Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Florence. Northern Italian city noted as a center of great artistic and architectural works that the young American architect Theodore Colville visited during his youth. After becoming a journalist in a midwestern town, Colville, has sold his newspaper and returned to Florence twenty years later. At forty-one, he is unlikely to resume his early vocation, but he fails to recapture any of the vitality of his earlier experience in Florence. He proposed, unsuccessfully, to a young woman during his first visit to Florence; now he is still a bachelor and tries to win a woman less than half his age.

Florence is the home of Lina Bowen, a former friend and confidant of the woman he sought earlier, but now a widow with a young daughter. Florence has also attracted a young American woman for whom Mrs. Bowen is acting as a chaperone. W. D. Howells uses this novel as a variant on the theme of American “innocents abroad” that interested Howells’s literary friends Mark Twain and Henry James in their distinctive ways. Whereas James typically focused on young American women at risk at the hands of worldly wise Europeans, Howells makes Colville—not a young woman—his central character. Colville persists in an inexcusable attempt to recover the romance of his earlier visit to Italy at the expense of Mrs. Bowen. Although he finally proposes marriage to Miss Graham, it is a selfish act that in effect is a kind of seduction. He agrees to...

(The entire section is 598 words.)