-50s Florence, the Ridolfi family is both an historical sport of nature and precious stock that needs grafting to the deep roots of political consciousness that will herald the future. The count and his daughter are both of the world but also strangely absent. However, when the teenage Chiara falls head over heels for Dr Salvatore Rossi while standing in the rain during the intermission at a concert, she sets in train a sequence of events that will eventuate in romantic bliss or disaster. Meanwhile, Salvatore, who as a child met the dying marxist Antonio Gramsci, is as perplexed as he is smitten by both Chiara and her famous family. He is driven to distraction, which is not a comfortable state for a psychiatrist. How can he go on? How can he not? It is, as ever, the unanswerable question.

Fitzgerald’s prose here is both delicate, almost fastidious, and gaudy. The humour, when it arrives (and it comes often and in droves) is beyond farcical. Yet there is such a sweetness about Chiara, the disturbed Salvatore, and Chiara’s blundering English friend, Barney, that you can’t help falling in love with all of them. The fact that the novel doesn’t really go anywhere makes it hardly any different than life itself. And Fitzgerald clearly sees both the muddle and the majesty of life.

The wandering style and the Italian families might be confusing at first, but this is a novel with as much evidence of Penelope Fitzgerald’s mastery as any in her oeuvre. Recommended, as ever.
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LibraryThing member michaelm42071
A stormy love affair starts between a twenty-nine year old doctor, Salvatore Rossi, and Chiara Ridolfi, just out of school and nineteen. He comes from a poor rural family in the south and his father worshipped Antonio Gramsci, whom Salvatore saw dying when the boy was ten. Chiara comes from an old aristocratic family of decaying fortunes; they have a villa, the Ricordanza, a farm at Valsassina which now produces a little wine for sale, and a palazzo in Florence. The Ricordanza is named after the verse in Dante where Francesca asks whether memory in her situation is the worst misery in hell or a small consolation.
Chiara’s school friend, the formidable Barney (Lavinia Barnes) comes to help. Complicating rather than helping are Chiara’s gentle, retiring father, Count Giancarlo Ridolfi, his sister Maddalena, and his nephew Cesare, who runs the farm. Chiara and Salvatore marry, but his bristliness and Chiara’s direct, unswerving honesty make for continued friction, which becomes public in a funny scene at a villa party given by a family friend, Professor Pulci. One of Fitzgerald’s themes is the irrational manner in which those who love each other can get into and sustain arguments. Another is the notion of children recognizing that in a particular situation they are older than their parents. Something she repeats here is the way deception becomes easier with practice. And as always, we wonder how she knows so much about Italian farming, Gramsci, and various other arcane matters.
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LibraryThing member ElizabethPisani
The first Penelope Fitzgerald I ever read. I went on to read everything she has written. Which tells you something.
LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
"Innocence" is, more or less, the story of a marriage between a southern Italian neurologist and a young, beautiful, and, yes, innocent, half-Scottish Italian countess. It resembles a lot of nineteenth-century British novels in that it's a novel about both love and property: Chiara's family has at least three impressive living spaces, and the characters constantly ping-pong between all three. Her family's financial condition is discussed at length and in detail. The complex social machinations of Salvatore's perpetually impoverished southern Italian hometown are also examined at length. "Innocence" is also, in a sense, an expatriate novel, but Fitzgerald seems to know the territory so well that it doesn't really seem like it. It doesn't, like "A Room with a View," start out in a boarding house run by a Cockney landlady. There are a few trips made to England, and an old boarding school friend plays a role, but Italy and her Italian characters always seem to take center stage here. A family of expatriate Brits appear, but they're mostly to be gently mocked. Baggy in its plotting and leisurely in its pacing, "Innocence" might be said to be mostly about what it might have been like to live in Florence in the mid-twentieth century.

And I guess the book is about innocence, too, of all kinds: personal, romantic, political, and also the kinds that arise from wealth, or from inexperience, or from unearned self-assurance. Fitzgerald makes it clear from a doubtful but enchanting historical anecdote attached to the family's grandest house that innocence can certainly lead to barbarity, but, considering how insightful Fitzgerald can be about the general indifference and loneliness of human life, she treats most of this novel's characters remarkably gently. This might, perhaps, be a comment on their social or economic status: the rich can afford to be slightly eccentric and pleasant but ineffectual, after all. But I also think that the author might have been genuinely fond of the characters she created here and chose to treat them with a lenient hand. And I was genuinely surprised at how much I came to like them, too, even those personages that Fitzgerald drew with just a few strokes seem remarkably vivid and human. But maybe the old adage that God loves fools, drunks, and innocents holds true here, too. I get the distinct impression that the author just wanted to see these lucky people tumble gracefully and awkwardly through life. Recommended. I'm wondering why I waited so long to read Penelope Fitzgerald.
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LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
My first introduction to Penelope Fitzgerald's work had come with 'The Bookshop', and with this second helping I feel like I'm on the road to becoming a big fan. Her writing never calls attention to herself, and yet it is some of the most penetrative, striking prose I've ever seen. In 'Innocence' this characteristic voice carries the reader through what is not the most incredible plot to have ever graced literature, and yet you don't mind the otherwise pedestrian story simply thanks to the joy of reading each sumptuous paragraph. I've got more Fitzgeralds on my bookshelf, and I'm eager to move on to the next.… (more)
LibraryThing member juniperSun
Read for a book club. Very boring litany of misunderstandings, assumptions, minor complaints raised to major calamities in the imagination. 1950's impoverished genteel Italian family, daughter schooled in England falls in love with a doctor & gets married. A lot of unhappiness on the part of all.



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