Elinor Wylie came to fiction writing late in her career. In her poetry, her famous intensity had been controlled though spectacular, but in her novels it took on a feverish and artificial quality. She did not have to strain to write well, for her feeling for style was instinctive, but she was obsessed with the need to create ornate pictures out of words. She became part of the group of “Exquisites” of the 1920’s which included Joseph Hergesheimer, James Branch Cabell, and Carl Van Vechten. The shadow behind THE VENETIAN GLASS NEPHEW, however, is the Oscar Wilde of THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GREY. Both novels deal with artificially created beauty and both convey, beneath their baroque surfaces, a moral lesson.
THE VENETIAN GLASS NEPHEW is the most completely realized of Wylie’s novels, reflecting the qualities of her poetic imagination and style. A subtle fable of life and art, it marches with minuet grace and precision along its fantastic course. Virginio, the man of glass, and Rosalba, his flesh-and-blood bride, are more than figures in a romance which seems on the surface as slight and fragile as its spun-glass hero. Under the brittle brilliance of this novel, there is a darkly personal note of mocking irony and almost silent grief. What might have been a slight work of artifice becomes, through its underlying meaning, a work of limited but authentic art. M. de Chastelneuf, idealist, cynic, and charlatan, is the famous...
(The entire section is 429 words.)