Wylie’s poetry and prose are wildly imaginative and artificial. Her writing is likely to contain long descriptive passages laden—some say overladen—with details and images. Every article of clothing, every bite of food, and every piece of furniture is minutely and exquisitely detailed. This style of writing is difficult to sustain over a long piece, and most critics have given more praise to Wylie’s poetry than to her prose. In The Venetian Glass Nephew, the heavy artificiality adds to the atmosphere of otherness and fantasy.

The book is set in eighteenth century Italy and peopled with cardinals and sorcerers. This exotic setting allows Wylie to layer fantasy on top of reality. The mysteriousness of the Roman Catholic church, with its ceremonies and robes, leads naturally to the sorcerer’s own rituals. Peter Innocent’s faith in miracles and innate goodness makes it easy for him, and so the reader, to accept Chastelneuf’s magic. Real historical figures converse with fictional and artificial ones, throwing the reader off balance. Placing the novel squarely in the realm of fantasy makes Wylie’s purpose—creation of an allegory of the marriage of art and nature—more manageable.

Wylie’s sensibilities as a poet are evident in the novel, which is highly visual. Like Virginio, the novel resembles a sugar Easter egg, sparkling and brittle, to be looked at but not handled. Wylie uses strong and repeated images to highlight...

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